Seminar Recap: Engaging Your Board in the Major Gifts Program

As I noted in a recent post, I attended Fund Raising Day in New York, the largest one-day conference for fundraising professionals here in New York City, last month.

The other workshop that really caught my eye was entitled “Leading the Leaders — How to Motivate Your Board to Cultivate Major Gifts.”  Gregory Boroff, Vice President of Development at amfar, The Foundation for AIDS Research; Kerry Kruckel Gibbs, Vice President for Development and Communications at WNET-Thirteen; and Andy Robinson, an author and consultant served as panelists with Kevin Allan, Senior Managing Director at Changing Our World, moderating.  I have summarized below some of the major points that I gleaned from this talk.

Ms. Gibbs was very clear about the board of WNET-Thirteen’s responsibility to give and get.  She also advocated for the implementation of term limits for board members, as an opportunity to shift off those members who are not as effective, but also to  keep exposing new groups of prospects to your organization’s work.

Mr. Robinson made a great point (that also came up in last week’s Michael Chatman Giving Show) about how we (non-profit staff, but especially fundraisers) need to stop defining fundraising only as asking for a gift, as it should be regarded as an entire process of engagement.  He also made note what he called “The Incentive Plan,” where specific grants are solicited from longstanding supporters that will incentivize the behavior that you want out of your board members (e.g. a small to medium grant that will be awarded on the condition that the board attends fundraising training or a certain percentage of trustees come along on donor visits).  He found that this is a form of aversion therapy, as the board members will be more likely to be open to doing a specific activity after having a positive experience with it.

Mr. Boroff stressed the importance of annual meetings with trustees to set an agenda for the year and clearly express the organization’s fundraising expectations.  He also made a point to encourage fundraisers not to overlook the fact that trustees also need to be treated like donors by cultivating the relationship, sharing the impact the organization is having and engaging them in the work.

Ms. Gibbs shared a great story about identifying who would make a leadership gift for a capital campaign.  After talking with five trustees, she found that they all agreed that the same fellow trustee would be the ideal person to make this gift and motivate others to support the campaign.  Based upon their recommendations, Ms. Gibbs was able to approach that trustee with the angle that others were “counting on him” to make this gift.  After the trustee made a $15 million gift, they turned things around and had him make asks of the other trustees who had recommended him in the first place to make their gifts and follow his lead.

Mr. Robinson had another great idea about setting clear expectations for your board — let them know that you want your organization to be one of their top 3 charitable priorities during their tenure.  This supplement to the overall expectation that they give and get should also aid in the recruitment of serious and committed board members when they know what they are getting themselves into, in contrast to many organizations that only have unspoken expectations (which tend to frustrate staff members and leaders, though these unspoken expectations are not fair to the board members if there is a lack of clarity and candor).

At its simplest, Ms. Gibbs said that trustees are leaders (whether or not they realize it) and as such should be motivating others to support the organization and sharing why they are involved in this work.

I have taken some of these ideas to heart and hope to use some to more deeply engage board members in various aspects of I-House’s fundraising.  Of course, you can look forward to hearing more about these efforts in the coming months.

In my next post, I’ll share a few tips that I picked up from the panelists about working with your Executive Director/CEO on fundraising.

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