Much has been written about boards and
fundraising. There are those who believe one of the primary responsibilities of
a board member is to raise money. Then there are those who believe boards
should not be required to raise money. Most articles you see
about boards and fundraising focus on those 2 sides of the coin - whether or
not boards should fundraise.
This article isn't about whether
boards "should" or "should not."
That is because there is no point in
arguing "should" - not just about this issue, but about most issues. We should
lose weight, we should quit smoking, we should get more exercise - but do we do
so just because we are told we should?
Therefore, this article will start by
looking at the reality of "Boards and Fundraising" and will suggest that maybe
it is time to find paths that align with reality, instead of continuing to
fight reality. Systems that build upon those realities as a significant
strength (rather than seeing "Boards and Fundraising" as a weakness to be
fixed) will create a win-win for all involved - the board, the organization and
are just a few of the realities we have observed about "boards and
Reality #1: Board Members and
For a variety of reasons, board members commonly hate to
ask for money. Even when they are cajoled into saying they will do it, board
members typically underperform their commitments. A
2007 Board Source Report notes that "only 5% of
boards list fundraising as a strength, and that fundraising ranks #1 among
board areas needing improvement."
After all the videos on "teaching your
board to fundraise" and all the consultants and all the classes, it is still
the rare board that raises any significant portion of the dollars the
organization brings in.
And so the first reality is that the
"boards should fundraise" argument has failed to get boards to fundraise, has
provided significant stress for board members, has caused stressful relations
between EDs and boards, and is often a barrier to recruitment, as many
prospective board members share (usually in embarrassed whispers) that they
refrain from being on boards because they believe "being on a board" equals
"asking people for money." And they do not want to do that.
Reality #2: I Don't Know Any Rich
There are many reasons why board members do not want to raise
money. Some liken it to stage fright. Others, noting the emotional baggage many
people have about money, talk about "not wanting to bring money into my
relationships with my friends." And then, of course, there is the argument
that, "If I ask a friend to donate to my cause, she will just turn around and
ask me to help with her cause."
Regardless of the reason, there is one
thing that most board members seem to agree on - a sentiment that might be
summed up in one phrase: "I don't know any rich people."
For the most part, those board members
are correct. The peers of most board members do not have significant means.
Most are just average folks, trying to make a living, worrying about sending
their kids to college, just like so many board members themselves.
That brings us to one of the most
interesting aspects of Reality #2 - a point that comes not from the board
members, but from their friends - those average people who are NOT board
members. In my own professional and social realm, when I encounter individuals
who are not on boards, one of the most common pleas I hear is this: "You advise
nonprofits? Could you tell them to stop with all the raffle sales and tickets
to events!? I can't go to their galas and golf tournaments, and I can't afford
to buy raffle tickets from everyone who asks me. Then I wind up feeling guilty.
Please tell them to stop doing these things!"
Reality #2, then, is that often the
friends who are being asked see the ask as just the same burden as the board
members who didn't want to ask in the first place!
Reality #3: Board Fundraising
Doesn't Raise Money
One of the biggest reasons why organizational
leaders continue to insist that board members raise money is the simple reality
that organizations need money. Frustrated that there never seems to be enough
funding to do what organizations have the potential to do, eyes eventually fall
upon the group of individuals who is presumed to have all sorts of connections
- the board.
The fact that most board members know
people just like themselves - people of medium means, who cannot give the sorts
of life-saving funds organizations wish for - doesn't deter the belief that
board members could indeed raise significant funds if only they would do
Coming back again to reality, the fact
is that even if boards raised 2 or 3 or 10 times what they currently raise,
"Board Fundraising" would remain one of the smallest sources of revenue.
Even more important, the dollars board
members do raise are often very different from the sustainable income generated
in individual giving campaigns (direct mail or major gifts), as dollars raised
by board fundraising are frequently contingent upon that board member doing the
ask. When the board member is no longer on the board, it is not uncommon for
that donor to stop giving.
To summarize thus far, then: Boards
often hate to raise money, and organizations spend a lot of money on training
in an effort to get them to do so. Board members' friends are not wealthy and
often feel put upon when asked to contribute. Board fundraising does not raise
significant dollars and those dollars it does raise are not renewable.
That leads to Reality #4...
Reality #4: The Board as the Link
to the Community
One look at the org chart tells us that the board is
the link to the community.
It is the community that will receive
the benefit the organization provides, and it is therefore the community to
whom the organization (i.e. the board) is accountable. The community includes
donors. It includes volunteers. It includes clients and just plain individuals
living in the community. All those individuals receive the benefit the
organization is accountable for providing.
And the board is the organization's
link to all of them.
Reality #5: Creating Relationships
Between the Organization and the Community is about Making Friends
important role of "the organization's direct connection of accountability to
the community" is a role most boards do not know how to do. But unlike
fundraising, when board members are shown simple approaches for making those
connections, they take on this role gladly.
In their efforts to make connections,
what board members are asking of their friends is just that - friendship. That
true friendship is something board members feel comfortable asking for, and
their friends feel delighted to give. No one feels diminished or embarrassed.
Everyone feels exalted.
horrible thing has happened to the word "friend" in the nonprofit world.
"Friend" has come to mean, "Someone who gives us money."
