involving your board in fundraising with Elizabeth Abel




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We constantly hear that if you don't have a fundraising board, you won't be able to raise funds as an organization. I don't believe that! In fact, I’ve had a lot of fundraising success without board fundraising. I know - call all the “gurus” and report this sacrilegious statement!


BUT, I also don’t believe that you should try to get your board members to fundraise. It is definitely a nice to have and usually worth the effort.


So, how? How do we build a board that is all the things we require in leadership (subject matter experts, lived experience, community members) AND get them to love and embrace fundraising?

In this episode of The Small Nonprofit Podcast, we talk to Elizabeth Abel, about how to motivate board members to fundraise. Elizabeth is the Senior Vice President at CCS Fundraising, a global fundraising consulting firm for nonprofits and an instructor at the University of Pennsylvania. She has designed, advised, and directed development initiatives and capital campaigns that have collectively raised nearly half a billion dollars, positively impacting tens of thousands of lives.


Myths that Elizabeth wants us to walk away from:

  • Board members can’t be involved in fundraising: Board members can be one of the greatest assets to any nonprofit's fundraising efforts because they champion your mission, engage their networks and they provide financial support.

  • Board members should focus on major gifts: Board members can be engaged in different fundraising activities. You need to figure out how your board members want to be involved in fundraising, find out what are their strengths? And then how can you create that synergy that allows them to be fantastic multipliers and fundraising ambassadors?

  • Corporate giving is better than individual giving: According to Giving USA 2021: The Annual Report on Philanthropy for the Year 2020, individuals drove 69% of total giving in the US, which was about $324 billion. Corporations are estimated to have declined by 6.1% in 2020 to only about 17 billion. So there is a huge gap between where people think corporations are and where they are relative to individuals.

Elizabeth’s Tips on Engaging Board Members to Fundraise

  • Fundraising Ambassadors. They bring a diverse set of experiences and skills and talents. And yes, many of them do have potential avenues of new support that can further generate revenue, but they're multipliers of all that you're doing programmatically, operationally and of course your philanthropy.

  • Recruiting and Engaging Boards. Many people just don't necessarily know what's expected of them so you can begin with setting expectations and educating board members in their role in fundraising.

  • Best practices. When considering how our board members can support our fundraising efforts, we want to prioritize relationship building. Elizabeth uses small events to engage and connect with donors as an example.


Favourite Quotes from Today’s Episode

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“So I think of board members as fundraising ambassadors. So what does that mean? Well, board members are one of the greatest assets to any nonprofit's fundraising efforts because they champion your mission, they engage their networks and they do provide financial support. But the real thing that they are is they are multipliers. Board members are natural storytellers and advocates in your local community. They bring a diverse set of experiences and skills and talents to the table. And yes, many of them do have potential avenues of new support that can further generate revenue, but really they're multipliers of all that you're doing programmatically, operationally, and of course your philanthropy ”


“It's figuring out the ways in which your board members want to be involved in fundraising, what are their strengths? And then how can we create that synergy that allows them to be fantastic multipliers and fundraising ambassadors? ”


Resources from this Episode

Elizabeth LinkedIn

Elizabeth Instagram

The Good Partnership


Transcript:


Cindy W.: So one of the things I hear all the time from small organizations is, "but my board won't fundraise, therefore we can't be successful fundraising" and I get it our sector loves to talk about the success of fundraising, really reliant on board fundraising, if you don't have a fundraising board, we often hear that you probably aren't going to have success fundraising as an organization. I don't believe that's true, but I also don't think that just because it's not true, you shouldn't try and get your board and volunteers fundraising.


So today's conversation is all about that. And I know that this is a topic that resonates a lot with our audience, you our audience, and you're very curious about, so I've invited to the podcast, Elizabeth Abel, to talk about that.


You're listening to The Small Nonprofit Podcast and I'm your host, Cindy Wagman. And I'm so excited to have you here because you are going to change the world, and we are here to help.

