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Leveraging Lay Leadership

Amy Schiffman
September 10, 2019

This blog post was originally published by Giving Tree Associates.

Do you have a sense that your nonprofit board could be playing a more significant role in capacity building (or fundraising), but you’re not sure how to make that happen? If so, you are not alone. Many organizations under-utilize the talent on their board and therefore achieve only a fraction of their fundraising potential. So, what can you do to leverage your lay leadership?

Make expectations clear from day one: Board (and committee) members resent the bait and switch! Don’t lure new leadership to your board by omitting information about fundraising expectations.  If your board has a give/get requirement, be clear about what it is and explain how board members successfully achieve it. Be explicit about the fact that every board member is, and should be, engaged in capacity building and talk about the lay/professional partnership. What tools and resources do board members have at their disposal in order to successfully raise funds for your organization? Share fundraising plans and goals. Ask current board members to discuss their personal successes with new board members. It’s much easier to find out *now* that your board candidate has no interest in this role (or has no network) than it is down the line.

Redefine “fundraising” for your board: My friend Jill Goldenberg does not even like to use the term! She prefers “revenue development”, “capacity building”, or the like. Why? Because it can scare people off and brings to mind some distasteful encounter with a phone solicitor. Your board may equate fundraising with face to face solicitation, and not everyone is comfortable in that role. Instead, give board members a sense of all the different parts they can play as a capacity builder for the organization. Yes, solicitation might be one of them, but others include:

  • Introducing the organization’s executive director or board president to someone in their network (i.e., a warm handoff)
  • Bringing a friend, co-worker or family member on a tour of the program or facility
  • Connecting the organization with a private, public or family foundation
  • Taking current donors to breakfast, lunch, coffee, etc. to give them updates on the organization’s work and show appreciation
  • Making “thank you” calls to current donors or event attendees

Board members become much more comfortable fundraisers when they realize that it’s not all about the “ask”. In fact, volunteers who bring new relationships to the table may be more valuable to the organization that those who can simply solicit.

Resource your board: I know this will not come as a shocker, but I have worked with several development directors who complain that their board does not fundraise. Many of these institutions do not provide the basic tools, training and resources to make their board members comfortable solicitors, cultivators, and ambassadors. These include:

  • Training on solicitation best practices (on an annual basis!), prospect identification, cultivation and stewardship
  • A strong case for support
  • A solicitor tool kit, which might include:
  • Your case for support
  • An organizational overview
  • Programmatic descriptions
  • FAQ’s
  • Annual report
  • Pledge card
  • Renderings or budget (for capital)