When prospective clients call and ask us to engage in a campaign management project, one of the first questions we ask is about lay leadership. “Tell us about the board’s role in fundraising…” we inquire. Or “…do you have a development committee?” Our first line of questioning tells us a lot about what we might encounter when we actually dig in to the project. You see, Stefanie and I were “raised” in the Jewish communal fundraising world, and we take the peer-to-peer fundraising model quite seriously. We believe in it almost as one would an aspect of their religion. In fact, we are seriously religious about this particular area of our work!
Why? Because we know that it is the most effective means to a successful major gifts campaign and we have seen it work for the 23+ years we have been in the field. Well-coordinated peer-to-peer, face-to-face major gift solicitation is the single most critical factor affecting the success of any fundraising campaign. Is it true that a professional fundraising team can play huge role in the solicitation process? YES. That said, we count on our lay partners to open doors for us, make introductions, and link us to the greater community. And although we love a lay leader who is willing to solicit, board members can play a critical role in the fundraising program without ever having to actually ask for a gift.
The possibilities are endless… board members can host parlor meetings (solicitation or non-solicitation) in their homes and/or introduce the organization’s executive director, development director, board president or campaign chair to those in their personal and professional networks. They can represent the nonprofit at community functions and link the organization’s administrative team to prospective community partners. Board members can make thank you phone calls to major donors (I love this one — people are shocked when the nonprofit actually calls to thank rather than solicit them). They can participate in campaign strategy development, calendaring, event planning or solicitation training. Board members can connect their nonprofit to a corporate giving function at their place of business. Perhaps most importantly, they can help to cultivate prospective donors or steward current stakeholders. No one does this better than an organization’s board member.
We at Giving Tree Associates are happy to dive into a more detailed conversation about how we approach board development and how we think about the board’s role in the campaign. Just ask… but in the mean time, the answer is YES. Your board must play a major role in building your organization’s capacity (and not just talk about it at the conference room table). It is time to stretch those boundaries.