What to do While Waiting
for Your Board to Raise Money
"My board members don't fundraise for me! They don't seem
to understand how much I need them, and even if they do, no one
has time to do it anymore!" These lines could be made into
a song entitled The Executive Directors' Lament. I envision it in
the country and western genre-well, on second thought-perhaps it
plays better as a rap.
“The six roles are: advisor,
messenger, witness, contributor, worker and trustee.”
If this tune fits you, read on. Let me start by giving you Larson's
List of Board Roles for board members as fundraisers. Actually this
list also can be adapted for many other roles board members have
to assume. The six roles are: advisor, messenger, witness, contributor,
worker and trustee.
Let's start with advisor. An advisor is or someone who gives you
ideas, feedback and raises questions. Now I know you're going to
say, "That's the problem, Sandra, my board members don't have
any ideas on this topic." Well, my response then is that you
need to give them your ideas to examine. Do you share with board
members alternative strategies you are considering before they are
cast in concrete? Can they help you brainstorm new ideas? Do you
enlist their aid in thinking through your fundraising plan? Those
involved in plans have more ownership in implementation. Do you
review your fundraising messages with them? Sure, your board members
might not be expert fundraisers, but as potential donors board members'
feedback on your sales pitch can help you get much more focused
“... as potential donors board
members’ feedback on your sales pitch can help you get much
more focused and relevant.”
Moving on to messenger as a role, consider your board members as
persons bearing news from the community. When did you last pick
the brains of all board members regarding any and all sources of
grant-making they have heard about, wealthy folks with relevant
interests to your organization, friends of theirs who might be solicited
in a variety of ways, other rumors they've heard? Leave no fundraising
I realize this role may not seem much different from that of an
advisor, but sometimes a messenger not only brings you information,
he or she is willing also to carry your message to the outside world,
or at least open doors for you to venture forth.
“Usually board members will
accompany you if they gotten invested enough to give you the
name of their prospect, but if not, at least you've got an entry
Can any board member call a contact they know so you might pay
a visit to them? Usually board members will accompany you if they
gotten invested enough to give you the name of their prospect, but
if not, at least you've got an entry point.
If you have a witness on your board, well then you have a board
member you have been waiting for---someone who will visit a potential
funder, take the lead and ask for money, explaining why you are
such a worthy charitable cause. But this is a mountain top experience,
so let's look at other ways to develop a potential witness into
a true witness.
Board members can sign the letters you write to those they know
or to whom their name, along with a short message, might carry some
weight. Clients are good as co-signers too, regardless if they are
on your board or not. Calling donors may seem difficult, but sometimes
board members might get their feet wet by calling to say thank you
once a gift or grant has come in. (Be sure you call too if it is
an important gift!) This breaks the ice for more proactive work
in the future, and you can never say enough thanks you's to anyone!
“... your board members should
be able to state your organization's mission clearly and succinctly
(and with feeling).”
If you are working to develop your board members as fundraisers,
you must ensure that they understand the most compelling and positive
reasons a donor should invest in your organization. Also, it goes
without saying, your board members should be able to state your
organization's mission clearly and succinctly (and with feeling).
To accomplish this, spend significant chunks of board meeting time
developing and reviewing the five most important messages you want
all board members to be able to recite when they meet a friend or
colleague in the grocery store or at the office water cooler.
“What board members give is
secondary, that they give is critical.”
Your board members will need to know these good reasons to invest,
not only to help convince donors, but because you will ask each
and every board member to give to the organization themselves, to
be a Contributor. Remember, we are talking about compelling community
needs that your agency is fulfilling. The organization's administrative
need to cover expenses is not one of these five reasons for your
appeal to outsiders, however, for insiders with more intricate understanding
of your budget, it may be a sixth reason to donate to your cause.
What board members give is secondary, that they give is critical.
