Frustrated Fundraiser Fools Board Into Fundraising

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"We're not a fundraising board" the board president told Susan for the one-hundredth time since she began working for the nonprofit three years ago.

Frustrated but undeterred, she nodded and smiled. She knew not to push too hard, or he would become grumpy and begin asking others about her "performance."

"I'm lucky in a way," she thought to herself. "Even if the others won't, at least he will attempt to arrange meetings with a few households each year."

This was Susan’s reality. She was the only dedicated fundraising staff person working on a capital campaign for a modestly sized nonprofit. She was relatively new to the profession, but she had learned a lot in a few short years and was gaining confidence.

Fortunately, the board had been convinced to provide her with advisors to assist with the campaign. So she at least had someone to answer her questions, to act as a sounding board, and to give guidance on the campaign.

"Yes," the advisors would tell her, "it is typically expected that every board member make at least some level of financial donation each year and that they are active contributors to fundraising activities. "Sadly,” they would continue, "you're not alone. Many nonprofit boards are just like yours."

Despite her unfortunate, and not at all uncommon, circumstances, Susan had reason to celebrate. With help from her advisors, she was developing real fundraising skills and having some success! In a short time she had learned how to develop a growing and active major donor prospect list, how to leverage her connections to win introductions, the value of getting to know her prospects as people, and when and how to make an appropriate ask. She was landing several major gifts in the five- and six-figure range and had a rapidly expanding list of new prospects.

Susan knew that these donors and prospects would appreciate receiving personal thank you cards from members of the board, but she struggled to get even the president to fulfill his agreement to send them consistently. She also felt that even if the rest of the board was unwilling or, quite fairly, unsuited to actively engage in donor meetings and asks, the least they could do was help in other ways. She reasoned that they too could pick up a pen and lend their title as board member to the many note cards that needed to go out each month. Each time she brought up the idea, the board would generally agree that it was a wonderful idea, but unfortunately, no one ever followed through with their assigned notes for very long or without persistent time-intensive nagging.

It eventually occurred to Susan that she should try a new approach to coax her board to help. Everyone was always so engaged with the idea of the organization needing to "do more fundraising" and would at least claim to be a willing participant in front of the full board. Why not take advantage of this unique confluence of affirmation and bravado, and get them to do something in the moment?

She decided that an upcoming board meeting would be her chance to act. She did her homework before the meeting and pulled a list of recurring smaller donors whose relatively small donations had only been recognized as small individual gifts, but whose cumulative value had placed them well above the “major donor” threshold.

Susan arrived at the meeting armed with a brief introduction about these people who had fallen through the campaign cracks and needed some love from the board. Everyone agreed, harrumphing in unison. It was time for her to pounce!

Taking advantage of the positive energy in the room, she pulled out a stack of notecards, envelopes, pens, stamps, sample thank you copy, and giving history and account information for each donor. She then proceeded to pass out the supplies to each board member and asked them to take a few minutes to make a huge impression on these special donors.

Eureka! Everyone, with very little encouragement, set to work writing out their assigned thank you notes. Within seven minutes (yes, I timed it...), they had produced a handful of powerful handwritten personal letters—addressed, stamped, and ready to drop in the mailbox.

Susan expects, and rightfully so, that this one small gesture will not only help encourage these donors to continue their recurring gifts, but that some will likely be moved to the point of giving even more.

Based on the success of this recent experiment, Susan plans to repeat it on a regular basis and may even someday let the board in on her little secret—that they actually are a fundraising board.


Image Credit: Lisa Bunchofpants (with changes)