So with that Elizabeth is the senior VP at CCS fundraising, which is a global fundraising consulting firm. She's also an instructor of fundraising and philanthropy at Penn or the University of Pennsylvania and new-ish parent to a toddler. So Elizabeth, welcome to the podcast.


Elizabeth A.: Thank you so much, Cindy. Really thrilled to be here.


Cindy W.: I'm so excited to have this conversation. As I said in the intro, this is something that I hear from organizations over and over, and it's a huge frustration. And I talk a lot about some of the mindset barriers that boards struggle with, but I'd love to hear from you about what you've seen work with board members or volunteers. We're, I'm just diving into the deep end, how can we approach them to get them interested and excited in fundraising?


Elizabeth A.: So that is the number one question that I hear in my work as well. And I'm really thrilled to be having this conversation. It is one of my favorite topics, how we can engage board members as fundraising ambassadors for our organizations. And so my hope is that we'll really cover three things in our conversation today.


One we'll understand the role of the board in elevating an organization's fundraising program. Two, we'll start to talk about some action-oriented strategies to recruit and engage diverse board members in your fundraising activity. And then three we'll wrap up with some best practices that organizations, specifically smaller organizations can apply to really leverage their board members as fundraising ambassadors, ultimately scaling their revenue and amplifying their impact.


Cindy W.: I love it. So let's dive right in. You talk about the role of the board, and I think that when a lot of people picture what conscious in their mind, when we say board fundraising is, the board member, recruiting board members solely because they have the capacity to fundraise or to who have, we call them the rainmakers, but I'd like to redefine that.


So what does, what is for, especially for smaller organizations, what does board fundraising, I think you said elevate how can a board elevate fundraising, and what does that actually mean? If it's not what we instinctively picture


Elizabeth A.: And instinctively picturing, I assume is asking others for money.


Cindy W.: We're like asking like focus on major gifts like I always hear from board members, they say I don't know anyone who can give and what they're picturing, I think it's like, who do I know who can write a $10,000 check or what CEO of a company can I pick up the phone and call? And so we think of that as board fundraising.


Elizabeth A.: But let's read, let's define it. Let's redefine a more productive way. So I think of board members as fundraising ambassadors. So what does that mean? Board members are one of the greatest assets to any nonprofit's fundraising efforts because they champion your mission, they engage their networks and they do provide financial support.


But the real thing is that they are multipliers, board members are natural storytellers and advocates in your local community. They bring a diverse set of experiences and skills and talents to the table. And yes, many of them do have potential avenues of new support that can further generate revenue, but really they're multipliers of all that you're doing programmatically, operationally, and of course your philanthropy


Cindy W.: Amazing. And, can you give us an example of that sort of what it look like? Practically speaking, when a board member is doing that multiplying, when they, because very often, boards don't really know the programs that well, or they don't really have a sense of what's going on. So what does that highly engaged ambassador look like? In terms of their activities.


Elizabeth A.: So many activities and I'm happy to unpack them. And what I really want to emphasize is there is no one size fits all model for what makes an effective board member and fundraising ambassador. So for example, if you're someone that really does love fundraising, and facilitating peer-to-peer solicitations, it's an outstanding way to invite others, to join me in making a gift to the organization that I care about and serve on the board because of XYZ reasons.


Alternatively, if you prefer to bring people together, you can host a small parlor meeting or, breakfast with your CEO and a group of people serving as a convener in an effort to raise awareness for the organization, and broaden the audience that falls into fundraising, but it's not direct peer to peer requests.


And then one of my favorite ways that board members can be involved in fundraising is through stewardship, particularly for smaller organizations where you have competing priorities, and a large pipeline to mind. If you're a development director and you're sitting there, you have an hour in your day, you can either make an ask or thank someone for their gift. You're likely going to make the ask.

So that's a great opportunity for the board member to pick up the phone or write a note or an email, thanking someone for the gift that they made and, adding a couple of sentences on the impact of their contribution to the mission of the organization or the work that you're doing.


