By Bill Stanczykiewicz, Ed.D.
An unfortunate comment by a dedicated board member can teach all fundraisers a career-long lesson about the importance of board engagement and fundraising.
The new leader of a struggling nonprofit organization asked board members to think about colleagues, friends, neighbors, and family members who might be interested in donating to the nonprofit. One long-time board member offered to have a coffee-and-dessert event in her home, invite neighbors and other friends, and encourage them to join her as a donor to her favorite charity. After the board member provided this initial burst of inspiration, the new executive director would give specific information about the nonprofit’s programs and how donations would make an impact.
The board member selected a Sunday evening for the event, and many of the invited guests accepted her offer to attend and learn more. So far, so good.
The evening arrived, and so did the guests, who mingled for several minutes before being called into the house’s large parlor. With everyone assembled, the board member welcomed everyone to her home, expressed hope that they had enjoyed the dessert and coffee, and offered additional pleasantries before transitioning to the main point of the evening.
“I am so glad that you are interested in learning more about (the nonprofit that she described by name),” the valiant volunteer said. “I have been on this board for a long, long time although–quite frankly–I don’t know what the heck they do. In fact, the organization is rather confusing. Anyway, I hope you’ll join me as a donor, and fortunately, our new executive director is here to provide you with the details you need to know.”
The swirling sound the executive director could hear was not leftover coffee being discarded but the energy in the room going down the drain. The blank looks on the faces of the evening’s guests revealed that any interest they might have had in learning more about the nonprofit had dissipated following the board member’s deflating remarks.
While fundraisers might be quick to fault the board member for her faux pas, any blame needing to be assigned belonged to the executive director. The board member was a volunteer whose only in-person contact with the nonprofit totaled just six board meetings per year. The board member also took the extra step of preparing her home and hosting a pleasant evening on behalf of the nonprofit.
Meanwhile, the executive director was the full-time staff person spending every working day at the nonprofit organization. Therefore, the executive director was responsible for ensuring that the board member was fully informed and fully prepared to welcome her guests with an enlightening message that, instead, was marked by confusion.
Purposeful Boards, Powerful Fundraising
The Fund Raising School offers 30 public courses as well as custom training around the world, and course participants often spend significant time offering questions and concerns associated with a lack of fundraising engagement from their respective board members. This phenomenon is not surprising since, according to BoardSource, only 40 percent of nonprofit CEOs report that their boards are actively engaged in fund development.
The Fund Raising School has responded with a course designed for one staff member (either a fundraiser or the CEO) and one board member to learn practical essentials for recruiting and retaining the right board members while ensuring that the board and the staff are fully aware of expectations for board member donating and fundraising. The two people attend for the price of just one registration fee, and a board member is required to participate so that the course’s learnings can be shared with the rest of the board in a peer-to-peer environment.
In addition, the course is taught in live online sessions, once per week over four weeks, with each session lasting only three hours. This schedule is designed specifically for board members who work full-time and would not be available to leave work and leave home for at least two full days to attend the course.
Nonprofits need to include and oversee fundraising expectations when recruiting and guiding board members, and fundraisers need to ensure that they are equipping their board members for fundraising success. After all, fundraising and coffee and dessert are so much more enjoyable when the board of directors is fully engaged.
Bill Stanczykiewicz, Ed.D., serves as assistant dean for external relations at the Indiana University Lilly Family School of Philanthropy, where he also directs The Fund Raising School.