Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Board Biz

Much of my professional life has been working with Boards, helping them to define and be successful in their roles. Almost unanimously, the role of fundraising is the one that causes most concern.

”If I ask my friends and colleagues for support,” I am told over and over again, “then I know that the next step is they will ask me to support their organization.” It’s a fair, and probably true, statement.

These musical dollars really don’t benefit anyone, and they cause more than a few Board members to practice fundraising avoidance tactics at all costs.

This, in turn, causes staff to grumble. “The Board isn’t doing its job,” is a typical refrain. “They are not raising any money.”

But, should they?

I think that a better, more realistic, job for Board members is to create an environment where fundraising can occur. What I really want my Board members to do is to introduce me to people they believe have the ability and the interest in supporting my organization.

Mind you, I don’t want just any introduction. I want my Board member to set the stage so that we can turn his or her contact into a viable prospect (and eventually, donor) for my organization.

Set the stage how? Get me in front of the prospect with my Board member. At that meeting, I want my Board member to talk about his or her commitment to my organization and tell the contact how gratifying and important that commitment has been.

What happens at the meeting will, of course, vary, depending on a host of things. What really matters is that I-- and by extension, my organization--will now have a connection with this prospect. My ultimate goal, of course, is to turn the prospect into a donor, but I want a committed, in-love-with my organization and a frequent donor, not just a single gift.

Beyond introductions, I want my Board members to thank our donors for their generosity. A personal, handwritten note or a phone call to those they know and those we want to know better from a Board member can be extremely meaningful, both to the recipient and the writer. Personal invitations to events can get otherwise hard to meet people close to the organization.

Speaking of events, I expect my Board members to attend events…and to be working the room, not just sitting or standing there.

In other words, I want my Board members to think more about development than fundraising as a prime responsibility. I want them to develop, grow, widen and expand the number of people closely involved with our organization. And I want my Board members to create a culture of philanthropy among those who they are helping to connect with our organization.

Janet Levine is a fundraising consultant. She can be reached at jlevine@levinemorton.com. Her online grantwriting class is available at www.ed2go.com/courses/ggr.

Saturday, March 1, 2008

What to Say? Part 3

Meetings. You have meetings. Lots and lots….but still, you are not raising lots and lots of money. Why is that?

It’s such a duh question with an equally obvious answer, but since (a) it is at the heart of our failures and (b) I am the Queen of Obvious, here goes:

Either you are meeting with the wrong people and/or you aren’t actually asking them for a gift. For many of us, that is the rub. How do you get from talking about the family, their home, the latest vacation, the program or your organization to what fundraisers love to call (with a bugle blare) “The Ask.”

Clearly, just jumping in and demanding that they “Gimme Money,” to paraphrase that greatest of all rock n’ roll bands, isn’t a cool move. But ask you must, and you must NOT be too subtle about it.

Lest this concern you, here’s a news flash: In over 90% of the cases, the person sitting across from you knows the purpose of your meeting—and they accepted anyway. So subtlety is not needed.

Indeed, on occasion, as you are telling the about your project, the prospect will ask, “What can I do?”

If this has ever happened to you, did you blow it? Be honest now. I know I have. Instead of giving a straight forward, “We need your financial support” answer, too often we beat about the bush and speak vaguely about involvement or “helping us” in some undefined way.

If you are at the point of qualifying someone or meeting to ascertain the level at which you can expect support, you might consider whipping out a gift table—either one that shows levels of gift clubs with the benefits attached to each level, or the kind you put together that shows how many gifts at the various levels you need to reach a certain goal. Then ask, “Where do you see yourself on this chart?”

There’s an old saw in development that says if a prospect whips out his or her checkbook and writes a check for the amount you requested, you’ve left money on the table. Perhaps. I’ve always believed that it gave you the starting point for the next ask. Nevertheless, there is good reason to find out what the prospect is easily willing to entertain as a possible gift.

This, at least, tells you the lowest level you should request. When you finally get to the actual gift ask, it should be somewhat higher than this first indication.

Sometimes, though, you are not ready to ask for the gift. Ask for introductions to their friends or colleagues. Ask if they would be willing to host a reception at their home (and then make sure you follow up and havethe reception). Ask them to come and talk with your students, or clients. Invite them to a special event. Ask if you can send them some additional information.

At this point, you are asking for things that will bring them closer to the organization and, more importantly, you are getting them in the habit of saying “yes” to you.

Umm….maybe I should try this technique on my husband.