And so, again, it's figuring out the ways in which your board members want to be involved in fundraising, what are their strengths? And then how can we create that synergy that allows them to be fantastic multipliers and fundraising ambassadors?


Cindy W.: We just had a conversation with a client with one of their board members and the board was interested in doing a peer-to-peer fundraising challenge. And I loved that because. Again like that's where the board, that particular board, where their sweet spot was in terms of their network, their ability to engage people. And one of the things that, that always comes up with that and came up with them is, they asked shouldn't we as a board, be spending our time focus on corporate fundraising.


And I said It's not an either-or, but where are your relationships? Let's focus on the relationships you have as a board with those relationships, let's narrow it down even more to the people who are inclined to care about this work. And let's pick a fundraising strategy that leverages that instead of what we see or hear. Cause I can't tell you how often I hear people say we need corporate money. We need corporate money. It's this pervasive belief part. I could talk about a rant that I have on the podcast before, but I think that piece of, where are we right now, instead of what should we be doing? I think is really an important distinction for organizations, I always love the term, stop shitting on yourself. Like we can't always focus on the should start where you are, start with the assets that you can begin with and leverage right away.


Elizabeth A.: Everything you're saying really resonates with me. And I am someone that likes to ground what I talk about in data. So whenever I can, I always leave it in. And what you're saying about this misperception, that corporate institutions drive philanthropy is something that I hear all the time. And I always refer back to the giving USA data that comes out each summer last year. In 2021, the data for 2020 came out and individuals drove 69% of total giving in the US, which was about $324 billion. Corporations it was only all quotes, only about 17 billion. A huge gap between where people think corporations are and where they actually are relative to individuals.


So the message I think we're aligned in that is that individuals continued to drive giving. And so then if you break this down one step further thinking about, okay, so our boards are comprised of individuals who care about the work that we're doing.


I'll reference another report from Fidelity Charitable, where the most interesting statistic to me. 62% of charitable donors are also recent volunteers. So not only do we want to focus on our people, our individuals, but we want to create meaningful volunteer opportunities like board leadership for those individuals that will strengthen their connection with the organization and drive your philanthropy.


Cindy W.: Oh yes. A whole other podcast episode is really, to me, our focus on corporate is a lot about our mindset and how we think about the value of philanthropy and asking and engaging people in giving which is a whole other, I wrote a book on it so we can talk about that forever, but the stats are there.


It's not a question of, is this information available again? I think it's how we distort the information in our brains distort the information to keep us safe and comfortable. And for some reason, corporate feel safe and comfortable because we're talking about a corporation's money instead of our friend's money.


Other conversation though. So let's talk about the second thing we wanted to talk about was the idea of recruiting and engaging people in this, right? Are we starting with our existing board members? Can you get existing non-fundraising board members to start engaging in fundraising? How do you build it into the recruitment process? There's so much to talk about there, where do you want to start?


Elizabeth A.: Let's start with setting expectations. And so one of the things that I've seen in my work at CCS Fundraising and the work that we do with boards has to do with educating board members on the role that they can play in fundraising. Many people just don't necessarily know what's expected of them.


A few years ago, a board source created this report, sorry, with all the reports, but it talks about fundraising expectations that when expectations are clearly articulated during board recruitment, 52% of CEOs report that their boards are actively engaged in fundraising efforts.


Now between you and me, I wish it was like 82%, not 52%, but I will take it. Because compared to the flipside, when fundraising expectations are not clearly articulated during recruitment, only 12% of CEOs report that their boards are actively engaged in fundraising. So what does that tell us? It tells us that there's a huge opportunity to communicate to our boards.


Why are you here? You're here, not only because you care about the mission, but because you bring your talents and your expertise and your influence in the community and, your position as a role model and a leader to be a multiplier for everything that we're doing inclusive of fundraising. So yes, you are expected to make a gift that is meaningful for you.


Some organizations on boards have minimum giving. They also have gift gap policies. And there are opportunities to bring thought leaders on the board and, leverage their connections as well, but setting those expectations at the beginning so that you have, and this is I think the most important part, a strong culture of philanthropy on your board.


