Fundraising Planning for 2016 – I Dream of Board Fundraising

Fundraising Planning for 2016 – I Dream of Board Fundraising

Imagine the following scenario happening at your land trust:

A new board member is elected at the February membership meeting. She is introduced to the rest of the board at the following board meeting and greeted warmly. Among other things she is assigned to a mentor – someone who is coming to the end of their term of service. Her mentor arranges to have coffee with her and the Chair of the Development Committee within the next several weeks.

At coffee, the Development Committee Chair brings a complete list of current organizational donors, perhaps going back several years. (See Donor Screening.) The new board member combs through the list, circling those donors that she knows personally, starring those donors she knows to be wealthy and/or generous to local nonprofits, and labeling with a “B” those who would make good board members someday. She also offers names of people she can think of who should be on the list and aren’t.


Fundraiser’s Almanac – October

Fundraiser’s Almanac – November

  • Fundraising Planning for 2016 – I Dream of Board Fundraising
  • Fundraising Planning for 2016 – Calendared Events
  • Fundraising Planning for 2016 – Annual Giving (Membership)
  • Giving Thanks


Several weeks later, she receives an invitation to lunch with a donor from her mentor. At lunch she is introduced to the donor as a new board member. It turns out they have more in common than she would have thought. The focus of the lunch seems to be simply “catching up” with the donor. Her mentor leads the conversation but does not dominate it. He appears to be listening more than he is talking.

Perhaps this happens several more times over the next several months. She is also copied on emails sent to several donors in addition to getting the information directly herself. At the annual donor dinner, she recognizes several donors and greets them warmly. She is beginning to feel more comfortable in her new role as board member.

In September, she is again invited to coffee with the Development Chair. This time there are several new board members present. The Development Chair hands each one a list of donors numbering about 30 individuals. She sees that her name is listed beside about ten of them. Some donors have more than one board member’s name next to theirs. She recognizes several names of people she has already met during the year. One is a person she had circled during the screening exercise. Through a short, guided discussion, each of the new board members are encouraged to “adopt” just three, and the adoption requirements are clearly spelled out. She is encouraged to adopt more than three if she chooses. The requirements are not onerous. She chooses four.

Just before Thanksgiving, The Development Committee Chair emails her with the news that two of her donors have renewed their memberships at $500 and $2,000 respectively. She is provided with a script and asked to make phone calls. The email includes all the contact information she needs as well as information about the gift and how long they have been donors.

For one she simply leaves a message. For the other, she has a very pleasant conversation that lasts almost half an hour. The first week in December she repeats this experience with a third donor. The Development Chair calls the second week in December asking her to call the fourth donor, who has not yet responded. Again, she is provided with a script and contact information, and again she leaves a message. The donor gives right at the end of the year and she calls again to say Thank You during the first week in January.

That following year, she communicates with her four donors at least four times each, about once a quarter – an invitation to the Annual Meeting, a special hike on a preserve not yet open to the public, a special message about a project that just closed, or any number of other possibilities. In each case, she is provided with all the information she needs including the contact information each time.

In April, she invites one of the four to coffee for a “catch-up” meeting. One of the staff members (a land steward) also attends. She keeps notes about the meeting and sends them in to the office as an email attachment.

At the Board meeting in August, she is presented with four renewal letters to sign. Each references the amount the donors gave last year and politely asks for a specific amount that is greater. Each letter is dated for October 15. She signs each one and adds a little note as well. (They are ready in August, but not mailed until October.)

By the third year of her board service, she is working with five donors and by the sixth year, she is up to six. She understands that some board members have adopted up to ten donors.

            *          *          *

Sounds fanciful doesn’t it? But there is nothing here that you couldn’t do. There’s also nothing here that happens by accident. This scenario is PLANNED. Here are the basic steps:

  • Assign donor responsibility to board members. Let them choose their own donors within reason, but make sure everyone has at least three.
  • Always start relationships by saying Thank You. Preferably by phone; if not by handwritten card.
  • Plan at least four events each year that feature direct communication between the board member and the donor – without asking for money. Board members should try to see each of their donors in person at least two out of every three years.
  • Arrange for the board members to actually sign the renewal letters.

Your major donor cultivation work is arguably the most important work of your year. Make sure you create space on the calendar to do it well.

            *          *          *

All great things must come to an end. Eventually, she approaches the end of her term on the board. The Development Committee Chair invites her to a coffee with the Board Chair. They discuss each of her donors in turn and talk about how she might best transition their stewardship to another board member. The Board Chair explains that at the next board meeting, she will be assigned a new board member to mentor. Her job will be to schedule a coffee with the new board member and the Development Committee Chair so that the new person can review possible donors to “adopt.” She will also want to invite the new board member to one of her donor coffees to model the experience and to introduce him/her to the donor.

A new board member is elected at the February membership meeting…..



David Allen


Photo credit: Board member at Mud Lake, courtesy of Southwest Michigan Land Conservancy.


Find out how David can help you get the most out of your major donor fundraising here.

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