Development Planning from Scratch – Soliciting the Board

Development Planning from Scratch – Soliciting the Board

For the past several weeks, I’ve been writing about fundraising planning. I started with The Big Picture, and last week I broke the larger pool of donors into eight planning Segments. This week, I’m going to start making a plan for the first – and arguably most important – segment: the Board members. The first thing we need to do is to set a Goal.

Yes – a Board Goal. A target amount for Board giving. I suggested back in 2010 (See Conduct Your Board Campaign First) that organizations take a look at what the board collectively gave last year, and use that experience to establish a GOAL for board giving this year. Then do the same thing for each board member individually, basing this year’s “ask” amount on what they actually gave last year.

Start with a spreadsheet. Give each Board member his or her own row. (I’ve created an example, HERE.) Add up everything each one gave in 2015 in one column and to date in 2016 in a second column. Do this even if the answer is $0. Now each by each, assign an “Ask” value to each Board member in a third column for 2017.

What should you ask for? Every organization is different, and every Board culture is different, but here are several rule-of-thumb guides to help steer you in the right direction.

  • First and most importantly, every Board member must give something. The argument that “I give my time” instead of my money has some merit – for volunteers. We need Board members to give both. At the very least, make a minimal membership gift. No exceptions. (This is the primary reason I always advocate recruiting Board members from the current donors list. You don’t have to have the conversation with them about why they should give in the first place!)
  • The amount you ask for can usually be greater than the amount they gave last year. There are some exceptions, but in this respect Board members can be treated the same as any other donor. So if they gave $1,500 last year, it would be perfectly acceptable to ask for $2,000 this year.
  • Next, $1,000 is not too much to ask. Give as much to the organization you govern that you give to the cell phone company, or the cable company, or any number of other “entertainment” outlets. Just to make it clear: I do not advocate that you make any arbitrary giving threshold mandatory. I’m just saying that $1,000 is not too much to ask. Also, asking for any amount early in the year has the potential to change the conversation from “if” to “how.” $1,000 is about $88 per month or $20 per week. My Executive Director friend Pat put $20 a week in cash in a cookie jar and presented his Board with a $1,000 donation at the end of the year. “If I can do it,” he told me he said, “So can you.”
  • And last, other donors (and, increasingly, foundations) notice and appreciate Boards that collectively give 20 percent of the goal. They notice when Boards give less than 10 percent also, just not in as good a way.

Now add up the “ask” amounts. If the total is less than 120% of the Board Goal, either reduce the goal or revisit the ask amounts.

Now think back on the solicitation experience each Board member saw from you last year.

OK – let’s get real.

  • Some – MANY – weren’t actually solicited at all, were they?
  • Some were solicited, but only through the mail as any other member/donor would have been – nothing special.
  • Some were asked to “be generous” at a board meeting toward the end of the year. Maybe you even distributed a pledge form at the meeting.
  • And some had a sit-down meeting with the Chair to discuss their individual situation.

Guess which I prefer? (HINT: It’s the fourth option.)

Let’s assume that Board members were asked to be on the Board because they were passionate about the mission and leaders in the community. Other donors look at them as among the most ardent supporters of the organization and frequently take their giving cues from what the Board gives. Couple that with the observation that Board service is itself a major gift of another kind, and you owe it to your Board members to spend some thoughtful time with the solicitation of their annual gift.

I suggested in a 2015 post (See Board Evaluations, Board Campaigns) that the Chair of the Board make time to sit down with each board member personally for a one-to-one chat about their experience. They could talk about the committees on which the Board member currently serves, what could be improved, leadership succession, and the dreams and aspirations of the board member. They could also talk about the overall budget, the goal set for Board giving, and how that person’s gift fits into the larger picture.

I suggested that these conversations happen in the first calendar quarter and that pledges be accepted. Doing so often makes larger donations possible because Board members can give quarterly or monthly (or even weekly, like Pat). I even drafted a framework for those discussions (See Board Campaign Mechanics).

I believe Board members are the most important constituency (segment) you will have. And they deserve to be treated that way.

Next week, I’ll tackle Board member communications. Can you say, “Board members need to be cultivated, too?”





Photo by Tom Arrowsmith courtesy of

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Q: Can you Raise Money at Outdoor Events?

A: Of course you can!

Got an outdoor event (field trip, community hike, family fun day, and so on) to which the public is invited? Ideally, you’ll need round, coaster-sized stickers, brightly colored T-shirts and volunteers to wear them, and one or several I-Pads with the credit card reader attachment.

The stickers should feature your logo, but could also say “Member,” or “Donor,” or “I Donated.” Ask everyone who enters the area whether they’re a member. If they say yes, give them a sticker! If they have kids – give the kids a sticker! If they say No, ask if they want to join today, right now. And when they do, give them a sticker! (Give the kids a sticker anyway.)

The T-shirts should be unmistakable – neon maybe, and BRIGHT! They should be printed in large letters, and humor is always appreciated.

  • Suggested donation: $5,000,000. All donations accepted.
  • It takes donations of time and money to manage this place. Sign up here.
  • Stickers! (And Memberships) – $50. Get yours here!
  • Are You a Member?
    No – Please give today!
    Yes – Please give again today!

The volunteers should be good-humored and trustworthy. Give them each the I-Phone or I-Pad with the card reader. Somebody needs to make sure the volunteers know how to use them! Also, the volunteers should carry a bunch of basic brochures and a way to accept cash donations (a money bag or belt, for example).

The Square Credit Card Readers are available free or at very low cost to just about anyone who wants one. Expect a transaction cost per transaction of 2-3%. You should also check out Venmo, Google Wallet, Square Cash, Paypal, and a number of other cell-phone based cash transfer apps. It’s a brave new world!


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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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