Do you want to know how to reduce revenue from your major donors quickly? Put them on an advisory board and have them do nothing.
In the non-profit sector, there are thousands of donors sitting on some type of board or committee, and they are absolutely bored to tears. This ultimately puts the non-profit in a negative light, and the donor quickly becomes disillusioned with the non-profit.
The other day someone called me and asked my advice about this very topic. This development director said, “Jeff, I have this donor who I think would add a lot to one of our advisory boards. I’m thinking about asking her to be on it, and over time perhaps she could move to our main board.”
I proceeded to ask this DoD what the donor would be doing on the board. “Hmm… well, she would attend meetings and get to network with other advisory board members,” she said.
“Okay”, I said, “But what will she actually do on this board? What is the impact she would make, and how long will she be on it?”
The DoD had no idea. And this is the problem.
As MGOs and DoDs, you are always looking for ways to engage donors at a deeper level. I get that. And the easiest way, it seems, is to get them on some kind of board or committee that your non-profit has established. The problem is that most of these advisory boards or committees are not actively doing anything of value. Long ago it may have seemed like a good idea, but now, they have lost their value and intended impact.
I’ve heard from too many major donors who have had awful experiences being part of some kind of advisory board. Here are some of the critiques I’ve received from major donors:
- No clear objective to it. “No one really understood what they were supposed to do and what kind of decision-making power they actually had.”
- “There was no energy with existing advisory board members to do anything —and therefore no one attended the meetings, and nothing got done.”
- What stepping stone? “The advisory board was a way to bring me up to the general board level, but I sat on the advisory board for five years and essentially did nothing.”
- Exposure to bad leadership. “Before I came onto the advisory board I really loved the mission of the non-profit; but then I saw how dysfunctional it was, and I was really put off.”
Gosh, you don’t want to make the mistake of putting any of your donors in those situations.
Now, if your non-profit has its act together, advisory boards or committees can be a tremendous way to engage a major donor. Here’s a story about how one non-profit did just that:
Every year the VP of Development puts together an outside committee to help create a strategic plan. He invites 5-7 donors to participate on the Fundraising Strategic Plan Committee. Each year he invites all new participants, except for two from the previous year. The committee is set up for 120 days (four months).
With each invite he sends along the objective of the committee, a timeline that has meeting dates and milestones, and a definite finish date for the entire four months. He also includes a personal message on why he wants that particular donor to join them on the committee.
This committee has become so popular with major donors that anyone he asks says YES to it. The end result is that he has strong input and buy-in from these 5-7 major donors who present it to the non-profit’s governing board.
Why is this committee so effective?
- Clear objectives — Everyone knows what the end result will be.
- A set timeline — Participants know how long they will be needed.
- Donors know why they have been asked to be in the group. Each is told what the VP wants from him specifically. In other words, the non-profit actually uses the gifts of each of the committee members.
- It’s guaranteed to have a positive ending. The end result is an effective strategic plan that the governing board buys into.
Over the years, the VP has tracked the giving behavior of the donors who have participated on this committee. Overall, individual giving from just these donors has gone up 70% since they first came onto the board.
Now that is a positive engagement tool!
So before you start thinking of inviting your major donors to participate on a committee or advisory board, ask yourself if that board meets the four criteria above. If so, great; use it as another way to engage your donors on a deeper level. If not, maybe it’s time to disband, re-think and re-group.
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