July 19, 2016

The Busy Board Member’s Guide to Fundraising

It’s a simple fact: most people are uncomfortable asking for money. That doesn’t change just because you’re the member of a board. In fact, depending on your organization, fundraising may or may not have been a transparent part of your board responsibilities.

But the truth is, as a board member you have a responsibility to the organization, and that includes helping to make sure the doors are kept open and the programs are financially supported. Money is what keeps your organization doing the great work it does.

It’s normal to be apprehensive about fundraising, and even more normal to feel like you just don’t have time with all of your other responsibilities. But with a few simple guiding principles and some helpful tips, you can excel at your fundraising efforts and save yourself a lot of time. Don’t forget that all the rules of fundraising apply, but there are creative ways you can be as effective as possible and save time. Here are a few to get you started.

First, you need to craft your message and identify the right people to reach out to.

  • Seek partners and ambassadors, not just money. Every good fundraiser knows that effective fundraising is about building and cultivating relationships. But that’s certainly a time-consuming aspect of the gig. You can mitigate this by making it a regular topic of conversation and a regular part of your social media presence. Post updates from your organization to Facebook and retweet petitions. Share photos from events that your organization holds on Instagram and Snapchat, and always include links for more information. Any opportunity to share thought-provoking updates or questions is prime for getting your community to understand your organization better and know why they should support you. In time, the people you’ve turned into passionate supporters of your organization will bring in supporters of their own.
  • When you do seek people out, be smart about who you target. Ideally you have time to do some proper research and micro-target your asks. If you’re strapped for time, at least do a gut check before you talk or write to them—do their interests fit the mission of your organization? Are they the philanthropic type? Do they have the means? These simple steps can sometimes prevent you from going in unproductive directions. Once you’ve populated your list, you can keep track of these folks as a friend list on Facebook or a private Twitter list, and start engaging with these people more regularly.
  • Be prepared. This will take a little bit of time at first, but once you have the materials, it will save you endless hours. Essentially, put together a packet—a website, a slide presentation, whatever works best for you—that provides examples of the work your organization has done. Highlight stories of people (or animals) your organization has helped, programs that have been effective, petitions that your organization has spearheaded and what it feels like to have that success. Certainly include a page that outlines the numbers, but the personal stories and emotional appeals will ultimately be more effective. Even better, work with the rest of the board and staff to come up with social media assets that you can easily share—tweets, photos, video, and milestone Facebook posts from the past.
  • Focus on major donors. If you’re short on time, it’s much better if you’re able to meet your goal with a few high donations than with a bunch of small ones.
  • Speak from the heart. Sounds cheesy, I know, but this is a big one. Fundraising is not about focusing on the money. It’s about highlighting what the money can do and how that feels. You are a board member of this organization for a reason. You believe in their mission and their programs. You are passionate about creating change. So when you talk to anyone, that passion should come first. If you can speak genuinely about why the organization is unique and effective, people will feel excited and honored to contribute to that effort.

Now that you’ve solidified your pitch, here are a few tactics for getting started.

  • Your gift should come first. If you’re busy and have the means, make the donation yourself. Many say this is the best way to get things started anyway, and if you’re not willing to do it, how can you expect others to? Some organizations have a rule requiring every board member to donate a certain amount each year. But others don’t, and according to the Georgia Center for Nonprofits, less than 40 percent of organizations nationwide receive a gift from every board member. Of course if you don’t have the means, then move on. But this option shouldn’t be overlooked, as it’s certainly the simplest. If you do start here, make sure you share the news that you donated with your social networks – it’s a prime opportunity to tee up asks from others.
  • Look to friends and family. It’s a lot more time-consuming to go after people you don’t know. And although asking friends and family for money can be intimidating in a different way, you can mitigate some of that by simply letting them all know that if they want to do something special for you, or they’re looking for a birthday or holiday gift for you, that they should make a gift to your organization instead. A public social media post could even do the trick.
  • Pair up. If you’re new to this, or just having trouble, consider joining forces with another board member, maybe someone with more experience or just similar connections.
  • Take advantage of existing social networks. Friends and family are one thing, but social media opens up vast new connections of people who have expressed their interests and preferences publicly. Look through friends of friends, or try to find Facebook groups and pages or hashtag campaigns that relate to your organization’s work. Targeting those people is really the best way to target people you don’t directly know through social media.
  • Integrate fundraising into your social calendar. Haven’t seen certain friends, family or colleagues in a long time? Create a Facebook event for a simple barbecue or even put on an acoustic concert at your house. Use your fundraising as an excuse to get people you enjoy being around together and have info booklets and some envelopes at hand. With Facebook events or e-vites you can track RSVPs, know who to expect at the event, and plan your event accordingly. At the event, say a few words about why you care so much about this organization, and have people look at the materials in their own time. You might be surprised how simple and fun these kinds of efforts can be. After the event, the folks who couldn’t make it might even be inclined to donate based on the online updates after the fact.

Lastly, there are two things you should certainly not do if you’re short on time.

  • Don’t waste your time on cold calls/emails. Most of the time this strategy is reserved for interns anyhow, but it can be tempting if you’re desperate. Just remember that calling or emailing people who you have no personal connection to or investment in is incredibly low yield. Use your time more wisely.
  • Don’t skimp on the thank you messages to donors. It has to be emphasized that giving thanks to donors is not an optional step. It’s incredibly important, and it must be heartfelt. In fact, some fundraisers prefer to start with thank you messages, public thank yous on social media, or calls to previous donors to start getting used to talking about the organization and feeling how good it feels to make others feel good. It’s great to try to understand how people like to be thanked—whether social media is an appropriate place, or whether they prefer anonymity. This personal accommodation will help cultivate a longer-term relationship all around.
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Emily Logan
Emily Logan is Director of Acquisition and Retention at Care2, where her team works with member activists to spread the word about their petitions, builds petition campaigns into full-scale organizing efforts, and helps keep current Care2 members happy and engaged. In her time at Care2, she has also worked extensively with hundreds of nonprofit organizations to help recruit activists and donors and build out their online strategies. Emily has a B.S. in journalism and a B.A. in music from Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo and currently lives in rainy Portland, Oregon with her cat, Ostrich.