By Nancy Dunleavy
In a perfect nonprofit world, all of your board members would be fundraising champions. They’d flip their rolodex from back to front to back again, seeking donations from friends and colleagues, and even reach deep into their own wallets to ensure the financial stability of the organization they’ve committed to support.
While such boardroom all-stars do exist, it’s rare that an organization is fortunate enough to have an entire roster of them. It’s actually a more common problem for a nonprofit to struggle with board members who are disengaged or reluctant to participate in the fundraising process. So what can be done to drum up the support that your nonprofit needs?
Really, it comes down to inspiration trumping hesitation. Many board members are not accustomed to the relationship cultivation and solicitation that is required to land major donations, and are fearful because they don’t know how to do it. It’s the job of a nonprofit’s leadership to work with such board members to help them feel both passionate about the cause and confident in the fundraising process.
Board members will often gravitate toward special-event fundraising such as selling tickets to a cocktail party or a golf outing, because it’s an easy way to solicit support without having to make the case in person. However, leadership should help board members realize that people typically only give major donations to other people, not to paper. Even the most inspiring newsletter can’t match the emotional connection of a face-to-face appeal.
Board members are best equipped to make these appeals when they’re passionate about what they’re “selling.” Leadership should help board members identify which services speak most to them, and make them the heart of each person’s appeal. For example, as chairwoman of the Gwynedd Mercy University Board of Trustees, I have gravitated toward supporting internship programs for students because I believe in the power of real world experience.
The success of these internship programs in helping students to secure jobs, and companies to cultivate promising employees, has given me confidence in asking for donations. It’s much easier for me to solicit donations for the programs when I believe in their purpose and have evidence of their importance.
Leadership can also help assuage the concerns of board members by reassuring them that success rates are higher than they might think. While its unrealistic to expect a 100 percent conversion rate, prospects will more often than not become donors when courted by an honest and enthusiastic board member. Even better, it only takes the landing of one major donor to receive a potentially transformative donation that even the best golf outing could never match.
About the author: Nancy Dunleavy is the President and CEO of Dunleavy & Associates, which she founded in 2001. Chair of Gwynedd Mercy University Board of Trustees, Nancy also serves on the Board of Directors of The Union League of Philadelphia, and is Treasurer of Valley Forge Tourism and Convention Board. She is a popular public speaker and has received numerous accolades for her work and leadership, but most prides herself on being an “extraordinary talent scout” in recruiting phenomenal clients, colleagues, and collaborators.