Using the Board as Part of your Major Gifts Team

A Study on University Fundraising

I recently conducted an informal study, the findings of which I used to make a point. The board of one of my nonprofit clients kept pushing staff for improved fundraising results.  Though the staff was small, they were already producing at a high level, and they were doing so without much help from the board.

Several of the board members cited university examples of fundraising excellence, which led me to my idea for the study in the first place. Accordingly, I picked a university to study from which I received a degree, and I found something quite revealing. That university currently had over 250 professional development staff, and that number was exclusive of any support personnel.

A Contrast in Nonprofit Fundraising

With the development and support staff combined, this nonprofit had less than 2% of the professional staff the university had. We were then able to use this information to help make the case (successfully) that board members needed to be involved.

In a sense, board members and other volunteers become an extension of the nonprofit organization’s development team. They have to do so! Why? Because if the board, those closest to the nonprofit organization, aren’t willing to give and get involved, it’s difficult to expect others in the community to do the same. Actually, board involvement occurs in a variety of ways, and that is happening with increasing frequency. But let’s look at just two of the responsibilities (give and get) that often get neglected:

Two Key Responsibilities of Board Members

Give – According to a recent study by Board Source, 60% of chief executives identified fundraising as the area most in need of board improvement. While 85% of organizations report having board giving policies, only 60% of nonprofits have 100% of their board actually giving. That has increased from just a few years ago, but there is still much room for improvement.

One easy way to kick this off is to start the year with a peer-to-peer board campaign, in which every board member is asked by a fellow board member to make a commitment in a face-to-face solicitation.

Get – The most effective kind of fundraising comes from face-to-face solicitations. In fact, 70% of the time a peer visits a peer in a face-to-face solicitation the answer is “yes.” That far surpasses a good direct mail response rate, which is about 2%-3%. However, to get board members involved there is work to do. Specifically, it will help if you can:

Take away some of the fear of fundraising through orientation and training sessions in which you create a clear case.

  • Include subjects like how to schedule the appointment, how to make the case, how to make the ask and how to handle objections
  • Develop prospect lists and ask Board members to make selections and add to the list.
  • Accompany board members on initial calls to help coach them.

Board Members Must Ask

On average about 42% of board members provided names for letters and calls, but only 22% of board members met in face-to-face meetings with potential donors and only 26% of members accompanied others on a call. This lack of involvement is sometimes associated with not being asked, but often it is associated with anxiety about asking. In our capital campaign consulting we also recommend including board giving and fundraising expectations in the initial board orientation. That way, it is not a surprise when you ask for their help.

Other Ways Board Members Can Help

Another element of getting is getting influence and new friends for the organization. To that end we suggest that board members be asked to help by hosting receptions. True not every board member is gifted in making face-to-face solicitations, but most board members can host home receptions for friends and associates to introduce them to the nonprofit organization.