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It’s the Fundraising, Stupid!

By Tom Watson on November 28, 2007No Comment
  • Fundraising is the most pressing issue faced by nonprofit boards, and the #1 area requiring improvement in terms of nonprofit governance
  • Less than half of all charities report full board participation in giving
  • Only 40 percent of public charity board members report being comfortable asking for money on behalf of the organization

In other words, it’s all about the MONEY!!

For openers, this report easily could have been written and reported 39 years ago when I began my career in fundraising and could have likely been re-reported each year since. As a trustee and board member of a number of charities, it is a matter of routine to work to improve in these specific areas of seemingly normal deficits.

It all usually starts at the top with the three C’s: the CEO, Chairperson of the board and Chief Advancement Officer. These are the power team that can set the tone and pace for fundraising for most boards. Without at least 2 of these three (including the board chair) actively supporting the fundraising initiative, most fundraising programs fail. The impact of a board’s lack-luster giving performance is constituency wide and easily takes away from other efforts.

For generations, people have been hearing that a board member must possess one of three assets: wealth, wisdom or work. On the other hand there are those who say: give, get or get off! These are the old axioms used by governance consultants largely to get the attention of boards so at least they might consider addressing the problem. Walking the talk is something more difficult.

The fact that less than 50% of the charities surveyed had 100% of their boards financially supporting the organization is the most disturbing of all of the findings.

The several other key findings are not surprising since they are related to human behavior. I have often lamented that fundraising is “an unnatural act” for most people. How many times have you or I heard “I’ll do anything for the cause, but ask for money”; when all we want that trustee to do IS ask for money, because that is the greatest need for program delivery and success. How much at opposite ends of the spectrum could we be in some cases?

To pursue a solution,  let’s take the next step and that is to review several primary causes of the problem:

  • The failure of the board to develop a board plan
  • The failure to recruit board members to meet the fundraising needs in the plan
  • The failure of the organization to provide a full disclosure of expectations if one accepts a position on the board.

The next time you are in a board meeting, simply ask the chair if there is a board chronological plan with a matrix of the demographics and metrics for each board member, as well as the categories of expertise needed for the future. There will be a moment of initial silence and then a vague review of how hard the nominating committee works (it should be a governance committee or committee on trustees).

It is all about targeting, enlisting, educating and informing board members. If carried out properly, there are no surprises when boards are asked to raise money or conversely, no surprises on the part of the institution that they are disappointed when they fail to raise funds.

Organizations could begin with a board audit or review by an objective outside agency to see what is or is not in place for effective governance and fundraising. From that exercise, a plan should be developed for information and execution over a several year period and that plan will address the following fears and questions of board members asked to raise money:

  •  Am I personally expected to make a gift?
  •  Will I have to solicit others?
  •  How important is philanthropy anyway?
  •  What happens if the prospect says NO?
  •  Will the staff expect US to do all of the work?
  •  How are our $$$ being spent? (projects compared to cost of fundraising)

If these fears are addressed, then board members can enjoy the rewards and realities of changed behavior:

  •  I am proud to make my gift!
  •  I am proud of my gift!
  •  I will gladly solicit others!
  •  I know that Philanthropy is critical to carrying out our work and mission!
  •  I am prepared for successes and failures in philanthropy!
  •  I am in partnership with staff!
  •  I am making a difference!

If the board chair, the CEO and chief development officer start addressing the issues, there can be dramatic changes with lasting impacts on the charities and their beneficiaries!!

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