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nonprofit board fundraising

Overcoming Board Fundraising Excuses

It’s a point of debate in the nonprofit sector whether all board members of a nonprofit should be required to help raise money. Bill Ryan (co-author of the book Governance as Leadership) argued that the fundraising requirement of many nonprofit boards is “a giant, fast-growing myth that ends up choking good governance to death.” And I often hear from nonprofit leaders and board members that requiring every single board member to participate in money-generating activities just isn’t realistic. I strongly disagree. I’m a firm believer in a give/get requirement for every board.

But, that doesn’t mean that every board member must ask donors for money. Rather, a nonprofit must take a strategic approach to employing at least some of every board member’s time toward bringing money in the door. And there are many things board members can do, beyond making an ask, to raise money (which is the subject of an upcoming post). But first, nonprofits have to move beyond their many excuses for why every board member can’t help raise money.

Here are the some of the most common excuses and why they don’t fly:

  • “We want client representation on our board, but our clients don’t have money.”
    Even though a client may not have access to large pools of money, they can still absolutely help bring money in the door. Because they have been helped by the organization, they can provide an amazing testimonial to potential donors about the impact of the organization. Why not take that client board member on some meetings with prospects? Their presence and their story might be enough to turn a prospect into a donor.

  • “We need a specific skill set (legal, marketing, policy expertise) and those board members may not have a network that can give.”
    A board member who doesn’t count potential major donors among their friends still has networks to draw from. Everyone has co-workers, clients, vendors, neighbors, family, and/or social media followers. When you start to ask your board to systematically think through who they know, you would be surprised about how vast your organization’s potential network is. Just because a board member doesn’t know the list of 50 donors every other nonprofit in town is going after, doesn’t mean they don’t know people.

  • “Some board members aren’t good at fundraising.”
    Actually the vast majority of people aren’t good at fundraising because it isn’t widely understood. But so what? Provide your board some fundraising training and have them practice on each other. Then pair greener board members with more seasoned ones to help them learn. Or ask another friendly nonprofit to have some of their effective board members come talk about their experiences raising money.

  • “Some board members are uncomfortable with asking for money.”
    Yep. Actually most people are uncomfortable asking for money. Money is a taboo subject in our society. But instead of viewing money as a dirty thing, start viewing it as a critical component of the work your nonprofit does. Reframe money as a great, necessary opportunity to help your organization do more and better. Bring everyone’s discomfort with money out into the open and turn it something positive. Get the board excited about raising more money so that more can be accomplished.

  • “We want board members with program expertise to focus on mission, not money.”
    I suppose in an ideal world it would be great if you could have mission without money, but that is just not the reality. Your organization does not have endless resources. Money is limited and therefore your programs and activities must be limited by an understanding of that resource. A board member cannot adequately discuss or plan for programs without intimate knowledge of and experience with the money that makes those programs run. You simply cannot separate the two. And the sooner you get those “program experts” contributing to the financial bottomline of the organization, the sooner you will have stronger, more sustainable programs.

Money is what makes a nonprofit and it’s work viable. It makes no sense to say that some board members should help bring it in and others should be excused. We have got to stop separating money, and the activities associated with it, from other aspects of a nonprofit organization. It makes no sense.

If you want help making your board more effective, download the “10 Traits of a Groundbreaking Board” e-book.

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10 Most Popular Posts of 2011

As 2011 comes to a close, I wanted to provide a list of the ten most popular Social Velocity blog posts this year. Then I’m taking a break from the blog until January.

I hope you all find time over the holidays to relax, unwind and spend time with friends and family. Thank you all for reading and contributing to the Social Velocity blog this year. I really appreciate all of my readers and look forward to talking with you in the new year. Happy Holidays!

The 10 most popular Social Velocity blog posts of 2011 were:

  1. 5 Lies to Stop Telling Donors
  2. The Financing Not Fundraising Blog Series
  3. 10 Great Social Innovation Reads: November
  4. The Problem with Strategic Planning
  5. 5 Nonprofit Trends to Watch in 2011
  6. 4 Things Every Nonprofit Needs
  7. What is Social Innovation?
  8. A Step-by-Step Guide to Creating a Nonprofit Financing Plan
  9. 7 Things Board Members Can Do to Raise More Money
  10. Why Nonprofit Overhead is Destructive

Photo Credit: Charline Tetiyevsky

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Tools to Build Smaller Nonprofits

I started Social Velocity because I saw a real hole in the nonprofit sector. Small and medium nonprofits working on social change lacked access to expertise and resources to strengthen and grow their solutions. The Teach for Americas of the world were building impressive organizations and replicating their solution far and wide. But they were doing so with the help of venture philanthropy funds, national consulting firms and broad and deep networks of experts and money. They were the lucky ones.

But there are some equally impressive solutions housed in much smaller, less resourced nonprofit organizations that aren’t really seeing the light of day.  Because these organizations don’t know how to put a growth plan together, figure out how to finance the impact they want to have, or create a compelling ask for money to build, their solutions are not reaching as far as they could.

Social Velocity exists to help those small and medium-size nonprofits who want to be entrepreneurial, who want to grow their programs, who want to get their board engaged and invested, who want to raise money to build their organization, who want to break out of the starvation cycle. I’m very passionate (and opinionated) about the fact that the bottom 80% of nonprofits need help to become stronger, better, more effective and sustainable at creating social impact.

So in order to reach more nonprofits, Social Velocity has a growth plan ourselves. And that growth plan involves creating tools, trainings, e-books, guides, worksheets, templates and other things that nonprofits can download in order to start thinking and doing things differently.

We’ve already made our step-by-step guides available for download, and our blog often has tips and tools to get started, but we want to do more. Some of our initial ideas for tools include:

  • A sample pitch for growth capital
  • An earned income analysis worksheet
  • A step-by-step tip sheet to get your board fundraising
  • A financial plan outline
  • An exercise to understand your nonprofit’s place in the external market
  • Sample language to start messaging around impact
  • Questions to guide your case for support creation
  • An investment range chart to break down a growth capital fundraising goal

But I want your input. How can we help you take social innovation ideas and put them into action? What kinds of tools would help you go from wanting to grow your programs to starting to put the plan in place?  What guides would allow you to move from being intrigued by the idea of philanthropic equity to putting together your own fundraising campaign to raise money to hire more staff, buy more computers, etc.?  What’s holding you back from being able to do things differently and move out of the starvation cycle?

Let me know what tools you’d like to see, either below in the comments, or on our Facebook site. Thanks for your help!

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