How Often Do You Knock On An Open Door?

While on a recent trip to Austin, I read an article in The New York Times about how New York City Mayor (and uber-philanthropist) Michael R. Bloomberg and George Soros are providing $60 million to the city government to support an effort to improve the circumstances of African-American and Latino male youth — with the rest of the funds provided by the Bloomberg Administration.  This particular passage caught my attention:

A few weeks ago, Mr. Bloomberg called Mr. Soros, who has spent millions of dollars on programs to help black men in Baltimore and other cities, and invited him to lunch. The mayor asked the financier to match his donation for a program in New York, and Mr. Soros quickly agreed.

“When the mayor approached us,” Mr. Soros said, “he was knocking on an open door.”

In this instance, Mr. Soros meant that because he has long supported programs focused on these demographics,  this new initiative was a perfect fit for him.  I know that most fundraisers are happy just to keep the funders that they have on board in this rocky economic climate, but this article was a nod to the critical job of identifying and cultivating new donors.

Earlier today, the live broadcast of The Michael Chatman Giving Show reminded me of the importance of knocking on these open doors.  April Northstrom, President of Jigsaw Communications, was the guest on the show with guest host Ian “On-Air” Adair; they reviewed the show’s Top 10 Foundations List (see here for April’s recap of the show and for more on the  list) and later discussed the importance of actively seeking out those funders who would be logical partners in your organization’s work.  April and Ian were particularly emphatic when it came to being proactive about sharing your organization’s work with prospective funders and seeing where it leads (especially in situations where you can capitalize on the relationships that your board members may have).  As fundraisers, it is our duty and responsibility to identify those prospective funders who could support and further our organization’s respective missions (a point that I make regularly here at The Good Steward).

With all of this in mind, how often do you go knocking on an open door?  How many open doors need to be knocked on for your organization?  And how many closed doors can be opened with some effort?

You should check out April on Twitter and her Grant Savvy blog!  You should also be listening to The Michael Chatman Giving Show every Thursday at 11:30 a.m. — you can stream it live here and/or follow the #GivingShow hashtag on Twitter.  You never know what you may learn from this informative 30-minute show!

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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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A New Perspective on Board Recruitment and Retention

Yesterday on The Michael Chatman Giving Show, the guest was fundraising coach and non-profit communications strategist Lori Jacobwith.  I have followed Lori for most of the last year that I have been on Twitter, as she is a really smart non-profit professional.

Lori made a few particular points about non-profit board recruitment and retention which have stuck in my mind since yesterday’s show:

1.  Before joining a board, the prospect should ask for a job description and discuss the expectations of board members with the organization’s leadership.

I agree with Lori that this proactive approach would help prevent the way that most boards are measured by the easiest metric — how much money each person contributes.  By focusing on what skills are needed on the board and what is expected of them, there should not be any rude awakenings six months in when each trustee is asked for a five-figure gift (for example).

2.  Only 6% of non-profit organizations provide any training to their board members (whether on governance, fundraising, or any other skills that they are expected to use in their board roles).

I have been thinking about this one myself, with special focus on ways to transition my organization’s board into more active fundraising with individuals and institutions.  Without providing training for our trustees, it simply is not fair to expect them to show up with these skills.

3.  Non-profit organizations need to stop treating board members like ATMs and get back to engaging them in the work as key partners.

By engaging our board members (and all donors) as key partners in pursuing the organization’s mission, they will be more likely to give generously by feeling like they are invested in the work (and not like we only want them for their financial support).

To hear the full conversation between Lori and Michael, listen to the podcast here.  There is an amazing anecdote that Lori shares near the end of the show about how a non-profit leader cultivated a relationship with a prominent business leader by engaging him first as a mentor, instead of immediately trying to get him to join her organization’s board.  I won’t spoil the ending for you, but will encourage you to listen in and take notes!

What does your organization do in regard to recruiting and retaining board members?

If you are not aware of it, The Michael Chatman Giving Show is a great resource to learn about the intersection of business and philanthropy.  The show is hosted by Michael Chatman, a Harvard-trained entrepreneur, founder of the Association of Maverick Philanthropists and an expert in the field of celebrity-charity partnerships.  You can catch the show’s live webcast every Thursday at 11:30 a.m. EST at 880thebiz or on Michael’s website.  You can also follow the chat each week by following me and the members of the “Philanthropy Mafia” on Twitter:
@IanMAdair @NickSava @FundraiserBeth @DomDJones @officialjos @michaelchatman

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