Maybe you don't verbalize your feelings in a board meeting, but your frustrations are real. Your board members expect you to raise all the money, but they don't lift a finger to help. Even worse—some of them don't give at all. If you feel this way, you are not alone. Countless nonprofit executive directors struggle to motivate their board members to get involved in fundraising. Before you pull that resignation letter out of your desk one more time, consider these words from the Apostle Paul:
"Be at peace among yourselves. And we urge you, brothers, admonish the idle, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with them all. See that no one repays anyone evil for evil, but always seek to do good to one another and to everyone" 1 Thessalonians 5:13-15.
Paul wasn't specifically writing to executive directors and board members, but if you apply his principles of working together, you might actually look forward to monthly board meetings! You probably know this already, but each board member is unique. That means they have different gifts, different strengths and weakness, and different interests. They see fundraising from different perspectives, which means that you must motivate them with their individual needs in mind. Paul suggests four approaches for working with people.
Warn the freeloaders to get a move on!
If you have board members who haven't written a check to your organization, something's wrong. "For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also" (Matthew 6:21). Leaders must lead by example. If someone in the inner circle doesn't believe in the cause enough to give, they won't be able to motivate those on the outside. Everyone should not be required to give the same amount, but everyone must give a generous, sacrificial gift.
Some may argue, "I volunteer my time." That's wonderful, but volunteer time doesn't pay the electric bill or staff salaries. I am always amazed when politicians disclose their charitable giving records. Typically, it's only a few hundred dollars. Maybe they consider their contribution to be all the time they've sacrificed for public service. Giving is a matter of priorities. You can spend money on yourself, or you can lay up treasures in heaven. Board members should tithe to their local church first, but your ministry should be second or third on their giving lists.
Have you heard this excuse: "I don't feel comfortable asking my friends for money"? It's true. Everyone isn't interested in the same charities, but board members must learn to let people decide for themselves whether or not they choose to give. If God called you to the mission field, whom would you ask for prayer and financial support? Your friends! Encourage board members to get just as excited about sharing your ministry as they might get excited about sharing a great financial investment opportunity.
Gently encourage the stragglers.
Some board members have trouble following through with fundraising responsibilities. People have a thousand things to do, and there aren't enough hours in the day to get it all done. Tasks like setting up a major donor call tend to fall to the bottom of the list. Come alongside your busy board members and encourage them to keep moving forward with your fundraising plan.
Unfortunately, some board members never complete their assignments. They keep promising to contact a potential donor, but they neglect to make the phone call. They talk a good game, but it's just talk. Solomon describes these board members, and even a few donors this way, "Like clouds and wind without rain is a man who boasts of a gift he does not give" Proverbs 25:14. The Corinthian church was slow in sending a gift they had promised, so Paul wrote and challenged them to follow through and get the job done (2 Corinthians 8:10-11). It's not what you expect, but what you inspect that actually gets done. Encourage board members to take an active role in fundraising. If nothing changes, refer to step one.
Reach out to the exhausted.
Don was a rare board member who jumped into a capital campaign with both feet. He was a contractor who had built a strong donor prospect list that included business associates, community leaders, church members, and lifelong friends. As he made donor calls, he discovered that many of his contacts weren't as excited about the capital campaign as he was. Some didn't want to meet with him. Several wouldn't return his phone calls. Some put off a decision to give. Others gave considerably less than he had hoped.
At one board meeting he shared, "This is hard work. I'd rather be out digging dirt with a shovel than asking people for money." Don needed someone to come alongside and encourage him. He was doing a great job. Donors weren't eager to give because the organization had done a poor job of telling its story, not because Don was doing something wrong. With some encouragement Don kept pitching. At the end of the campaign he had raised three times more than anyone else on the committee. Reach out to exhausted board members and pull them to their feet.
Be patient with each person.
The stress level at board meetings usually tracks with the monthly financial reports. As gift income rises, so does everyone's mood; but when donations go down, attitudes often follow. The executive director looks at the board and wonders why they aren't helping. The board looks at the executive director and wonders why he or she doesn't get out and call on major donors. Remember the verse we started with, "Be at peace among yourselves. And we urge you, brothers, admonish the idle, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with them all. "
What can you do to bring out the best in your board members? And what can they do to bring out the best in you? You need a plan and some patience. The plan is simple. Fundraising is all about relationships. It's not a great piece of mail or a new color brochure; it's sharing your story with donors one at a time. Ask your board members to brainstorm a list of potential donors who want to make a spiritual impact with their giving. Develop a personal strategy for each prospect. Which board member knows this person the best? Who should go with the executive director to make a presentation? Is the purpose of this donor call to introduce the ministry, cultivate relationships, or ask for a gift? Who will follow up with the donor? Once you've done your homework, grab a board member and go make a donor call together. You'll be pleasantly surprised at what God can do.
Don was right. Fundraising is hard. Some of your board members might even rather "dig dirt with a shovel." But when you work together to bring out the best in every team member, the tough times get easier and the good times get even better.
Ron Haas is vice president of the Timothy Group in Grand Rapids, Michigan. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.