Let's Raise Some Money
Insights from Karen Climer about fundraising and nonprofit organizations

Board Training That Doesn’t Seem Like Training

November 11th, 2013 by Karen Climer

Fundraisers love to complain about board members.  Get at least two fundraisers in one room, and they’ll start comparing war stories.  Executive directors do it too.  It’s almost like they don’t want a good board because then they wouldn’t have anything to talk about.  I believe you get the board you build.  If you want a fundraising board, you have to build a fundraising board.

Remember, that someone might be a community leader or corporate CEO or someone who is passionate about your cause, but that does not mean they know how to serve on a board.  Even if they have served on several other boards, you cannot assume they know how to be a good board member.  Like everything, they have to learn it.

Too often, fundraising training consists of either the development director or a development consultant plodding through a PowerPoint presentation that focuses on in-person asks.  Board members check out mentally.  This happens once a year.  The rest of the year, we complain that “I can’t get my board members to raise money.”

Here’s an idea for a more-engaging, ongoing way to teach your board about fundraising:  Kay Sprinkel Grace wrote a book called Fundraising Mistakes That Bedevil All Boards (And Staff Too).  The book is divided into 40 chapters, each of which can be read in 1-2 minutes.  Each chapter discusses a common fundraising myth.  A few chapter titles are:

  • Donors are drawn to organizations in need
  • Publicity raises money
  • We can’t raise big money – we don’t know any rich people
  • The state of the economy is key to fundraising
  • Wealth is mostly what determines a person’s willingness to give

You’ve probably heard board members make these exact statements.

Fundraising-mistakes-coverBuy enough copies of this book for everyone on your board (Emerson & Church offers bulk discounts).  At each board meeting, pick a chapter.  It takes about 90 seconds to read the chapter, so you can allot time during the meeting.  No worries about people not doing their homework.  Once everyone reads the chapter, you have a short book-club-like discussion about how it applies to your organization.  All of this will take less than ten minutes.

Be sure it is a discussion involving the board, not a report from the development director or CEO saying, “I’ve been telling you this same thing for 3 years.  Now here’s an expert saying the same thing.  Do you believe me yet?”  The staff’s role in this is to facilitate a discussion. How do you do that?  By asking questions.

There are a few reasons I suggest this:

  • You can dispel these myths one-by-one over time
  • It offers you a way to have a discussion, not a meeting of one committee report after another
  • By discussing it, you allow board members to draw conclusions on their own.  This is far more powerful than you telling them how it works.
  • It is a quick and easy way to offer fundraising training at every meeting.  (Please don’t call it training. Typically, board members are not excited about training.)

Most of my posts are about tried-and-true concepts.  This one, however, is still an idea.  I have never tried it with a board.  If you try it, let me know how it works.  Or if you have any other ideas about more engaging ways to train the board, share them in the comments section.

P.S. If you had trouble with the link in last week’s post about overhead, try it again today.  Let me know if you have any further problems.

Posted in Board of Directors

2 Responses

  1. Lynn

    I love this idea! I’m going to bring it to my boss today.

    While I believe most BoD have the best intentions, the excuses are always the same as the ones listed above for not asking others for money and I believe a lot of the excuses are actually out of fear. Fear of the unknown. Fear of stepping out of their comfort zone. Fear of being told no.

    Reading this book – together – will help dispel those fears and lead the group to a cohesive unit ready to help raise some much needed money.

    Great column, Karen!

  2. Karen Climer

    Thanks for your comments, Lynn. I definitely agree that the excuses are often disguising fear – particularly when it comes to why they won’t ask for a gift. I also agree that most board of the best intentions.

    Sometimes the problem is not only fear, but knowledge as well. That’s where the book club can help. One of the myths in the book is that people want to give to needy organizations. I recently worked on a campaign where several board members thought we shouldn’t announce big gifts or milestones in the campaign because if we had too much money, people wouldn’t want to give. I don’t blame the board. That does make some sense. I’m sure that’s what I thought when I first got into fundraising. It took some work, but I finally convinced this board that people want to support winners. No one wants to try to save the Titanic. So that myth was a knowledge problem, not a fear problem. That’s where the book club will really help. Once you have knowledge, you have more confidence (i.e. less fear).

    Good luck with your board book club. Keep us posted on how it works out. Also, if you come up with something to call it that’s better than book club, share that too. I don’t think a board will be too excited if you call it a book club.

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