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What to do if Board Members Don’t Want to Fundraise

What do you do when board members don’t want to be involved in fundraising?

Many nonprofit executives face this unfortunate situation.

Learnings from AFP-ICON

I spoke at & attended this year’s AFP-ICON conference in New Orleans and came away with many insights that can help.

Our client Ron Pringle, CEO, of the Inter-Faith Food Shuttle and I spoke about  “The ROI of Strategic Planning: Preparing Your Team, Board and Partners for Rapid Revenue Growth in 2024”.

Board engagement around fundraising is critical for successfully leveraging a  strategic plan and creating financial health in your organization.

Because I know this to be true, I really want to help organizations crack this nut!

The Data on Board Members and Giving

Bill Stanczykiewicz EdD, of the Lily Family School of Philanthropy, generously shared this data around board giving.  Did you know?:

    • Only 46% of nonprofits have 100% of board members making annual financial gifts of any size.
    • Further, only 40% of nonprofit CEOs describe their boards as actively participating in fundraising.
    • Finally, when 169 board members were asked what external stakeholders they would like to meet with, ZERO answered donors and prospective donors.
    • (Data Sources: Board Source 2017, Bridgespan 2018, Holland, 2002)

Yet, ensuring the nonprofit’s financial sustainability is a primary legal responsibility of the board.   What gives when board members don’t want to fundraise?

The Emotions

Let’s face it, money is an emotional topic.

Emotions can come up for board members who hesitate to fundraise.

It’s very important for CEO’s be aware of these emotions – because if you have asked them to engage in fundraising and they are not doing it, these could be some of the thoughts in their heads:

    • “It’s not polite to talk about money with other people.”
    • “I will look silly or awkward.”
    • “If they donate to my cause, they will expect me to donate to their’s (quid pro quo).”

As CEO, it’s worth finding out what is underneath a board member’s reluctance to get involved in fundraising, because you will deepen your relationship with them.

It will likely require some one on one discussions.  Can you create a safe space where they can be honest with you and know that you will not judge them, whatever their concerns are?

As you have the conversation, stay present with your board member, whatever they are saying, listen.  Stay in question mode.  Look for ways to take the conversation deeper, especially with board members who don’t want to fundraise.

How to take the Conversation Deeper

Here are some examples, of how you might respond to their concerns:

“It’s not polite to talk about money with other people.” —  You might ask:  “Instead of focusing on money, can you imagine inviting people to join us in making the world a better place for _____(your mission)?”

“I will look silly or awkward.”  — Acknowledge and ask: “I realize having conversations about fundraising can feel really awkward if approached in a transactional way.  Can you instead make the conversation about the impact we have and the people who’s lives are changed?  I find focusing on this often results in the someone wanting to help and then donations come quite naturally.”

“If they donate to me, I will be expected to donate to their cause (quid pro quo).” — Acknowledge and ask:  “Yes, this may happen, but could it be for the greater good?”

These are not scripts, but rather encouragement to go deeper with your conversations around fundraising.

The important thing to know and share is that board members do not need to ask for money to be effective fundraisers.  There are many other ways they can meaningfully contribute to the work without making the ask.

What might these look like?  Bill shared:

12 Impactful Actions to Support Fundraising without Asking for Money:

1. Share why funding is needed.

    • Engage in oversight of strategy & mission

2. Provide fiscal oversight.

    • Reveal how much funding is needed

3. Write thank you notes to donors.

4. Write thank you e-mails to donors (allows for more engagement with donors).

5. Make thank you phone calls to donors.

6. Talk about the nonprofit within circles of influence.

7. Make introductions to companies and other organizations.

8. Host an event to introduce people to the nonprofit.

9. Provide names of prospective donors.

10. Introduce the nonprofit to those prospective donors.

11. Attending a fundraising solicitation with a staff member.

12. Make a personal donation.

Next blog post: What substantially increases the chances of a board being successful at fundraising?  There is more data that gives us some direction on this too.  I can’t wait to share it with you.

Are you an organization with revenues less than $1 million annually?  You may find theses strategies especially effective for raising revenue fast.

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