Rethink Nonprofit Board Fundraising

As an executive director or development professional who has experienced the frustration of dealing with nonprofit board fundraising or asking your board to raise money for your organization, you are not alone. Moving past this obstacle doesn’t require a magic wand; if you can believe it, it may work better in some cases to have board members stop directly asking for money. What a relief, right? Read on to find out what we mean. You’ll soon recognize a new way to apply an approach you’ve used before.

Role of a Nonprofit Board Member

There are two components to the role of nonprofit board member:

  • First, there is governance, a fairly straightforward concept. It includes supervising the organization’s top executive, ensuring its legal and financial matters are properly attended to, looking around corners to ensure that big problems don’t crop up unexpectedly and then dealing with those that slip through the cracks.
  • The second component includes being the face of the organization to the community—and, traditionally, participating in raising funds for the organization. This last item on the list (money) is often a third rail for directors.

It’s not much of a mystery why; asking for money can be awkward. It takes practice for it to be fun, and “no” is not usually personal, but sure feels that way in the early going. Tagging wealthy friends as potential big donors feels icky, so lots of people just shy away. It’s human nature. Since people who are uncomfortable doing stuff often stop doing it… well, this is not a good long-term plan, clearly.

The better plan (and here is where the light bulb will go off for experienced nonprofit professionals) sounds a lot like an expanded version of a community relations officer. Instead of being asked to run around with a hand out, we are now going to ask directors to tell a story that means something to them. (Already much less stressful, right?) Certain very reasonable assumptions are made. Their friends and colleagues are good people, of course, and they want to make the world a better place, too.

Directors are sharing with others what gets them excited about making the world a better place. And if that cause happens to resonate with their friends—BOOM—maybe they all join forces. Or their friends tell their own friends or colleagues. Or come up with a connection or another new idea. Because that is what happens when people get excited about great ideas. That’s ambassadorship—spreading ideas and making connections that make the world a better place. Suddenly, this all sounds much easier and more comfortable than straight up asking for money. And so it is.

The Ambassadorship Model

Applying the ambassadorship model to boards requires planning, structure and support, just like it does for development pros. Board members will need at a minimum these important tools:

  • Current facts and data about the organization and its mission to accompany their passion for the cause.
  • Specific information about what kinds of connections is most helpful to the organization and its leadership team.
  • Information about how to work with the organization’s professional staff—or other board members who may be more comfortable with the process—to “close” the opportunities uncovered in the ambassadorship process, including specific funding opportunities.

Ambassadorship is a different way of positioning board members’ work with the community as representatives of their cause. It can and should absolutely include the goal of raising money. Most importantly, ambassadorship highlights the strengths of board members rather than forcing them to lead with the tasks they are most reluctant to do.

A successful ambassadorship program can help to connect the board and the organization’s leadership team to one another, the mission and to financial results—all significant goals. Of course, some very mature organizations may have highly structured development operations and may not see the need to adapt a model like this. For others, though, a board ambassadorship program may be just the ticket.

First published in NonProfitPRO on May 29, 2018.

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