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Super Heavyweight Board Members

October 2010
By: Ron Haas

Board members who give generously and encourage others to give lead successful organizations. Ideal board members are leaders whose reputations carry some weight when they get behind a cause. These men and women are movers and shakers who know how to get things done. Unfortunately, instead of recruiting board members who can do some heavy lifting when it comes to fundraising, many Christian nonprofits settle for 98-pound weaklings who don't give and won't encourage others to give. These board members are nice people who have a heart for the ministry, but they understand their role to be managing the money the organization already has, instead of helping find more money.

If you want to develop your fundraising muscles start with these with these five major donor exercises:

1. Believe in Your Product

A capital campaign chairman recently shared, "I can ask for money from anyone if I truly believe it's a worthy cause, and this is a great cause." If you question the fundraising project, the vision of the organization, or even the integrity of the executive director, you will have a difficult time soliciting funds with passion. More than one board member has resigned because he or she believes that somewhere along the line the ministry got off track. Maybe the capital campaign is too aggressive or goes a direction that doesn't make sense. Perhaps the organization has mismanaged funds and hasn't corrected the problems. On a few occasions, board members even lose confidence in the executive director's ability to lead. Fundraising is hard enough without dealing with the drama of a dysfunctional organization. Trust is a key to success, and any doubts about the organization seriously erode a board member's ability to raise money.

On the flip side, there is no more infectious, inviting, engaging board member than someone who is sold out to the cause. They win friends to the organization with their enthusiasm. Donors might not know anything about your organization, but "If Bill believes in your cause, it must be good." How do ministries create this level of enthusiasm? One word: ownership. One donor shared this caveat, "I will give to this project, but at a minimal level because I don't have any skin in the game." In other words, he had no ownership or connection to the project. The more board members are involved in shaping the organization's future, the more enthusiastic they will be in sharing the story with their friends.

2. Give First, Then Ask

You have to give before you can ask. It doesn't work any other way. A board member cannot ask a potential donor to do something that he or she has not done. Major donors have a tendency of asking tough questions, and it could be a little embarrassing if someone asked pointedly, "What have you committed to the project?" Donors want to know that board members truly believe in the project and are willing to put their treasure where their heart is.

A foundation director was listening to a grant proposal presentation from a nonprofit organization and asked, "Does your board fully support this project?" The campaign chair responded, "Absolutely, our board is behind this 100 percent." Unfortunately for the presenter, the foundation director knew a few of the organization's board members who had privately shared their misgivings about the scope of the campaign. Their tepid response cooled the foundation's interest in the grant. Board support must be more than voting "yes" to launch a campaign. Literally, you have to put your money where your mouth is and lead by example. This doesn't mean that each board member must give the same amount, but it does mean that each must give a generous, sacrificial gift. Anything less calls into question a board member's commitment to the cause.

3. Start With Namestorming

The old adage "It's not what you know, but who you know" directly applies to fundraising. People give because people they know and trust ask them to give. Your organization should mine your database for past major donors who have fallen off the radar screen. There are also some hidden gems that will surface in a wealth screening of the mailing list. But this internal research of past and present donors is just the beginning. Board members can start stretching their fundraising muscles by namestorming a list of potential donors.

Simply put, "Who do you know?" Who in your circle of business associates, neighbors, fellow church members, wealthy relatives, and golfing buddies do you think might be interested in the mission of your organization? Namestorming is a team event. One board member may think of a name, but not have a relationship with a prospective donor. Another board member might not have thought of that name, but knows them well.

4. Open The Door

Everyone can namestorm prospective donors, but it takes a little more strength to introduce that donor to your organization. Often campaign committee members are eager to name names, but reluctant to actually open the door. Some will say, "Bill and Mary are great prospects, but don't tell them that I suggested them." While that attitude isn't too helpful, it at least builds a contact list. Others will go one step further and offer, "Call Joe and tell him that I told you to call him." That's a little more helpful, but still falls short.

Giving is relational, and effective board members get personally involved in the solicitation process. Call the donor and invite him or her to lunch with you and your executive director. Invite your friend on a personal tour to get a first-hand look at how your organization is impacting people for Christ. When Andrew saw Jesus, the first thing he did was go and bring his brother Peter to Him. As a board member, your number one task is to introduce friends to your ministry. Imagine what your organization would be like with a few more Andrews, and a few less Doubting Thomases.

5. Ask Peer to Peer

Identify prospective donors, open doors, but most importantly — they are not afraid to ask for a gift. Friends asking friends is the strongest possible fundraising strategy. Think about it this way. If God called you to the mission field and you needed to raise support, whom would you ask? No doubt you would approach your church, but you would also round up all of your family and friends and ask for their prayer and financial support. It's the same for your organization except most board members don't seem to have a problem asking people to pray, but for some reason can't choke out the words "Would you consider a gift?"

Soliciting gifts is the one board responsibility that "separates the men from the boys." Successful fundraising is a learned skill that can be developed over time. Weight lifters don't start by bench pressing 500 lbs, and board members don't have to start with million dollar requests. Start small and work your way up to larger gifts. Not every board member will become a super heavyweight fundraiser, but everyone can strengthen his or her fundraising muscles with a little exercise!

Ron Haas is Vice President of the Timothy Group in Grand Rapids, Michigan. He can be reached at

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