How effective is your board at helping you solicit major gifts? If your board is like most of the boards Richard and I have encountered over the years, probably not great.
It’s not easy to recruit your board to help you fundraise. But it can be extremely effective if you manage it the right way. And if it’s done correctly, not only will you raise more revenue, you will also deepen the commitment of your board members and endear them to your organization like never before.
I’ve got a good story for you about how to do this right.
Recently, I’ve been working with one of our clients who has put together a five-year campaign to raise scholarship money for their institution.
In the past, while the board is very well-connected with current donors of the organization and within the community, previous development leadership did a poor job of inspiring board members to help cultivate these donors.
But new leadership took over a year and a half ago, and they were eager to change things.
So back to the campaign. I will take you step by step through what the Director of Development did. She inspired the board to take a lead on cultivating and soliciting some of their major donors that they had relationships with, and it led to great success. She…

  1. Created goals, plan, objectives, a timeline and expectations — Before asking board members to help with the campaign, the development director prepared clear goals, objectives, a timeline and expectations. This is critical for board members. They need to see what the goals and plans are, so they can see what the end result looks like.
  2. Inspired the board — The development director knew that she needed to inspire the board to want to participate in cultivating and soliciting donors for the campaign. She had the stories and the vision to get them excited.
  3. Set expectations up front to let people off the hook — Now, you may think this is strange, but the development director only wanted board volunteers who were going to be committed to this. Her board has 20 members. She figured beforehand she needed eight of them. Here is what the expectations were:
  • Limited time of cultivating and soliciting donors — 10 months in total.
  • Everyone would have a caseload of donors they were responsible for.
  • Board members had to agree to be managed by her and one other staff member.
  • Each donor on the board member’s caseload had to have a campaign goal and a plan attached.
  • The board members had to agree to meet once per month as a team, and bi-weekly as individuals, to check in on their progress.
  1. Managed the board volunteers — This was critical. The development director and her staff person were very proactive in making sure that they set up their monthly campaign meetings, and that they met individually with each board volunteer. This allowed them to help the board member with strategy, get over anxiety of asking by providing coaching, and help them feel good about the process.
  2. Provided ongoing inspiration and encouragement — These board volunteers are very, very wealthy people. You may think that folks like this don’t need ongoing encouragement. Wrong. They are just people like you and me, and it was amazing how they responded to hearing stories of donors who were committing to the campaign, and how their fellow board volunteers were doing.
  3. Communication — This was essential. The development team worked hard to give a weekly update on the progress of the campaign. They sent notes from meetings and communicated successes along the way.

The results were phenomenal. In just three months the campaign goal was met. So they doubled their goal, and they are set to hit that mark after 8 months of work! The best part about this is that the eight board volunteers feel incredibly successful. So successful that the development director has received calls from other non-profits these board members are also part of, asking how she did it.
Notice that? The board volunteers are telling other organizations how great it was to work on this campaign.
If you can help lead your board, give them clear expectations, goals and a strategy – and manage them along the way – you will see success. That really shouldn’t be a surprise to you, because that is how you and the rest of your major gift team work and are successful too.