Most board members join nonprofits knowing that they will be asked to get or give a certain amount of money. Executive directors handle resolving these expectations in different ways – some let the board decide for themselves how much they are individually responsible for, others lay the cards on the table. However you cross that hurdle, do it.
Having a board network on your behalf is one of the best ways to build solid individual contributions as well as long-standing supporters. In general, board asks should be at a higher level than you would expect from your average audience member contribution. You need to make it painless for them.
- Ask your board to start with five names of people they know and are willing to approach for individual gifts.
- Review strategies with the board on how to make an ask and what to highlight about the organization.
- Develop a packet of compelling information about your programming that board members can send or give to their contacts with a personal letter that you have helped them draft introducing your organization.
- Set up a timeline for follow-up asks and a goal for how much each prospect might be willing to give (make it more than you'd expect from them).
- With your board member, schedule lunches or casual meetings with prospects. In general, the executive director of your organization should be most involved in this process. But whoever from your organization participates, it will likely make hesitant board members less reluctant to follow up, and it gives the prospect a sense of just how important his/her contribution will be.
- Don't expect immediate results.
Involving Your Board in the Grant Writing Process
The first step in getting your Board involved in your organization's grant writing efforts is to capture the complete list of Trustees from every targeted foundation.
This list should include full name, title, company, address, and telephone number of each Trustee. The IRS Form 990 requires that every nonprofit organization disclose their complete Board roster. A visit to www.guidestar.org will give you access to the most recent IRS filings for nearly every foundation.
Once this list is compiled, it's not enough to simply give it to your Board of Trustees. Speak individually with each of your Trustees, ask them if they know anyone on the Boards of the targeted foundations. If not, ask them if they are close with anyone who might work at the same company as a foundation Trustee.
Once you have narrowed your list down and determined which of your Board members knows which foundation Trustees, it's time for your Board to make some phone calls. When your Board member contacts their assigned foundation Trustee there are few things you should always make sure of:
- Make sure your Board member is comfortable discussing your organization's mission.
- Make sure your Board member knows when the grant was submitted, how much it was for, and for what purpose the request was made.
- Make sure that your Board member can share positive personal experiences from being associated with your organization. For instance, if the proposal is for an education program, it would be helpful if the Board member has actually attended one of the events. This is important for two reasons. First, the Board member will be able to describe in detail the methods your organization uses to reach its goals. Second, it is critical that the Board member has had an opportunity to observe or interact with the audience served by the program for which you are requesting support.
- Finally, make sure that the Board member extends a personal invitation to the Trustee to attend one of your organization's events. Personal contact with your audience and artistic product can be a powerful complement to your well-written proposal.
IMPORTANT NOTE! Very few board members want to be only sources of donations. The more valued your board feels for their input on other aspects of your organization, the more likely they are to make an important ask or cut their own check. While members won't usually want to be embroiled in the minutia of your operations, they will want to see that their fiduciary responsibilities are taken seriously.