Hey Mr. Fundraiser . . . quit asking your board members to trespass

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Fundraisers must stop asking their board members to trespass on personal and professional relationships.

This all-too-typical tactic makes board members uncomfortable, thus making them reluctant to help. Furthermore, this all-too-typical tactic doesn’t produce loyal donors or sustainable gifts.

So stop it. Stop it now.

Trespassing is when you ask your friends or colleagues to give gifts and buy tickets . . . just because they are your friends and colleagues. This is the personal and professional favor exchange. This is obligation to a person rather than a cause. It’s a lousy way to raise money. It’s offensive. It alienates the asker and the askee. And it’s not sustainable.

Here’s an example: I live in Rhode Island. My mom lives in Michigan, where I grew up. My mom gives money to the Women’s Fund of Rhode Island, a social justice organization that I founded. Why? Because I’m her daughter. She likes me. I suppose she admires me for the work I’ve done. I know that she’s a liberal, committed to equity. That’s what my mom and dad taught me growing up.

But if my mom were really interested in leveling the playing field for women and girls, she could give more money. I know her financial situation. And if she were really, really interested in this cause, she could give to the women’s fund in Michigan.

She’s giving because of me. And now that I’m no longer on the Women’s Fund board, I suspect she’ll stop giving. The commitment was, mostly, to me.

How often have you, as a fundraiser, asked your board members to name names? How often have you asked them to bring in a list? Did you ask your board members to write notes on the letters that you planned to send to their list?

I say again, trespassing is a bad idea. It alienates board members. It alienates the friends and colleagues of board members. It doesn’t produce loyal donors or sustainable gifts.

Instead, ask your board members to identify those they think might be predisposed. (In fundraising, the term “suspect” is often used. I find that offensive. I talk about identifying those who might be predisposed to the cause.)

For example: When I founded the Women’s Fund of Rhode Island, I began identifying those whom I thought might be predisposed to the cause. I thought about my friends and business associates.

I certainly know the interests of my friends. I know which ones are interested in leveling the playing field for women and girls. So I introduce them to the Women’s Fund. I don’t ask them for money, I invite them to learn more. And through that invitation and cultivation process, I can qualify them as a prospect… or realize that they are not sufficiently interested to be asked for a gift.

When I talk with people – new people I meet, business colleagues – I’m getting to know them and they’re getting to know me. That’s what happens in human conversation, learning about each other. Even the most casual conversation gives us cues about people’s interests and disinterests. For those who seem predisposed to leveling the playing field for women and girls, I invite them to be introduced to the Women’s Fund. Through the introduction and cultivation process, the Women’s Fund qualifies them as a prospect – or not.

So Mr. Fundraiser: Ask your board members to identify those who might be predisposed. Show them how to do it. Give them the tools. Provide the guidance and support. Quit asking them to trespass! See more about this process in Keep Your Donors: The Guide to Better Communications and Stronger Relationships, Chapter 7.

And now, Ms. Board member. It’s up to you. Are you willing to use your political and social capital to help this organization? Your answer must be yes. You must identify friends and colleagues who might be interested in the cause. You must pay attention to what interests those you connect with in your personal and professional lives. If there’s a connection between the cause and their interests, you must introduce them to the cause in an appropriate manner.

Please know, Ms. Board member, this process of identifying the predisposed and nurturing relationships – well, it’s essential to the health and effectiveness of our organization. This process is about building a tribe of people and businesses that will support the cause. And supporting the cause means much more than money. Supporting the cause means volunteering including board service; talking about us positively in the community; sharing ideas and insights with us; and, for some, investing money.

Please know, Ms. Board member, that one of your major responsibilities as a board member is to identify those who might care and to nurture loyal relationships for this cause. We fundraisers and other staff will help you do this important work. And we thank you.

But if you’re not willing to do this work, Ms. Board member, get off our board. Go away.

Simone P. Joyaux, ACFRE is recognized internationally as an expert in fund development, board and organizational development, strategic planning, and management. She is the founder and director of Joyaux Associates. Visit her website here.

  • Adam F

    You have articulated something here that I have long felt but never thought through so clearly. To help Board members learn how to spread enthusiasm for the organization’s work is to build up a skill that they can widely and fruitfully apply. By contrast, pressuring Board members merely to presume on their personal relationships produces meager results and leaves the Board feeling abused and depleted. You are going against some classic fundraising textbooks in this, but you are totally right.

  • Howard Freeman

    I was taught early on in my career that someone predisposed to giving to my organization was someone who had at least two of the three following attributes: 1. a philanthropic track record; 2. an affinity toward my organization; or 3. capacity to give.

    Couldn’t Board members use these criteria to decide who is predisposed?

  • D Brown

    Board members can be used to create introductions. It is up to the NPO to work with that board member to involve, cultivate and “sustain” that relationship, otherwise your concern about superficialities is valid.

  • Simone Joyaux

    Yes, board members (and anyone else affiliated with the NPO) can use such criteria as “affinity toward to the cause/organization.” And that is the single most important one. I have a philanthropic track record and the capacity to give. But I’m NOT interested in your organization. Don’t bug me. Don’t ask my colleagues and friends on your board to bug me.

    And over and over and over and over…. I see fundraisers and executive directors ask their board members to “introduce” them to connections. No introducing! Not unless you’ve screened sufficiently to be able to identify the predisposition.

    You can tell I’m kinda passionate – shall we say frustrated and even angry? And your poor board members are just plain scared… Scared of introducing you to their connections who are simply not interested. Don’t ask them to do that. Please please please.

  • Yi Shun at The Hub

    This is important for several reasons, but the thing that comes first to our mind is the idea that board members are also meant to be true ambassadors of the organization. If they don’t learn to articulate to unrelated folks why it is donations are needed for their org, then they’ll never be able to get past trespass fundraising. Your board members are your allies and your frontline. Use them wisely. Thanks for this post!

  • Simone Joyaux

    Hi all. Thanks for the ongoing comments and insights. Great dialogue. I am a bit worried, however, that fundraisers think it’s appropriate for their board members to talk about their organizations and their needs – to friends and colleagues etc. – when those people are not interested. Yes, board members need to be ambassadors. And we expect board members to talk a bit about their own interests, e.g., the particular charity. But board members (as everyone) must be sensitive to those they are talking with. If the person is not interested, stop talking. We fundraisers (and our board members and other volunteers and staff) do NOT try to convince others of the need. This isn’t “education” or “presenting” or “convincing” or “getting favors.” Good fundraising is about identifying those who are interested. And if people are not interested, leave them alone.