Cindy W.: Yeah, and I think cause I often hear this from organizations. They're just like, how do we shift from, setting the expectations upfront, yes. But even, there's this breakdown of what we, again, like the picture of fundraising and philanthropy as mega gifts, as only certain people give those kinds of mega gifts therefore only certain people can help us get those mega gifts.


And we've already established that's not the kind of fundraising we're necessarily talking about, and certainly, in my experience, not with smaller organizations, we want to make sure that we redefine what that is in the process because if we just say you're expected to fund it, like even with the clear expectation, I think breaking it down and I love the way you frame that as a multiplier, there are different ways you can do this. I'm not asking you to bring a million-dollar donation to the table. We're asking you to do thank you, calls. This is what fundraising looks like in our organization. I want to emphasize, I guess that point because again I've seen organizations that have conversations and they want to introduce fundraising expectations to the board and the board is no this is not why you recruited me and I'm not interested. So we're going to not make this a policy or it's just going to not move forward because I think again, I just, the idea of expectations it's not just that the expectation is fundraising, I think we have to be very clear and maybe even phase. That is like in the first year, what that looks like is doing thank you, calls.


I like, that's what our fundraising is going to look like on our board right now, and move it forward. Do you have any examples of small organizations you might've worked with that did introduce these expectations of the board and how they were able to do it successfully?


Elizabeth A.: I do, and so I think you raised an interesting point about how to navigate the expectations of your CEO or executive director and development team with the expectations of the board.


And that's really where I feel the education piece comes into play. So it's educating and, really empowering our board members to take ownership. And I think about that in three ways. The first, as I mentioned is clear expectations. And then the second I think really focused on skill-building, so can we create a fundraising tool kit for our board to make things as easy as possible for them. So if we're embarking on a capital campaign or we want to raise money for our annual fund, can we have an FAQ? So when board members are asked questions, they have the language right in front of them that they can answer. Can we create email templates or a voicemail message for them to use when they're reaching out to others?


How can we make it as easiest possible for them so that this idea of fundraising is not intimidating, but rather something that they enjoy and is a natural part of their role? And then the last thing I would say and I love facilitating workshops like this and trainings, but what are the educational opportunities that we can provide our board?


If you have your and you will board retreat. Can you bring someone in to lead a solicitation training? I did this at a small independent school. It was a K through eight school that were building its annual culture of giving. And we had created an advancement committee to do some peer-to-peer solicitations and no one had really ever fundraised before.


So he met one evening and had lots of wine. We did like a role-play peer-to-peer solicitation training, which provided a deep dive into how to make the ask. and manage responses And then when people went out to have these conversations, they felt prepared. They felt more confident and best of all, they were really successful. And that success only fuels confidence and future success and future guests that they can bring in


Cindy W.: Absolutely. And I think there are so many amazing resources on how to train your board. But again, starting with what makes the most sense for your organization? If there's one thing I think that I'm hearing you say and certainly believe me in myself is that we can't stop what are we have to stop looking at what does that major organization do what are the big shops doing? Like where is your organization right now?


And what's going to take you one step ahead because I can't remember who said this, we don't have to see the whole staircase. We just have to see the next step to be able to move forward. And I really think that for smaller organizations, this is a hue is a mountain, right? Like we compare what we see with the big organizations and it feels overwhelming and it feels like we're so far from that and we don't, maybe the goal isn't actually that same mountain.


Maybe it's a different one, but we still have to start with one step. So I think that sort of there like right-sized approach is so critical. When we talk about, w even what kind of training does our board needs, maybe there it's not a solicitation. Maybe it is just how to write an amazing email to get people excited. And I think there are so many amazing resources out there.


Let's talk a little bit about some of the best practices that you've seen with small organizations in doing this work and getting, and we've been talking primarily about the board but I think, you've mentioned to me before that it's not just board. These are any volunteers who are enthusiastically or reluctantly raising their hand to help with fundraising. So what are some things that we want to prioritize?