In our real lives, we don't love our
friends because they pay our monthly expenses. In our real lives, our friends
are the ones who know us and love us, who are there to dance when times are
good, and who are there with a shoulder to lean on when times are
If our efforts had REAL friends,
instead of simply "donors," imagine how different life would be!
An organization's friends will
volunteer. They will arrange for speaking gigs. They will make connections.
They will share their wisdom about your mission and your programs. They will do
all sorts of things - and, yes, they will also give you money.
As joyful a thing as friendship is in
our personal lives, it is just as joyful a thing in an organization's life. And
because the purpose of our organizations is to make our communities better
places to live, those friendships mean even more to both sides.
"Fundraising is About Relationships"
usually at this point that fundraisers smile and nod, and say, "I've been
saying this all along. Fundraising is all about relationship
And since I have already angered those
who think boards should fundraise, I might as well anger those who believe that
"Fundraising-is-About-Relationship-Building" is the same thing as raising real
friends for an organization.
"Fundraising is about building
relationships," might be translated as follows:
If you don't get to know people
well, it is harder to ask them for money.
If you do get to know
people well, it is easier to ask for money.
If we get to know people really
well, in addition to giving us money, they will share many other gifts as well
(including all the things noted in the prior section - volunteering,
If we don't get the money,
though, the rest of that is pretty inconsequential. We will likely not continue
to pursue this relationship, and will move on to someone who can, in fact,
provide some cash...
Does the word "friendship" or
"relationship" really mean, "when the time is right, we will agree on a price"?
What talk is that walking? What message is that sending to our communities?
What behaviors is that modeling?
We can now add to that phenomenon a
more recent phenomenon - those fundraising approaches that encourage board
members to invite their friends to an event where, "We will absolutely not ask
anyone for a dime," only to have those same friends invited to a hard-sell
event a few months later, where they are told honestly and directly, "We will
be asking you for money, and a lot of it!"
It is easy to see why board members
tell us, "I don't feel comfortable giving the names of my friends to the
organization, as I know, in one form or another, my friends will be hit up for
Money. We have so many emotional
hang-ups about money. And every time we reinforce that "the point of having
friends is so we can ask them for money - perhaps not now, but eventually..." -
well, that just continues that pattern of board members feeling uncomfortable
about sharing their precious friendships.
Board Members and FriendRaising
point of FriendRaising efforts is not to ask for money, then what is the point?
It will sound trite, but the point of friendship is friendship. The point of
engaging the community (which is really what FriendRaising is all about) is an
Friends will not let anything bad
happen to your work. They will help in ways you never dreamed possible. They
will want to see good things happen, and will work like the devil to be sure
nothing bad happens.
Friends share all their gifts with the
organization, and are thrilled that the organization sees value in those gifts!
They give what they have, whatever that is - and yes, quite often, it is even
money. But it is not only money. It is usually far more.
And that is because they are acting
like real friends. That's the point. If we had an army of friends, we would
have everything we currently have, plus tons more.
The only road to sustainability is to
engage the community in your work, to turn that community into an army of
friends achieving something amazing together, spreading the roots of ownership
of your mission and vision throughout the community, so the community would not
dream of letting that mission die.
And as the link to the community, that
is a job board members can do without fear.
This Free FriendRaising Action Tool will start your
board's FriendRaising activities right now!Click
The Benefits of FriendRaising
approach our personal friends to become engaged with something we feel
passionate about, there are multiple benefits for our organizations. Here are
just a few:
1) We are sharing ownership of the
issues that concern our whole community and expanding ownership of the efforts
to make the community a better place to live. An engaged community is the only
road to significant and lasting change.
2) By sharing that ownership of our
community's future, organizations will have friends who will help in all kinds
of ways, because they want the mission to be accomplished, and they feel they
have a stake in that success.
3) We are celebrating all the things
we love about our friends, encouraging them to share with the community their
potential, their gifts - frequently the things they don't think are anything
special. "I have knitted all my life - I never dreamed that was something that
could make a difference to anyone!"
4) Board members who participate in
these kinds of FriendRaising activities become directly engaged with the
mission in a way that has everything to do with effective leadership and
5) Board members who become engaged in
this way also learn dramatically more than they ever could in an orientation
program, allowing them to make far more educated decisions at the board
6) FriendRaising creates a win-win-win
because it builds upon the abundant strengths of everyone involved. Unlike
fundraising, which focuses on the scarce resource of money, FriendRaising
builds upon the collective passions, insights and ideas of board members and
their friends. And there is nothing more abundantly energizing for all parties
ask for money, that is all we get. When we ask for friendship and the myriad
wonders that come along with friendship, we get all the surprises friendship
can bring - and as a bonus, those friends often donate money. Just as
important, though (if not more important), friends will offer their own
creativity, their own ideas. "I was thinking the other day about something I'd
like to do with my church group for the patients at the clinic... "
Friendship is the most valued
possession in our personal lives. Sharing friendship with our organizations in
a way that is respectful and engaging - that is something any board member can
feel comfortable doing.
No shoulds. Just reality.
reality that honest friendship feels good for everyone.
The reality that friendship builds engaged and ongoing support for
accomplishing your mission.
And the reality that the only way we can create significant improvement to the
quality of life in our communities is if we engage with everyone who cares
about what we care about, linking arms in true friendship.