Are you ready for something that happens every year-end – soliciting board members for their annual gifts?
We get many questions about how to set this delicate process up for success, so here are our recommendations.
We originally published this post a few years ago, and it’s one of the most popular on our site. So today, we are updating it and hope you enjoy:
Take Charge Behind the Scenes
Intentionality behind the scenes will make sure that soliciting board members goes smoothly and productively.
We strongly recommend that you take charge of this process. Don’t leave it to chance. You may not be the person directly making the ask to a board member, but you should be running the show in the background.
1. Show why it’s important that board members give generously.
Make the philosophy clear.
The importance of board member participation in annual giving is rarely explained properly to members.
Instead, the issue of their giving is apologized for, snuck up on, or swept under the rug.
When the reasoning for their giving is established in an open and straightforward way by board leaders, then staff can cheerfully and enthusiastically talk about it, without feeling awkward.
Board members know that their cash contributions lend vital credibility to your fundraising efforts. They know they are supposed to give.
But often they need a reminder, or a nudge – especially during such a busy time in the midst of such a crazy year.
Point out the significance of their gift, and the importance of the timing. You must always make the ask.
2. Be very clear about board member expectations.
Clear expectations avoid misunderstanding.
When new board members join, always say what is expected – verbally and in writing. And be sure board members have a say in the expectations. Above all, they should discuss and agree on the expectations themselves. When they discuss it themselves, they are more bought in.
Spell out giving expectations in the commitment letter that members sign when they join. And don’t stop there. You and your board leaders must also talk out loud about expectations for giving, and often. This isn’t a “one-and-done” conversation.
Frequent and transparent communication will make you all feel more comfortable, and feel like you’re on the same team.
3. Give the subject of board donations plenty of visibility.
Put the issue in front of them often and clearly enough.
Try these tips:
- Report on the status of board gifts at each board meeting
- Put pledge cards and return envelopes in every board member’s packet
- Set a deadline for all board gifts to be completed. For example – say, “we need all board gifts to be in by March 30”
That gives you – or your board chair – an excuse to be in touch to follow-up. Don’t forget that your board members are extremely busy people and need to be cheerfully reminded of their duty to give.
4. Let the board chair be the face of it all.
The board chair or another board member can do the talking and signing of letters. As staff, you can direct the entire effort like a quarterback behind the scenes.
You can (and probably should):
- Ghost-write the letters
- Give the board chair talking points
- Be sure ‘board gifts’ is on the agenda repeatedly
- Promote the conversation
- Publish frequent reports on board gifts to date
- Thank the board members early and often for their generosity
Make it happen. But let a board member be your political cover, if needed.
5. Leave soliciting of board members up to other board members.
We think it can be awkward for staff to be in the situation of making an ask of board members.
Here’s why: you work for the board, and you report to the board via the executive director. What’s worse, you may already be seen as asking for too much as it is.
It’s hard for you, as a staff member, to have a conversation with your board members about their giving, without it lapsing into the wrong tone.
We say, let the board members and board leaders be in charge of this! (But remember, you need to intentionally run things behind the scenes. It’s delicate, but effective.)
6. Give board members lots of credit and acknowledgment.
Remember the power of positive reinforcement. Praise behaviors you want to develop and those behaviors will show up more often.
Remember that board members do not get much acknowledgment – (just like you!). We like to amply give credit for all the resources that board members bring in – corporate, foundation, in-kind, public/government.
Create an environment of abundance, rather than scarcity, in your handling of board contributions.
7. Tie the board’s gifts directly to your program results.
It’s a wonderful idea to let the board members know what they are accomplishing through their gifts, just as we do with all donors.
We like to even focus board giving on something specific that the board members can get excited about. When they get enthusiastic about what they are actively accomplishing through their work and their personal gifts, they will invest more and more.
Like all donors, they experience joy when they see the results of their gifts. Here are a few ways to show them impact:
- “With your leadership, support and financial contributions, we were able to accomplish X .”
- “The generous gifts from board members funded this special project, X.”
- “The board’s gifts made all the difference in serving X group of people.”
These are the magic words that board members (and donors) love to hear. Use them!
BOTTOM LINE for Soliciting Your Board:
Take charge behind the scenes, and you will set up a successful solicitation strategy. Set clear expectations, promote transparent discussion around the topic of board gifts, show impact, and thank your board. Clear and appreciative communication is all it takes.
Expect the best from your board – and you’ll get the best out of your board.
Good luck with you – and your (generous) board!
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