In Paris, when you’re on a nonprofit board, you don’t discuss fundraising.
I learned this the hard way.
I was on assignment in France for a library. When I began calling board members to introduce myself and ask how they’d like to be involved with a modest campaign to renovate the building, I grew discouraged by their lack of enthusiasm and reluctance to help.
Nonetheless, I kept calling and finally, nearing the end of my roster, connected with a woman who said that yes, she would help—with one caveat: “I’ll do anything but ask for money.” Hiding my disappointment, I said “That’s fine. How do you see yourself helping?” Her response turned out to be the key to our success: “I have great lists I can share with you.”
She was an American who had lived in Paris for more than a quarter-century and was active in various Franco-American organizations. Her relationships with individuals in these causes were dear to her, and through the years she had kept in touch with them.
As those of us in charge of fundraising began to talk with “her” people, it was evident they valued her continuing outreach and responded enthusiastically to our appeal. Still, the woman herself never once asked for money, yet she was responsible for a third of the total we raised!
This was a major epiphany for me and one that informs my new book, Transform Your Board into a Fundraising Force: The Essentials You Need to Know.
At the conclusion of the library campaign, when I invited this board member to lunch to thank her for the many gifts pledged by her friends, she reiterated, somewhat sheepishly, that she couldn’t ask for money. I told her that didn’t matter. Those who were comfortable asking had used her relationship-building skills as a platform to appeal for gifts. She was surprised and grateful and said she would just keep on with what she was doing.
The crucial lesson is, don’t be discouraged when board members say they “will do anything” but ask for money. Instead, work to uncover what they will do.
There are many productive roles board members CAN play. Those with a wide swath of connections can be pivotal in identifying donors. Those who have lived in the community for years, and know the backstories of residents, can be helpful by suggesting a realistic amount to ask for. Those who are comfortable hosting events in their homes can be instrumental in cultivating donors.
Even for board members who resist these roles, there are other options. Will they master the basic elevator speech and share it widely? Will they bring people to events? Will they accompany the CEO on a foundation visit? Will they participate in thank-you calling or gratitude committees to connect with donors?
In other words, rather than become discouraged and frustrated, it’s incumbent on you as an executive director, development officer, or board chair to identify what roles board members ARE comfortable playing, whether that’s connector, cultivator, or closer.
If you are to transform your board into a fundraising force, you need to do more than tend to the myriad responsibilities of fundraising. You also have to ensure your organizational environment is accommodating to individual styles and abilities and accepting of the contributions they are willing to make.
The ways in which board members support resource development will vary and cannot be held up to a rigid metric.