Elizabeth A.: Relationship building is probably the number one thing that we want to prioritize when considering how our board members can support our fundraising efforts. And so I'm happy to share a case study of one of the organizations that I've been working with it's an advocacy organization that was really trying to engage some high-capacity prospects in their fundraising efforts and ultimately expand their donor audience.


And so one of their board members hosted a small group of prospects in what we call the parlor meeting at her summer home, it happened to be August. At the time she invited some of her friends and colleagues to hear the CEO speak about his vision. And it was really positioned as an insider's opportunity, a unique, special evening with the CEO.


And during this event, the CEO discussed his vision for the future of the organization, some of the challenges, and the broader landscape, and then really unpacked some of the financial investments that he was seeking to have the greatest impact on the community that the advocacy organization served. And I would note that for the most part, this was a pretty new group of attendees.


And as we all know, the most important part of any gathering is the follow-up. And so making sure that for every attendee, we had an action plan and, for a smaller organization, You don't have to have a 50-person gathering. You can have an eight or 10 person gathering as long as you have the follow-up.

And so we made sure that there was a follow-up. We had one-on-one meetings planned. One of the attendees was incredibly inspired by the vision and over the next couple of weeks through one or two additional meetings, we were able to secure a new five-figure, annual commitment for this organization, again, from a completely new donor.


And all of this was because the board member invited everyone to their home and used it as an opportunity to convene others under the mission of this advocacy organization.


Cindy W.: I love that example, small events, I call them micro-events are my favorites because you are building relationships, as you said. And when you host a big event, there was no opportunity to actually connect with the people there. Whereas when you have a small event, whether it's your, the, and this is one of the things I hear all the time from organizations is that they're worried that like with a small event of. And the, you're worried about what's the expectation do we ask at the event or what have you, the board members, every 90% of board members, I know including 90% of EDS are afraid to ask. And if we think of these, there's no ask, it's just to get to know you, you can call it fundraising or whatever.

We've done it with ourselves, but it doesn't have to be. And then you can let a staff person do the follow-up, do the follow through if the board isn't comfortable with that, but set expectations around what the next steps are. And who does it again, I think is so absolutely critical.


And providing those resources. I just want to circle back to one of the things you said before in terms of providing templates, FAQ's all that kind of stuff. We do that with our clients all the time. Where if it's a peer to peer campaign, we provide all the assets that they can customize if it's an in-person event. Which it's been awhile since we've had those, but same thing.


Like we pre-write all the follow-up emails and all the things. And maybe there's an ask, maybe there's not, maybe the ask is for a meeting or next step and you can repeat these, which is also amazing because one of the things I hear so much from organizations is this worry about all the work that has to go into it, but you do a peer to peer campaign once you can do a peer to peer campaign 10 times and micro events, same thing. I love all these examples.


I also know we're out of time, so Elizabeth, where can our listeners connect with you and, learn more about the work that you're doing and deep dive into this topic further.


Elizabeth A.: Absolutely. So it's been a wonderful conversation, Cindy, thank you for the opportunity for those of you to listen, if you're interested in learning more about me, about CCS fundraising, I invite you to connect with me directly, whether it's via email. You can find me on LinkedIn. And I also have a professional Instagram account, Elizabeth Berni Abel where I offer non-profit industry insights and fundraising tips, and cameos for my little toddler. So thank you all for tuning in. And again, I would leave you with one, one last thought. If our board members are our greatest fundraising ambassadors, just like we leveraged. them to steward our donors it's so important that we steward them, and so always recognize your board members for their time and their energy and their leadership.


Cindy W.: Absolutely. Elizabeth, thank you so much for joining us and to all of you, our listeners. Thank you as always for your time and we'll see you next week.


Well folks, that's it for today's episode of the small nonprofit. I'm your host, Cindy Wagman, and this show is brought to you by The Good Partnership. As a reminder, if you want more resources around raising more money for your small nonprofit, visit thegoodpartnership.com and download our free fundraising strategy guide. I'll see you next week.