Strengthen Your Organization From Within

by Perry Davis

For many of us in the nonprofit sector it’s easy to feel isolated. It’s important to reach out to our peers – they can inspire new ideas, give suggestions based on their experiences, and refer us to new resources. We’re often asked, for example, about boards of directors – their fundraising and their own giving. Here are some insights we’ve gained:

Q: At our last Board meeting we were in a rut. The Board members know they’re there to help raise money but so many of them aren’t feeling up to the task. They don’t want to bother their families or insult friends and colleagues by asking them outright. How can they overcome their shyness?
-Sharon, homeless services, Florida

A: We’ve all heard board members bring three qualities to the table: work, wealth and wisdom. Most board members are asked to make their own donations, but that isn’t enough to keep an organization funded.

What many Board members forget is that the money they’re soliciting isn’t for their own pockets. Money is a sensitive issue, and culturally we’re often made to feel it’s impolite or dirty to talk about it; asking for money is often even more taboo. It’s important to remind board members that they are not just asking for money – they’re supposed to be out there championing the cause.

When Board members tell you that they “don’t want to bother people” about money, ask them why they are reluctant. Get them to talk passionately about the issues and to articulate why your cause is vital. If they can communicate that passion to others and ask for support, asking for financial contributions will be less difficult.

You can help Board members with their talking points by:

  • Writing out your “elevator speech” and some key bullet point;
  • Collecting a few important and insightful statistics;
  • Showing how your organization actually impacts the world around you; and
  • Explaining why funds are needed and how they are raised.

If your board members are just asking for money then they won’t get very far. If they can inspire others to be passionate about your cause – by explaining the needs you face and how you can meet them – those folks will be moved to make their own contributions.

Q: I am on the Board of Directors of a small, local organization. There aren’t many of us on the board, and I feel like I’m asked to do a lot – especially when it comes to fundraising. But I don’t know anybody! How can I do any fundraising if there’s no one to ask?
-George, education & technology, NY

A: You just need to approach this from a different angle. You do know a lot of people, but you just don’t know who to ask, or what to ask them for.

The real question is, “who would be interested in my cause?” As part of our work with organizations, we sit down with each board member and review lists of personal contacts, LinkedIn connections, potential donor foundation board members, vendor lists, and more – you’d be surprised how many people you recognize when you see all those names written out!

As you review your connections, you won’t just be looking for donors – you’ll also be looking for friends who know donors. These are key connectors who can be equally helpful.

Once you’ve identified your prospects, you’ll need to understand why they might give – are they interested in the cause; do they owe you something; are they on the board of a foundation that must give away funds; or perhaps they are just generally charitable?

You may want to invite your prospects to visit your organization and to meet with its leaders and those whom it serves. Or, you and the Executive Director may want to visit your friend to brainstorm or ask for advice. The key is to create a relationship between the cause and the person. Then, it’s a lot easier to take it from there.

Q: Board meetings are boring; we go over the same issues again and again. After time, board members drop out or just stop responding. What can we do?
-A.R, international humanitarian aid, NJ

A:  Your board’s priority should always be organizational vitality, but that’s hard to keep up if it’s a bored meeting and not a Board meeting.

Begin by making the meetings more substantive. Ask your board for guidance, then report back on the results. Bring in experts to explain current developments. And make it personal – tell a personal story about how your organization succeeded in fulfilling its mission. As the board sees that they’re valued for their wisdom and experience  – and not just as mouthpieces or checkbooks – morale will soar.

It may also be time to think about recruiting new board members. New blood will bring some vim and vigor back to the table! Remember, it’s also a Board’s job to keep recruiting new leadership. Use great online resources in conjunction with tried-and-true rolodexes to put together a list of “dream team” board members. A diversity of ages, occupations and levels of experience will make your board more dynamic. Your board really should be populated by people who want to be there and want to be involved in your cause. You’ll find people who are excited by the cause among your newer donors, professionals with expertise that the agency needs, children of your largest donors, active program participants and community leaders.

Perry Davis is President of Perry Davis Associates, Inc.