This is not to say that you may have public-spirited persons on
your board who have very little financial support to offer, but
even token gifts count. No one these days should be surprised, least
of all your board members, that the world cannot run on volunteerism
alone-no business, no charity, no family can. Furthermore, foundations
and corporations very often ask this question: Do all your board
members contribute? A fifty percent response isn't good enough.
One can not expect anyone to invest in a cause if those closest
too it have not made a contribution themselves.
O.K. You've tried all this, but you still need different folks
on your board, but whom? Have you tried clients, community activists,
executive directors and development directors from other agencies
who, by the process of deduction, might be identified as willing
to serve? Does your organization depend on government sources of
funding? How about politically savvy types-have you recruited them
for your board? Mrs. Gotrocks may not be available, but marketing
and public relations professionals are great message folks and may
take like ducks to water when asked to think up strategies to tie
your messages to potential funders' own interests.
Did you know that many companies match the volunteer time of their
employees who serve on boards with cash donations or grants? (Generally
this might be limited to the kinds of organizations that fit their
grant guidelines, but, in the case of higher management folks, generally
all organizations might qualify.)
Just another note-please do count your board's community advocacy
on your behalf as fundraising, or at least as development. You can
never have enough advocates for your cause. It is the foundation
Now we are to the fifth role: Worker. Another dream some of you
may have is that all the work that goes along with soliciting various
sources for money can be done by your board members. This is a toughie-generally
a great deal of rolling up of sleeves is not something you can expect
from a policy-setting group. However, if you are very small and
without much administrative staff, you may need this. Still, go
as lightly on it as possible, unless you find that very special
person who enjoys pitching in like this. Don't forget, there maybe
other program volunteers who aren't on your board that can be recruited
during special periods for routine fundraising tasks such as mailings
“The trustee ensures
that the organization is meeting a compelling mission, is using
all its resources wisely and helps plan for a sound financial
This brings me to our last role, that of trustee. The trustee ensures
that the organization is meeting a compelling mission, is using
all its resources wisely and helps plan for a sound financial future.
You must be sure that all your board members understand the financial
implications of your programming. Trustees must be given a realistic
sense of the risk your fundraising plans may present. A trustee
who is well informed will be more motivated to proactively assist.
This is a much better scenario than being called in to fill a void
in a crisis. A crisis might work once or twice, but board members,
like the smart people they are, can find more satisfying things
to do as volunteers than to get swept up in a series of red alerts.
Whatever your situation, remember to be up-front with newly recruited
board members. What is the minimum time you need from them? You
have to be realistic. People are so busy today that they can't give
you large slices of their time. I have talked with executive directors
who expect ten or more hours a month from board members-very unrealistic!
They may be able to give you an hour to three hours per month-but
that may be about what to require. And, among other expectations
that you lay out, please spell out your expectations regarding the
fact that you will be asking for a financial contribution from each
and every board member.
To keep time for fundraising in the scheme of things, be sure you
sharpen your meetings, get into small groups if this will aid discussion
or move the meetings along. Don't waste the time of those who have
the interest and skill most appropriate for development on other
organizational work-except to the degree they need to be kept abreast
of overall board policy issues.
“It is better to leave a seat
unfilled and to fill it later, rather than to just accept any
Finally, think ahead, not only about your fundraising plans, but
the plans your nominating committee must be making to find folks
with development skills. (You do plan way ahead of year end for
new board members, do you not?) The situation may not improve overnight,
but you as executive director must be dedicated to spending the
time to assist the board in finding these advisors, messengers,
witnesses, contributors, workers and trustees so that within the
year ahead you will have made true progress in filling these roles.
Remember, it is better to leave a seat unfilled and to fill it later,
rather than to accept any warm body just because your plan called
for "x" new board members by "y" date. In any
case, give yourself plenty of lead time to do your board recruiting.
Start working out a plan for better board involvement today. Whatever
your fiscal year, the new year is only months away!
Sandra Larson Consulting |
11472 Fairfield Rd. West, Suite 302
Minnetonka, MN 55305
952-595-0432 | 612-964-4389 (Mobile)