May 14, 2007 Mark Hrywna
Fundraising is really "friend-making," says Gail Perry, and once you have a friend, they’ll do just about anything for you. That’s one of the steps Perry advises to change the attitudes of nonprofit board members who don’t like trying to raise money.
Perry, founder of Gail Perry Associates, a Raleigh, N.C.-based consulting firm, led a session called "Set Your Board Members to Win at Fundraising: Turn Board Passion Into Action" at the recent Association of Fundraising Professionals (AFP) conference in Dallas.
Author of "Fired Up Fundraising" and program chair of the Research Triangle Chapter of AFP, Perry said nonprofits should aim to get board members to take small steps to shift how they think about fundraising. Board members are not fundraising because they are not fully engaged in the organization, she said, or they don’t know what fundraising is, stuck in the belief that it’s just about asking people for money.
If board members are not comfortable asking for money, there’s still plenty for them to do that can affect the organization’s bottom line. Board members can get involved in thanking donors, Perry said, which can increase the second gift to an organization, according to some research. "Put your board members to work doing that," she said.
"There’s a role for every board member," other than the ask and thank you, such as identifying, following up and warming up. "Donors want to be treated like people and not pocketbooks," she said.
Other fundraising activities for board members, Perry said, include advice visits, small socials and mission-focused tours.
Inspiring board members with a new philosophy about fundraising is one of four steps Perry suggests to make those shifts in attitude. "’Friend-raising’ is really okay for board members who don’t like to ask for money," she said. "Word of mouth is by far the most popular and trusted information source."
"Friend-raising" builds "social capital," and that influence helps get community buzz about an organization, Perry said.
Perry describes board members who spread the word about an organization as "sneezers," using viral marketing to raise awareness about a nonprofit and its mission. "Put yourself in their shoes, and think about what they want out of their experience," she said.
Board meetings are the primary point of contact with an organization for most board members, and Perry said if meetings are boring, board members are not excited enough about the organization. "Are you providing an opportunity for board members to do meaningful work, enjoy their service and use their talents," she asked.
Board members won’t have the energy needed to raise money if they are trying to get through unpleasant board meetings, Perry said. She suggests building a coffee hour or an annual event into meeting agendas, creating ways to have social opportunities for board members. Most meaningful decisions or discussions usually take place in the hallway after a meeting or over coffee outside of a meeting setting, she said. Something as simple as nametags for board members might help, as new people won’t know everyone, she added.
Focus on the mission
Perry related the story of a public health clinic forced to do triage in a hallway due to lack of space. It’s outrageous, she said, but the organization did not want to talk about it because they felt it was embarrassing. "Let’s let our board members feel bad," Perry said, because a sense of urgency can help board members know what to raise money for.
"We can take responsibility for a board" being productive or not, said Perry, suggesting that a client speak at every board meeting, to help crystallize the mission or get people excited.
"Energy is contagious. You need to be the kind of person who when you leave the room, the energy shifts," Perry said. "We need to get our board members there."