June 14, 2017

What to Do If Board Members Won't Solicit Major Gifts

In our weekly column, consultants with decades of nonprofit experience answer your questions about fundraising, boards, strategy and more. To ask a question and be featured (anonymously!) in the column, email your questions to info@twbfundraising.com.

This week’s question will be answered by Marilyn Foster Kirk.

The Dilemma

I’m a new executive director at a nonprofit. We have some big goals for the next few years. My board members are very good about making their own personal contributions. However, when I ask them to solicit, they say, “I don’t know anyone,” and they don’t follow up with the leads that I give them. How can I get them excited about fundraising? 

Marilyn's Response

Commitment and engagement are key:  commitment to mission and values, commitment to those served by the organization, commitment to organizational leadership, and engagement in fundraising planning and training.

A fully engaged board — emotionally, cognitively, and behaviorally — begins by recruiting individuals whose values and altruistic purposes align with your organization’s.  Be sure there is a match.  Without it, you will never fully convince a board member to give generously or to ask others for money.

Engaging board members begins with a personal relationship with each board member. Building trust. Candidly discuss the real opportunities to make a difference through board service. Be clear about responsibilities and expectations, including fundraising.

Facilitating a deep commitment to the mission of your organization and an appreciation for the impact you achieve is critical.  Have board members experience your programs first-hand, see your nonprofit in action, meet staff who deliver core programs, and hear from those you serve.  They need to be fully convinced that your organization is truly making a difference.

Ask board members to make their individual financial commitments after reflecting on their personal reasons for being engaged with your organization. At a future board meeting, invite them to share with their fellow board members how they feel about the mission and impact of your organization and why they commit their time and money. Hearing from others builds a collective mission attachment and a common bond.  Now, you’re ready to talk about fundraising.

Board members support what they help create.  Involve your board in developing and refining your case for support. Ask them to internalize the case so they feel comfortable conveying it to others. Ask them to test the case with family and friends before they meet their first prospective donor.

Involve board members in creating and evaluating top prospects, setting attainable dollar goals, and developing the plan to reach those goals.

Provide on-going training: A one-time fundraising training session won’t do the trick. Prepare them to ask for visits, to introduce prospects to the organization through on-site visits and events, to introduce the case, and to ask for a gift. Offer practice sessions to build their competence and their confidence.  Provide top-notch coaching and staff support.  Encourage them to reflect on their experiences, what went well, what they might do differently.  And celebrate their successes.

Finally, whatever you ask of your board members, be sure to do yourself.

Written by

Marilyn Foster Kirk, CFRE

Marilyn Foster Kirk, CFRE, is Executive Vice President at TWB Fundraising.


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