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July 30, 2014

A Board Fundraising Training That Actually Works

thIts sad, but true. Board fundraising trainings are often useless.

You know the drill. You pull in an expert, you offer a training, and everyone seems enthusiastic. But days and weeks after the training, nothing seems to be happening.  A year later, you’re wondering what to do at the board retreat because last year’s fundraising training simply did not work.

I put board fundraising training failures down to two key things:

1.  Many, if not most, board fundraising trainings focus entirely on the “ask.” And, particularly, a large ask. Like $1,000 or more. This is intimidating for many board members. Not to mention unrealistic.

2. The punchline of a fundraising training is usually: “go out there and ask someone new for a thousand dollars!” Frankly, this is ridiculous. Bringing new donors in at $1,000 is extraordinary. Most donors make a first time gift much lower than that, even if they have the potential to do significantly more in the longer term. To suggest to your board that people can be convinced to give away their hard-earned money with a winning smile and an eager approach is setting them up for disappointment.

Here’s what you can do to make your next board fundraising training a success:

First, be honest with your board. Help them understand that fundraising is not about cold-calling, it’s about relationship-building.  

Help your board understand that fundraising involves several steps. A donor relationship starts with identifying a prospect and confirming that they have the capacity and interest to give to your organization.  It then moves into building a rapport with the prospect, understanding their interests and inspiring them about the work that you do.  Only then do you move into solicitation.  After that, if the person gives, the relationship transitions to thanking and recognizing the donor, and stewarding the gift to make sure their money is well spent.

This process is outlined in our handy dandy worksheet, the Cycle of Donor Relations.

Why pressure your board to focus solely on the solicitation phase when it’s just a part of the work that needs to be done? Share the Cycle of Donor Relations with them and invite them to participate at every stage of the relationship.

Second, move quickly from theory to action. Ask every board member to make a specific plan to move a prospect from one stage in the Cycle of Donor Relations to the next.

Encourage each board member to think of a specific prospect. And then ask them to identify three specific things about that prospect (tip: working in teams really brings out the creativity!):

a)    What is my long-term goal for this prospect? Are they a major gift prospect, or simply someone I’d like to get to come to the gala every year? Or, do they have corporate connections that I’d like them to use for our organization? Or something else?

b)   Where does this prospect currently sit in the Cycle of Donor Relations? Are they ready to be solicited, or is there more work to be done before that happens?

c)    What can I do, specifically, to move them to the next phase of the Cycle? Here’s where the rubber hits the road. It’s where a board training turns from theory to practice! A board member might agree to cultivate a prospect by giving them a tour of your facility or having them meet the executive director.  They might sign on to provide stewardship to a lower level donor that they believe has more potential.  Or, they might feel their prospect is ready to be asked and agree to do just that.

Another tool to help them figure out how to support fundraising is the Board Fundraising Menu.

Ask your board members to write down their prospect plan and then support them in every way you can to make it come to life.

How wonderful it is to see your board members actively engaged in building relationships, one step at a time, rather than fretting and feeling bad for not suddenly becoming door-to-door salespeople.

Try it at your next board meeting and let us know how it goes!

And don’t forget to dig around in the Front Range Source Toolbox for more board and fundraising resources.


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