Getting Off Santa’s Bad List

A Fundraiser’s Journey

Kelly Updike for PCNRCKelly Updike

As a community-minded person, I sit on a few nonprofit boards, just like you. And while I remind myself to not be that bad board member to my colleagues, sometimes I am just that. Particularly with fundraising tasks.

Fundraising is dang hard. It’s scary. It’s time-intensive. People say no. I have to smile anyway. Yuck. Not only is it physically and emotionally draining, it is at least 40 percent, often more than 60 percent, of a nonprofit’s budget. Every year. That’s some heavy pressure, man.

And it is really easy as a board member to sit at the table every two months and not say a thing or raise a hand. I’m busy, people, AND a volunteer, hello?!!

So, how do I get on Santa’s good list? Welll, as a board member I can:

  • Better understand how fundraising works in general and how a specific event is structured. To do that, I can share that I find fundraising to be scary and confusing. Many are thinking the same thing at a board meeting but no one says it out loud. So, I will raise my hand and say that I am not sure how to invite people to our gala or how to tell my friends that they are getting a free meal but are expected to make a donation of at least $100. And I will see relieved faces around the room … and expect the staff to help me in addressing these valid concerns.
  • Ask the staff to provide a calendar or list of the entire year’s fundraising events and projects to the board. Discuss what board support is required or needed for each one.
  • Ask for a menu of fundraising tasks and pass it out to all board members. Have each board member select one or two things they’ll do to help with fundraising and hand that list back to the staff for follow-up. Jobs can range from sending thank-you notes (stamps and note cards provided by the organization, if possible) to going on a donor call (this is the big leagues).
  • Actively participate in the organization’s major fundraiser. I will encourage my fellow board members to participate and won’t leave this to the president alone to do.
  • Not call it fundraising, if that scares board members. Call it development. Call it FUNdraising. Yeah, that last one was dopey, what suggestions do you have for me?
  • Recognize good work by other board members. At board meetings, I can give cards or chocolates or even just a big shout-out to fellow board members who help with fundraising work.
  • Be an advocate for good board dialogue. To make sure fundraising is a topic on every board meeting agenda, I can talk to the board president and staff leadership about putting development on every meeting agenda. Staff updates do not count, this needs to be board-driven conversations regarding the work the board is doing with the staff. Board education topics do count as do the tactics listed above.
  • Encourage shy board members to ask the staff after a board meeting what they can do to help. Many people are not comfortable raising their hands in a meeting but are more amenable to a one-on-one chat.

What can professional fundraisers do to help me (that’s you!)? Remember, as a board member, I’m not deeply embedded in the organization. I am generally around only every other month or so. Sure, I read the reports and come to meetings but I’m busy with my own stuff and trust the staff to do its great job. So, I need regular communications and training to finally get off the naughty list.

The postings on this site are my own and do not necessarily reflect the view of the Embassy or the PCNRC.

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