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Simple Mistakes: Simpler Solutions


I like to think of fundraising as being all about teamwork, and your primary team is your board. These are the individuals who give and get, who provide their expertise, relationships and special ideas. They care.

As their fundraising coach, you must provide them with the proper context to motivate and succeed. You must devise a game plan, instill confidence, and help avoid errors that demotivate the very team that you need on your side.

Here I mention three common mistakes we sometimes make with our boards.

The good news is that all three are easy to avoid!


#1: Fundraising Before Friendraising

How often have you heard from a new board member, “I’ll help, but just don’t ask me to ask for money”?

Regrettably, there's a common misconception among board members about their fundraising role. Many believe it's primarily about asking for money, when in fact, it's about fostering relationships. Fundraising is all about the connections we build.

The number one role of a board member is to help introduce valued relationships, whether it’s for expertise, leadership, or yes – fundraising.

If a board member is not willing to share relationships, then they should be a supporter, not a board member.

Asking is the culmination of many steps leading to commitment, trust, and an interest in making a difference. When done right, it’s far from the first step.

Have you ever been asked to make cold calls? Comfortable? Of course not! Your board should be asked to engage friends, and the support will follow. And if you or your board members are making cold calls, you haven’t set up your team properly.


Try This First: Ask your board to leverage their personal connections by hosting a small cocktail or luncheon at their home. Make it clear that there will be NO ASKING for money. The gathering aims to introduce your cause to potential new friends in a relaxed setting. Remember, it's not about numbers but building relationships with people who can amplify your reach.

Make it casual, explain why the cause is so meaningful, and invite them to learn more. Avoid formal presentations, and no tacked-on asking for money!

Don’t start with an ask; start with a relationship.


#2: Emergency Fundraising

This does not refer to a genuine, obvious emergency like a hurricane. This is all about an emergency at your organization. “Our fundraising is down, our vice president left, our operations costs went up, we lost our grant, and we need donations now!"

Do you expect your board members to be motivated to approach relationships and ask on behalf of an organization in potential trouble?

Emergencies happen; sometimes, you can go to your most engaged supporters when the chips are down. However, most donors want to invest their funds in a well-managed organization. A sense of urgency doesn't hurt, but focusing on an internal crisis is not wise. It becomes all about the problems rather than the good your organization can produce.


Another Approach: How can you work with your board to present the crisis in a way that inspires support rather than doubt? For example, discuss how the board has been preparing for such a problem and is considering alternative solutions. Explain how a donation will be leveraged to invest in a long-term and sustainable plan. If your finances are troubling, put a cover sheet and explain in the most positive manner possible - and focus on what you are doing to get back on track.

Unexpected setbacks do occur, and donors and leaders WANT to help you. But they aren’t going to throw their money down a suspicious hole. Don’t “beg”; explain how a generous gift will move your organization forward and overcome short-term challenges.


#3: Insufficient Preparation

Board members are volunteers. Too often, we expect our leaders to perform with very little preparation and backup. We ask them to have lunch with a friend and ask for a pledge. But when do human beings procrastinate most? Usually, when they don’t like a task or don’t feel they can perform adequately. Insufficient coaching leads to uncertainty, anxiety, excuses, and delay.

Ensure they know you case for support, discuss issues in advance, answer questions, and deliberately poke holes in the case. Engage your board members in deeper conversations so that they feel prepared and knowledgeable. Give them stories to share that exemplify the good that your organization does.

If they are approaching a prospective friend for support, research in advance. A board member may know someone on one level but have yet to learn of other interests that may help with a comfortable conversation. Show them you’ve done your homework so their trust in the organization grows.


Handling the Ask: Don't wing it. First, provide your board member with all significant background, such as giving history and personal interests. Then have a conversation about who will say what: too often, everyone expects someone else to make the ask! Make sure to provide an alternative option for support - but not a menu. Be prepared with critical materials you shared with your board members in advance. Discuss how you will close the meeting and what promised follow-ups can be offered (i.e. “Would you come and take a tour with me in a week or so?”)

Finally, remind yourself and your board member to be quiet once an ask is made.


Set Expectations

Be prepared. Create relationships. Ask for investment, not salvation.

Cultivating donors is rarely a straight line. Your board members must have the information, confidence, and training necessary to follow the flow. They deserve defined objectives, trust, training, some practice, and inspiration.

Your board members will be more confident, and your organization will benefit from greater involvement and more robust fundraising!

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