Development Planning from Scratch – Cultivating the Board

Development Planning from Scratch – Cultivating the Board

For the past several weeks, I’ve been writing about fundraising planning. I started with The Big Picture, and two weeks ago broke the larger pool of donors into eight planning Segments. Last week, I wrote about how to go about soliciting Board members as a specific subset – or segment – of the larger whole.

This week I want to look at the organization from the Board member’s point of view, and ask this question: Have we adequately laid the groundwork for asking Board members for significant or even stretch gifts? As a Board member, have I:

  • Revisited the Goals in the Strategic Plan?
  • Reviewed the current annual objectives against those Goals?
  • Approved the annual budget believing that there is a solid plan to raise the money and that the budget is adequate to achieve the annual objectives?

In other words, am I engaged, involved, and up to date on what the organization needs to accomplish its mission? And am I paying attention?

This last point is important – is the Board member paying attention? Think about what your Board members see from the organization in a typical year? It wouldn’t be unusual for Board members to have received ALL of the following:

  • Four (or six, or twelve) board meeting announcements and packets of material
  • Four (or six, or twelve) committee meeting announcements and packets of material – for each committee to which they are assigned
  • Board retreat announcement and packet of material
  • Notices of field trips and work parties
  • Two (or three or four) newsletters
  • Twelve (or twenty, or fifty) ENews updates
  • The Spring Appeal
  • The Fall Appeal
  • Invitation to sponsor the annual fundraising event (or two or three)
  • Invitation to attend the annual fundraising event (or two or three)
  • Invitation to sponsor the annual meeting
  • Invitation to attend the annual meeting
  • Annual renewal solicitation

Is it any wonder that Board members tune some (most!) of this out? Ignore the information and don’t know what’s going on? Come to meetings unprepared? And fear building relationships with donors because they may not know enough about the projects?

Not that ALL of this communication isn’t important, but some of it could definitely be streamlined.

So let’s go back to basic communication school. We want ALL Board members to be good governors, good advocates, and good liaisons into the community. Each land trust will have its own culture, but here are several suggestions that may help with the streamlining. They may also help Board members get the information they need in a form they can use, stay engaged with the mission and strategic priorities, and be ready, when the time comes, to make a significant gift in support.

  • First, consider having all information flowing out to Board members go through a single gatekeeper. This will help the right hand know what the left hand just sent.
  • Second, clearly spell out at or near the top of each communication what it is the Board member should be reasonably expected to do with the information. Here are several examples:
    • READ this carefully and come Friday prepared to discuss and make a decision.
    • READ and TOSS – see especially the map of the Smith property on page 3.
    • NEWS DIGEST – What just happened and what’s coming up.
    • ATTENTION/ACTION REQUIRED – A timely response is needed from you.
  • Package up everything you can into a monthly update from the Chair or President, or a section of the Board meeting packet.
  • Use an Intranet site or a Dropbox-type program to help board members find as much as possible electronically. This specifically includes meeting packet materials.
  • Take your board members OFF the appeal and sponsorship mailing lists. Instead, have these standard announcements and invitations included in the Board packet or loaded up onto the Intranet site and easy to find. There will be exceptions to this, but keep them to a minimum.
  • Use a one-page “digest” style e-newsletter, published at most monthly, just for board members, that links to information they may need or want. Note that they will need to be trained in how to access and use this information.
  • Many things you send to board members could be sent with the explicit expectation that they will pass it on – to donors, sponsors, policy-makers, friends, neighbors, and so on. Make it clear and OBVIOUS that they are encouraged to do so. Develop an expectation that they will have a forwarding list. (They are more likely to read and absorb information if they are responsible for doing something with it.)
  • Finally, conduct your board campaign as described in the Board Campaign Mechanics Include everything they will be asked to contribute to during the year – one-stop shopping!

Now Map It!

This means adding columns to a spreadsheet representing communication or cultivation touchpoints. So, for example, one of the columns might be Spring Appeal Mailing; or Golf Tournament, Donor Dinner, or Board meeting. (Think of the touchpoints as things they receive or attend, as opposed to things you send.) Use the cells for dates and/or to list the person responsible for making it happen. So for example one column might be Attend the Annual Meeting, and the cell might be October 21.

In most cases, the cells for each Board member will be the same. But not in all cases.

Note that you may have LOTS of columns – that’s OK. I have created a template spreadsheet for a fictitious Board to illustrate how it might look. You can download the spreadsheet file HERE. (You may get an antivirus notification warning you not to download this file unless you trust the source. If you’d rather not download it, send me an email to fundraisinghelp-at-sbcglobal-dot-net, and I’ll send it to you by email.)

In my fictitious example, I have chosen to combine several committee meeting dates into one column and all the board meeting dates into another. For a Development Plan, that level of detail is probably enough, but you could have a separate column for each event.

I believe board members are the most important constituency (segment) you have. And they deserve to be treated that way. Make sure they know how the budget relates to the annual workplan, and how the annual workplan relates to the Strategic Plan. Be very clear what you are asking them to do. Make sure they have ready access to the tools they need to do their jobs without getting overwhelmed. Meet with them at least once each year to ensure their efforts are not being taken for granted – and to formally ask for their contribution.


Photo by Elijah Hail courtesy of

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In the first streamlining bullet above, I suggested using a single gatekeeper to send information to the Board. This suggestion is often misinterpreted, especially by staff. The gatekeeper’s job should not be to filter information going to the Board, but rather to make sure Board members are getting information in a timely manner and that they know WHY they’re getting each piece. This might be a good job for the Board Secretary.

My Conservation Consulting Group business partner Nancy Moore and I had an interesting conversation with Becca Washburn from the Land Trust Alliance in which she articulated the role of the Executive Committee as making sure Board members had enough of the right information before each Board meeting to make good decisions at each board meeting. Some of that work involves exactly what I’m talking about here.


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The Development Planning Sequence so far:

The BIG Picture


Soliciting the Board

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Fundraiser’s Almanac
Here’s what I’ve been thinking about for August. What are YOU thinking about?


Taking A Hike!

In fundraising for land conservation, we often say that “the land sells itself.” By this we simply mean that if you can get a potential donor out on the land to see, smell, touch – feel – for themselves, often that’s all you need. Here’s the thing, though – it works for US, too. Don’t just report what someone else has told you about how things work. Go experience it yourself. Replace your ability to narrate in the third person with an ability to testify in the first person.


Joining Your Own Organization

With that same concept in mind, I respectfully suggest that you join the organization you support. Send a check in one of the standard mailing envelopes. Donate on-line. Try the monthly donation program with a credit card. Or send a check in a plain envelope. And then track what happens and report back to the organization what it’s like from the donor perspective.


Saturation Mail

The essence of Saturation Mail is that the same piece is dropped in every mailbox within a defined area. It is addressed to “Postal Patron” or “Current Resident.” And the cost is about 12 cents each. The only catch is that you have to mail it at least to everyone in a carrier route – usually about 400-800 addresses. Where we get hung up is generally in the scope of such an effort. But consider this: you do not need to saturate your entire service area at the same time.


Membership Drives and Recruiting “Renewals”

Here’s an out-of-the-box thought: Instead of thinking about recruiting new members, let’s think about recruiting new renewals! A new renewal would be defined as a person making their second gift – their “first” renewal. I think membership recruitment lends itself to a Membership Drive strategy.

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