What Does a Rhino Have to Do With Board Involved Fundraising?

December 30, 2016 by Chelsey Souza, CFRE

What if you were asked to take the temperature of a rhinoceros? The question sounds absurd if you’ve been given no professional training. Yet, we ask board members to do exactly this kind of task when we ask for their help with fundraising. As financial stewards of the organizations they serve, board members are expected to participate in development at some level; donor identification, cultivation, and ideally – solicitation. According to the Nonprofit Research Collaborative, 83% of board members participate in fundraising nationwide. Industry experts know that this number is lower in the Bay Area. I’m curious to know what percent of fundraising boards are given adequate training?

Imagine a scenario where a board member is asked by a prospective donor how they can help support the organization – a fundraiser’s dream question – and the board member responds by asking for a restricted gift or gift-in-kind! Without educational training, the missed opportunities are endless.

Whether it’s a capital or annual campaign, the success of the campaign often hinges on the passion and aptitude of the organization’s leadership. Don’t gamble on the assumption that your board members will figure out how to effectively fundraise on their own. Give your most dedicated volunteers the support they deserve so they can move your mission forward.

A thorough fundraising training should cover opportunities to participate in all elements of the donor cycle. Help board members understand that recognition and stewardship activities are not only rewarding for volunteers, but lead to deeper relationships with your donors. Those board members who are less comfortable making a direct ask may be more effective as Ambassadors, and can help by making thank you calls or sending handwritten notes. You can prepare your Askers well by providing research and background information about the prospective donor, as well as stats, facts, and compelling stories to share. In all cases, you want to ensure that they are set up for success. Volunteers will inevitably gain confidence with each fruitful experience. Part of that preparation is board training – and the best part is, you don’t have to go it alone! Here are some tips for engaging board members in training:

  • AFP provides monthly opportunities to immerse your board member in a culture of fundraising. Bring a board member to an AFP luncheon – they will begin to understand the art and science of fundraising and will start to use the same language.
  • Leverage your in-house talent. Your Director of Development might jump at the opportunity to provide a 20 minute “Fundraising 101” or an even more targeted “Ethics 101” for your board members at a board meeting.
  • Seek out professional assistance. Bringing in an outside trainer helps the board consider fundraising more objectively: Often, a plea from staff is not as effective as hearing an expert divulge best practices. Mandatory role play is always fun too.

In preparation for the New Year, make your plan of action for training your organization’s board members so that they can take that temperature with confidence.