Recently, I’ve been inundated with requests from either clients or prospective clients on how to get help getting their boards to value major gifts. The requests break down into two areas:

  1. How do I get my board, whether a governing or advisory board, to value philanthropy and allow us to invest more in our major gift program?
  2. We don’t have a major gift program and I need the board’s help to give and make connections for us.

It’s frustrating isn’t it? You’ve got a great mission; you’re meeting needs, and yet your board does not value philanthropy – or even worse, it fears the role philanthropy plays with your non-profit.
Richard and I believe that the board has to be an advocate for philanthropy or your non-profit will really never get off the ground (if you are a young organization) or grow (if you are established). Regarding philanthropy, the board must do three things:

  1. Give of their own resources. I’m not talking just their time. Each board member should be required to make a significant financial contribution to your organization. What that amount is, only your organization can know, but it has to be significant.
  2. Make connections to others who will get inspired and make a financial commitment to your organization. This is especially helpful for many start-ups or young organizations that are just trying to develop a major gift program.
  3. Participate on a development committee (in a governing or advisory role) to help be a sounding board, and in some cases to hold you accountable to your major gift program’s revenue goals.

This should be the minimum requirement of the board’s role in philanthropy. Unfortunately, not only are these requirements not being met at many non-profits, but there is actually a negative attitude on the part of board members toward fundraising. In fact, just today I was talking to an executive director who is launching a major gift program, and the board has already told her they don’t want anyone to come ask them for money.
Are you kidding me? Does this board understand they are a non-profit? Have they ever heard of leading by example? Mostly likely not. So, knowing there are so many folks struggling to inspire their boards to invest in major gifts here are some thoughts to turn their attitudes around and get them pumped to support your major gift program.

  1. Require all prospective board members go through a “fundraising 101” training. In many cases a retreat is a great way to do this. This training has to address the role philanthropy plays in your organization and what your org’s fundraising expectations are for board members. Do this before they join your organization’s board. Setting expectations helps you weed out potentially disastrous board members.
  2. Find at least one advocate on your board that “gets it” and will not only support you, but will strongly advocate for you in both formal meetings and side conversations, so they can influence others. Preferably, it would be best to have 2-3 members helping you with this effort, but you HAVE to find one. If it could be the board chair, that would be best.
  3. Bring in one of your influential donors (who is not a board member) to speak to the board and to tell his or her story about why they support your organization. This will do two things: 1) Let the board know there are people who are passionate about your mission and 2) Help the board understand that fundraising is a good thing… that donors are also part of the mission, and asking donors to give is a beautiful thing not only for the organization but also for the donor. It’s at this moment that board members start to make the connection that donors want to give because they love your mission – but you have to ask.
  4. Break each board member’s heart. Many organizations fail to make an emotional connection with board members. Yes, many of them are on the board because they think you have a good mission, but many have not had their hearts broken. Richard and I would say this is actually a requirement. We believe this because if you did this, you would create an atmosphere where board members could not help but feel the emotion of your mission the minute they walk in the door. Imagine that for a moment. All board members would always be thinking they were the bridge between a donor’s passion and desire and your mission. But first their own hearts have to be broken.

The competition in the non-profit sector is too great, and the needs are too plentiful to be stymied by a board that does not value philanthropy and major gifts. Put the time in to do the training right. Find that advocate on the board that can help you win others over, and put some thought to how you can break the hearts of your board members.
You have no choice if you want to have a successful major gift program.