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Boards That Love Fundraising: Specific Responsibilities

(an excerpt from Zimmerman Lehman's book, Boards That Love Fundraising: A How-To Guide for Your Board)

A critically important part of good board management is ensuring the availability of adequate funds. What specifically should nonprofit board members do in this regard? As a nonprofit board member, you have four fundraising responsibilities:

1. To make a financial contribution to the extent of your capacity. Some board members can make only token gifts annually; others can give $5 million. Each of you should make a "stretch" gift every year regardless of specific amount. Other funders- particularly foundations and major donors- will consider making contributions only if everyone on the board has made a capacity gift. It is much easier to ask for money if you have put your money where your mouth is!

2. To solicit contributions from your friends, relatives and colleagues. The most important reason that a person makes his or her first contribution to a nonprofit organization is that the right person asks. You should be prepared to approach the individuals on your Christmas, Chanukah, Kwanzaa, Ramadan or Solstice card list on behalf of your organization. These approaches may be for direct mail contributions, seats at special events, major gifts or planned gifts.

3. To assist with recruitment of new members to your board of directors with the clout and connections to ensure the success of the fundraising effort. In order to achieve "critical mass" when it comes to fundraising, your board must contain at least a few people of means who have the ability to make sizeable contributions and the desire to "put the arm" on friends and colleagues. "Peer-to-peer" fundraising is the name of the game.

4. To oversee your organization's fundraising efforts. As a board member, it is not your responsibility to write grant proposals or enter donor information in the database (unless you are without a staff). You are responsible, however, for making sure that your organization is pursuing funds by every appropriate means. The board mandates the preparation of a written fundraising plan and reviews fundraising activities periodically to ensure timely and comprehensive implementation of the plan.

As fundraising consultants, we have worked with thousands of board members from hundreds of nonprofit organizations, and it is rare indeed for anyone to say: "Naturally those are our responsibilities! Lead on!" We face instead a variety of concerns about each responsibility.

1. To Make a Financial Contribution to the Extent of Your Capacity First, with reference to making their own financial contributions, typical objections and complaints voiced by board members include:

"I give my time, and that's more valuable than money!"

"What difference can my small gift make to a huge nonprofit like this?"

"I serve on three nonprofit boards. How can I contribute to each one?"

While we certainly appreciate the time that board members donate, this does not replace money. If you are a consultant in the field of public health who bills at $350 an hour and you spend five hours per month on nonprofit board work, this does not equate to $1,750, because $1,750 does not appear magically in the organization's bank account. Of course volunteer hours matter-but so does money.

If your organization has an annual budget of $10 million, why should anyone care about your contribution of $250? Two reasons: first, the huge majority of that $10 million may be restricted to particular projects, and your $250 unrestricted contribution is therefore extremely helpful in meeting such mundane expenses as utility bills and purchase of copy paper. Second, your modest contribution is vitally important "philanthropic advertising." Prospective major individual donors are likely to ask solicitors from the board if they have made contributions themselves. The right answer? "Yes, and my gift was the largest I've ever made to a nonprofit organization" or "Yes, and it was a real stretch, but that's how much this organization means to me." Some nonprofit board members serve on more than one board, and their largesse is therefore spread thin. We appreciate this problem and ask only that board members do the best they can to bolster each organization's revenues.

2. To Solicit Contributions From Your Friends, Relatives and Colleagues

The very idea of asking friends for contributions fills many board members with fear and loathing. When we conduct board fundraising trainings, we always ask the following question: "How many of you would rather ask a stranger for a large gift than a friend?" Inevitably, the majority of the folks in the room raise their hands. Our response? "Ladies and gentlemen, you're going to have to get over it."

Why? Because the most important tactical issue in fundraising is access: How do you gain access to folks with money and the desire to help worthy organizations? You clearly do not have access to strangers; sending a letter to Mr. and Ms. Dinero on Plush Drive requesting a contribution is pointless unless someone in your organization knows Mr. and Ms. Dinero personally. We understand that not every board member has well-heeled friends and colleagues, but everyone knows folks who could make modest contributions. The folks whom you know will at the very least grant you an audience or be willing to read a request letter to which you have appended a personal note. As we discuss later in this book, you must learn to overcome the fears that keep you from asking your intimates for contributions.

3. To Recruit New Members With Clout and Connections to Your Board of Directors

Board members at small and medium-sized organizations are often reluctant to invite folks with money and connections onto their boards. This reluctance is equal parts fear of being intimidated and what we term "reverse chic." Current board members worry that someone with money and clout will so intimidate them that they will never again speak at board meetings. Conversely, they honestly believe that a person of means could not possibly relate to the work of their organization!

For example, one client, a small modern dance company in a large city on the west coast, called us for a board consultation. The dance company was five years old at the time of our meeting; its initial funding included grants from foundations and government agencies, as well as modest contributions from local businesses. The board was made up of dancers, choreographers and friends of the artistic director. The grants and contributions were drying up, and they needed advice on what to do next.

We suggested that they needed to raise funds from individuals, and, in order to do so, it was vitally important to expand their board. "How about asking the manager of the bank branch at which you do business to join your board?" we suggested. Their reaction spoke volumes about intimidation and "reverse chic:" "What," said one of the current board members, "could a bank manager possibly know about modern dance?"

There are two issues here. First, the bank manager is not being asked to choreograph a production; what matters is that he or she cares a great deal about dance. More important, to dismiss the idea of a banker serving on the dance company's board is to deny the board a powerful fundraising ally.

4. To Oversee Your Organization's Fundraising Efforts

Finally, board members are often uncomfortable in the role of overseers in the development effort. They would rather cede this responsibility to staff. "Thank heavens we've hired our first development director," board members often say. "No more fundraising for us!" In fact, a good development director will make your board work hard and consistently at fundraising. In addition, the development director and executive director will look to the board for guidance in planning and implementing all facets of your fundraising effort.

As discussed in Chapter 5, the board should commission a written fundraising plan to be prepared either by the development director or a consultant. This plan ought to provide your organization with its fundraising "marching orders" for three years. As a board member, it is your responsibility to review this plan periodically and to interview staff to determine whether all necessary steps have been taken to implement it.

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Copyright 2007 Zimmerman Lehman.

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Copyright © 2005, Zimmerman Lehman