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5 Ways Board Members Can Support Fundraising
5 Ways Board Members Can Support Fundraising

No Asking Involved

By Kathleen Guy , William Craft



"I'm happy to do anything, except ask for money." Work in educational advancement long enough, and you'll probably hear those words from a foundation or governing board member. For some volunteers, asking for financial gifts produces anxiety—and most people are already dealing with pressure in their life. The last thing they need is more stress from a volunteer job. Discomfort with asking can be a major stumbling block for fundraising success. But the ask is only one step in a larger creative process that's intentionally managed to attract donor investment. Reluctant board members can still help our cause, even if they're not making an ask. Here's how to play to their strengths.

1. Empower them to strengthen our thinking

Successful high-level fundraising rests on linking sound ideas to heroic aspirations. Board members can help refine how we express our institutional aspirations to inspire donor investment. As staff members, we know what our institutions need—better facilities, more scholarships, larger endowments. But often it's not our needs that inspire donors but the needs of those we serve. It's not the building; it's what the building enables us to accomplish. It's not the scholarship; it's how students who receive support will someday improve the world.

Board members can teach us a lot: They're how we interface with businesses and the larger community. Seek their insights on the institution's strategic planning and ask for their candid assessment of the institution's communications. This information can be useful when speaking to donors, while also improving future planning and decision-making.

At Rowan-Cabarrus Community College in North Carolina, President Carol Spalding and the foundation board invited influential community members to join a blue-ribbon task force. The panel reviewed the college's proposed fundraising case for support, raised questions about the plan, and discussed implications for the institution and the region. "As a result," Spalding says, "they helped us strengthen the language of the case, and we cultivated a handful of donors new to the foundation."

2. Supply compelling talking points

To get people excited, remember this rule: Why you are doing something usually generates more enthusiasm than how you propose to do it, says author and marketing consultant Simon Sinek. People don't get engaged because of what you do, they get engaged because of why you do it. The clearer we define why we seek donor investment, the better prepared our board members will be to carry our messages to prospective donors.

Case in point: Bonnie Alfonso, a member of the foundation board at Northwestern Michigan College, speaks passionately and persuasively about making higher education accessible. "I love telling people about how the college has transformed the lives of our students and the critical role scholarships play in helping them to complete college without accumulating a mountain of debt," she says. "I have talking points and specific stories about student success at my fingertips because the foundation staff has made a point of sharing talking points and student stories at our meetings."

3. Ask them for leads

Among the keys to fundraising success is the consistent flow of new prospect leads. Board members can help identify prospects and gauge their gift capability and interest. They have a critical role in cultivation, from initial outreach and introduction to nurturing interest and building strong institutional ties.

Board members who are also corporate leaders—from CEOs to managers—are best equipped for this. Identifying major financial players is a natural extension of the skills they use to do business every day.

"We have more corporate leaders on our board than ever before," explains Ronald Holmes, chair of the Virginia Foundation for Community College Education. "We miss the boat if we ask them to bang on doors to get small checks. These folks are in a position to identify businesses that benefit from the work of Virginia's community colleges and could become significant future donors."

4. Invite board members to thank donors. Repeatedly.

We can never overappreciate our donors. Every thank you is an opportunity to deepen donor relationships. Board members can thank donors in meaningful ways beyond the institution's official acknowledgments.

"One of my first tasks as a board member was to call and thank five donors," says Joan Smith, chair of the Lake Michigan College Foundation's "Campaign for Tomorrow." "What a great experience! Not only did they express surprise that I was calling, they freely shared the reasons for their gift. I learned a lot.

"These calls reinforce for me how people feel toward LMC and build my confidence as an advocate and champion for the college."

5. Involve them in stewardship

Keeping donors engaged between asks can improve both retention and the likelihood of increased gifts over time. A well-orchestrated stewardship program can be labor intensive, so involving gregarious board members can boost your efforts.

"I invite donors to events that I enjoy and think they'll enjoy as well," says William Braunlich, a foundation board member and former trustee who helped guide successful campaigns at Michigan's Monroe County Community College. Among his personal favorites are wine tastings that "bring interesting people together on campus. You can learn a lot about wine, its history-and the college too!"

When board members like what they do and understand how their efforts contribute to the overall fundraising cycle, their reluctance to ask will not prevent them from making other valuable contributions to your philanthropic success.

About the Authors Kathleen Guy Kathleen Guy

Kathleen Guy is a founding partner of the Eaton Cummings Group, a Michigan-based fundraising and strategic planning consulting firm specializing in community colleges.

William Craft William Craft

William Craft is a founding partner of the Eaton Cummings Group, a Michigan-based fundraising and strategic planning consulting firm specializing in community colleges.




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