Fundraising

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Janet’s been a reading tutor in Sunrise Community Center’s Book Buddies program for a few years now. She recently did a terrific job organizing a fundraiser to raise some extra cash for the program. She makes her own donation to Book Buddies each year, and seems pretty reliable and involved.

Let’s ask her onto the Sunrise Community Center’s board!

Well, yes, but…

There’s a long journey from program volunteer to organizational board member, and Janet’s board orientation – and training through the whole first year – will need to help her to make that leap. 

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The auctioneer gave a beautiful, rousing speech about the nurturing children receive under the organization’s care. A parent offered a heartfelt thank you from the stage as they discussed their journey. And then the call for bids started – at $5,000 – with no takers.

The reason? No-one wants to be the first to stick their neck out and be exposed as the lone believer. Everyone is watching to see who’ll take the lead.

Which means that if a nonprofit hasn’t stacked the deck with a few bid-starters – they’ll be out of luck in a very embarrassing public display of “chicken.”

Not good for the cause, for the agency’s reputation, or for the kids. 

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My board leans on me for everything” – an oft-heard lament from executive directors.

It’s logical. Board members, knowing the competence of the executive director, simply assume that dynamic leader will let them know when they’re needed. It’s easier to follow their lead.

But executive directors, juggling a million balls in the air, resent that they’re expected to be in charge of the actions of yet another group of responsible adults.

Yet the opposite complaint is true as well: Beware the runaway decisions made by a board acting on its own without any staff members in the room…

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It’s hard to ask for money to honor myself” complained a special event honoree recently – and rightfully so.

Sidestepping that reluctance is the reason why many organizations recruit event co-chairs, or vice-chairs – someone who asks, in the honoree’s name, for the donation. “Please give money to honor Robert who’s been so important to our community” is a lot more palatable than Robert asking, himself, for a gift.

But there’s a third ask possibility – and a fourth. The third pitch is asking because of the organization’s good work; and the fourth is asking on behalf of the recipients of the organization’s work.

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A camel is a horse designed by a committee. Heard that one before?

Heeding that adage to the extreme leads, in fundraising, to letters drafted and polished by staff alone – indeed, entire campaigns planned and executed by the development department, with its superior fundraising expertise.

Board members’ jobs, in this model, are to send the darned thing out – not to critique its components. Easier for everyone concerned, yes?

But so much less effective, for many reasons.

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