Givers, Openers, Askers and Thankers

Although all of your board members signed on because they believe in your organization and its mission, some are less comfortable asking others for financial support. The good news is that, with some strategic coaching and confidence-building aligned to their individual skills, all of your board members can play essential – if varying — roles in fundraising.

While not every board member will be willing to ask for donations, some will gain confidence in doing so through training. We’ll call those folks ‘askers.’ Other board members may be good at introducing potential funders to the organization’s mission and staff. We’ll call those people ‘openers.’ And all board members can be ‘thankers’ deployed frequently to express gratitude on behalf of the organization, lightening the load on staff while providing a personal touch that makes a lasting impact on donors.

Askers, openers, and thankers are all a part of a successful development process. And of course, all board members should first be generous ‘givers’ who financially support your organization.

Here are some tips for helping board members succeed at becoming effective participants in your organization’s quest for sustainability and growth:

1)         Assure your askers that you will collaborate with them to give them the skills, knowledge and tools to ensure successful interactions with potential donors.

  • Teach them the tricks of the trade, including how to secure the meeting and make the ask. Arm them with talking points and written materials. If you use scripts, be sure each one is tailored for a specific prospect. Your board should fully understand the needs, programs, mission, and success stories of your nonprofit, as well as understanding your fundraising strategy.
  • Help the askers consider who in their networks might be converted to a donor. Encourage them to create a list of colleagues, relatives, and friends who might have an interest in your nonprofit or event. They also should review your organization’s list of donors to see who they know. Go over this information with them so decisions about who to ask and how much to ask for are made in close consultation with the fundraising staff.
  • Remind your board members that both small and large donations are important. Asking someone to buy a $50 or $100 event ticket is a lighter lift than pursuing a $10,000 sponsorship. (Although certainly keep the sponsorship option on the table!)
  • Assure your board members you will not send them out solo to seek support for a large or complex donation, such as a planned gift or support for a capital campaign. Instead, have them go along to shadow/observe with a fundraising team member. Even if they are taking a secondary role, be sure the board member is fully informed on the solicitation strategy so they understand your approach should they be asked to engage.

2)         Openers can introduce potential donors who they know to the askers on the board and connect them to the fundraising staff. In addition to introductions, openers can help raise funds by sharing your organization’s story, including promotion on social media, speaking engagements, and hosting small fundraising events. Let them choose which avenues are most comfortable to them, which also will help lead to success. Feeling successful leads to interest in doing more.

3)         Thankers should call donors to thank them personally for their generosity, with guidance from the fundraising staff. Studies have shown such personal contact boosts contributions and donor retention. These interactions also can help provide you with important information to gauge the level of your donor’s interest in your organization. Be sure you have a process in place for thankers to report back to you. Record this information.

Board involvement is essential for a successful nonprofit. Encouraging your board members to be thankers, askers, and openers can create engagement and help you fulfill your mission.

Encouraging your Board to Fundraise

We all want board members to help our organizations grow and thrive, and raising funds is central to every nonprofit's success. However, while our board members typically embrace their governing role, they are less frequently comfortable with fundraising responsibilities. It is not unusual to hear board members say they don't like asking for money, especially from their friends. Below are some ideas for helping your board understand that fundraising is more than just "asking" and everyone can play a role in successful revenue generation. These ideas are intended to help shift your board's perspective on fundraising and help them understand it’s something they can – and must – do.

1) Outline Expectations: Set clear expectations from the outset, beginning with recruitment of board members. Your Board Roles and Responsibilities document should clearly state that in addition to governance there is a financial responsibility of serving on the board. Include a goal dollar amount, either for each individual or for the board as a whole. You will need to work with your development committee to identify this amount and recommend it to the board.

2) Recruit Champions: Recruit people who are truly champions of your organization and who are respected in the community. These are the people whom others look to for leadership, have wide networks, and can provide validation for your cause. Find lots of opportunities to engage and showcase your enthusiastic board members. Enthusiasm is contagious.

3) Inform and Excite: Your board members said "yes" to serving on your board, so they have already demonstrated their enthusiasm for your mission. Board meetings can get weighed down with the business but be sure to dedicate a part of your meetings to something mission-related. Tell a story, show a video (taken on a smart phone), or bring a special guest to speak about the work. Be sure to keep your board engaged and up-to-date between meetings. Send a monthly update with highlights, stories or links to relevant work in the news. Board members are busy and having your organization top of mind helps them be better prepared to be a champion.

4) Make it Tangible: It’s easy to ignore fundraising when it appears all funds are for a general purpose. Yes, unrestricted dollars are critical. However, often board members and prospective donors need to have a better grasp on what can happen with dollars given. For instance, provide a tangible example: “If we can raise $50,000 then we can pilot the new program x that we’ve all been talking about.”

5) Make it Personal and Be Specific: Meet with each board member individually to set personal goals and outline specific projects they will work on. Everyone should have a fundraising responsibility, no matter what committee they serve. If everyone on the board is engaged in fundraising activities, and those activities entail roles they are comfortable with, it will become clear that fundraising is more than just asking… and fundraising becomes progressively less intimidating. You can work with each board member on the specifics, but roles can include:

  • A personal financial commitment
  • Hosting a "friendraising" event – work with the board member to set objectives and goals including the of number of attendees, specific follow up tactics and provide them the support they need to make the event and the outcomes successful
  • Accompanying staff to fundraising meetings
  • Making strategic introductions – staff can help brainstorm ideas and keep a running prospect list for each board member
  • Pro-bono support, if it relieves a budget item for your organization
  • Making thank you calls and writing thank you notes

6) Be Supportive: Be available to help your board members achieve their personal goals. Fundraising is hard. Don't let them get discouraged; give them the tools they need to be successful and don't expect them to be successful if they aren't supported.

7) Give them Ideas: Provide a funding prospect list to your board to scan through (ensure it is kept confidential) and see if they know anyone. If they do, ask if they will join you for a coffee with that person.

8) Share Gratitude: Say thank you. A lot. When a board member helps with an introduction, a solicitation, an event, or a project, say a very personal thank you to that individual and a public one at your board meeting too.

Remember, your board is there because they believe in your mission. Together, you can generate enthusiasm and revenue to achieve that mission. There really is no other way.