When I work with boards, we inevitably get around to discussing the issue of fundraising. “How many of you really like asking for money?” I ask. On a great day, one-third of the hands will go up. On an average day, one-fourth or fewer. The others groan, smile with embarrassment and then tell me why they don’t like to ask for money.
Although their reasons are understandable, they beg the question. Boards are responsible for raising money as I make clear in my books, The Ultimate Board Member’s Book and The Busy Volunteer's Guide to Fundraising.
If only a handful of people are willing to ask, what roles should the other board members play? How do you create a cohesive fundraising team? How do you get everyone engaged in developing donors and funds for your organization?
Drawing from my experience of working with thousands of board members over three decades, here’s my prescription for motivating volunteers to raise money.
1) It is my tough duty to reiterate to executive directors something they already know; getting 100 percent board member involvement in fundraising isn’t going to happen. But I assure them that all is not lost.
2) Board members who wince at the idea of fundraising can get fully engaged in donor development — which leads to an increase in fundraising. Strategic organizations can develop a process that provides opportunities for all board members – no exceptions – to be active in developing relationships with donors that will lead to gifts.
3) The donor development approach relieves board members of the anxiety they feel about asking for money, and gives them opportunities to do things they feel confident about. Increased board engagement often follows. You’ll also find that board members who had previously declined tend now to get involved in the overall fund development program – even in asking.
4) Because I believe that systems liberate I developed a program which I call “AAA” – Ambassador, Advocate and Asker – which helps you level the playing field for your board’s involvement in donor development and stimulate your overall success in fundraising. All board members agree to be trained ambassadors: no exceptions. A board member who’s unwilling to speak accurately, positively, and enthusiastically about your organization shouldn’t be on the board.
Although only a few ambassadors may ever ask for a gift, their work in building relationships – the heart of fundraising, as you know – is the strongest piece of your development program. Ambassadors need training, coaching in the “elevator speech” and they should have a dynamic toolkit of information (including YouTube segments) about your organization. Typical ambassador activities are taking people to lunch, inviting them to events, hosting events – nothing that board members haven’t been asked to do before.
5) Advocates make the case. They accompany executive directors on calls to local government, foundation, or other institutional donors where a “sell” isn’t required – just informed advocacy by someone who is adept at handling objections and is focused on results. Advocates are also skillful board recruiters and may be part of a speakers’ bureau or perform other related tasks.
6) Askers ask. The ways in which they ask include writing letters, adding notes to letters, making phone calls or meeting donors face to face. One of the key points of this overall AAA strategy is that all board members receive training in the ask – even those who would rather, as one board member told me, have a root canal.
7) Understand, AAA isn’t an add-on to your already full plate. It’s a simple tool that organizes the tasks of donor and fund development in a way everyone on your board can play a role. Too often we make assignments based on what we believe volunteers should do, rather than on what they’re motivated to do. I hear from board members all the time that they’re “never asked to do anything.” Our mistake is making things too broad: “help with fundraising,” “help with the gala,” “help with the annual fund” – without breaking down the tasks into doable actions.
8) Successful board engagement also depends on acknowledging the roles each board member plays. Great ambassadors and advocates should be given equal recognition with effective askers. The result: total engagement by your board in donor and resource development.