It is no secret that it can be difficult to engage your board with private philanthropy. Many board members have difficulty understanding fundraising as a task in which they need to take part, believing that government grants and a capable development director will be sufficient. However, this is not the case; board members often have tremendously resourceful untapped networks that can significantly add to the financial health of the organization. While it can be difficult to organize and motivate board members to leverage their philanthropic potential, Lorenzo Vallone with StreamLink Software explains “With the right motivation and organization, your nonprofit board members can overcome this hesitation and become fruitful fundraisers for your nonprofit organization.”
BronxWorks, a community development organization in New York City, proves that with the right planning, convincing your Board to embrace philanthropy is possible. The organization worked with Changing Our World, a philanthropy and fundraising consulting firm, to create strategies and tactics for both the staff and the Board to understand how to increase support from individual donors and corporations. Changing Our World developed meetings centered around motivating Board members and staff to take on more proactive roles in building relationships with funders. These meetings and discussions also helped BronxWorks to recognize that the organization itself was not a top priority for some Board members. The overall goal of the meetings with the Board members was to promote ownership of their responsibilities in growing the organization. Board members were encouraged to express their issues and challenges and were shown how they could better cultivate relationships with potential funders, especially within their existing networks.
While it may not be possible for your organization to hire a consultant like Changing Our World, more modestly priced tools such as online assessment can help. Look for tools with the specific goal of ascertaining the level of commitment of current Board members to the organization, as well as their understanding of philanthropic responsibilities to the organization. Questions should focus on work-life balance, prioritization of the organization, reasons for joining the board, reasons for staying on the board, and personal challenges with utilizing fundraising techniques. For example, the survey could ask, “Are you uncomfortable asking coworkers for a gift to the organization?,” and follow up with “Why?” Learning about what may be holding the Board back is a necessary step in moving forward. A survey can be built and distributed via free tools like SurveyMonkey or KwikSurveys. If the organization currently uses a Board portal, look for the survey or polling tool it contains to conduct similar assessment.
Once you ascertain the current values of the Board, determine the best path for educating your Board on fundraising skills and techniques. Vallone recommends making educational material about goals and expectations available through a centralized online document library (or board portal). It may also be the case that a continuing education session during a regularly scheduled meeting would be suited to the needs of your Board.
No matter what method you choose, it is important to emphasize to the Board the potential of what their private philanthropy work can do for the organization. By educating them about the potential impact their philanthropic efforts will have on the work of the organization, in addition to showing them how to fundraise, the Board will be better positioned to play an active role in the fiscal health of the organization.