All too often in fundraising, there’s the dream, and then there’s reality.
For example, every fundraiser dreams of a high functioning board development committee with enthusiastic co-chairs that make your job not just a breeze, but a pleasure.
You fantasize about a board development committee that “gets it,” acts as a collaborator, brings fundraising success to new heights, and just makes development so much more enjoyable. (OK, maybe this is just what I fantasize about?)
But sometimes the reality of your board development situation is less than ideal and you have to play the cards you have right now while you build to something better.
Maybe your board is in transition, you had a well-functional development committee, but it’s fallen off its game. This is the situation for one of our current clients.
Or maybe you’ve never had a development committee and you are struggling to bring one to life.
Or perhaps your nonprofit is so new (or small) that you just don’t have a development committee yet.
WHAT TO DO WHEN THERE’S NO BOARD DEVELOPMENT COMMITTEE
Whatever the reason there are times when Executive Directors and Directors of Development must manage with no board development committee. Or sometimes without even one single fundraising champion on the board.
Without a plan, this can be a difficult experience. I’ve been there. My organization was going through an extreme transition. The board had a ton on its plate and fundraising wasn’t the top priority (I know… amazing!) And all this while planning a major gala.
The key thing I learned? When a board development committee is distracted, the Director of Development can rely on what worked in the past.
So here’s my advice to Development Directors and other fundraisers who don’t have a board development committee to work with. It’s a three-step approach that will help you raise more money (and improve your sanity!)
STEP ONE: KEEP YOUR EYE ON THE GOAL
When a board doesn’t have a development committee it doesn’t mean the work stops, only that the Executive Director or Director of Development is forced to take it all on themselves.
This can feel overwhelming, and the natural reaction is to focus entirely on the present and to do whatever you need to do to keep going.
I’ve done that. And trust me, it’s a mistake.
Above all, keep your eye on your goal: building a fully functional board development committee.
This means you must:
- Keep this goal in your Yearly Development Plan
- Continue to talk about building the development committee with the board chair
- Continue to be on the lookout for new board prospects that would be great additions to a development committee
Nonprofits are so busy and messy that we can lose sight of our long-term goals. However, your nonprofit will have so much more fundraising success with a board development committee. You owe it to your organization, and yourself, to keep moving toward that goal even when the going is tough.
STEP TWO: TREAT EVERY BOARD MEMBER LIKE A VERY MAJOR DONOR
With no board development committee you might be tempted to cut some corners when cultivating and soliciting the board. For example, we have a client that didn’t have a development committee on their board. They felt so pressed that they solicited directors by letter rather than in-person. By cutting corners, they got much worse results.
Don’t do it. In fact, focus on increasing your high-touch development program with your board.
- Make sure board members are told how their gifts are being used and why they are so important.
- Email and call directors individually to be sure their development questions are answered. Without a development committee chair to talk to, a director might not know where to ask questions.
- Continue to make solicitations at in-person meetings. Don’t cut corners no matter how much you are tempted because of time issues.
Once you start cutting corners with your board, it becomes a race to the bottom. Problems with giving will develop as board members feel like they’re getting less attention than they are used to. And once board giving drops you’ll have a whole new layer of “messy” to work out. Don’t let it get to that point.
STEP THREE: TAKE CONTROL OF THE DEVELOPMENT BOARD REPORT
Without a functioning development committee, the board fundraising report becomes more important than ever.
At each Board meeting, in addition to presenting the numbers, make sure you also discuss the following:
- The biggest fundraising challenge the organization is facing.
- The biggest fundraising opportunity the organization currently has.
- The one thing you most need from the board regarding fundraising.
Without a development committee, it is so important that the board understands all of the good and the bad that the fundraising program is facing. Since there isn’t a committee that is going to follow-up after the meeting with directors, make sure you get the time you deserve at the board meeting itself to discuss the top issues you are facing.
If you put the issues in the written report, they might be read. But they might not be. Instead, carve the time out at the board meeting to discuss these items.
Here’s Joan’s advice on how to write a good board report.
So that’s my advice for how to handle things without a board development committee. For those of you in this situation, how have you worked with a board successfully that didn’t have a development committee?
Would you like to hear this topic discussed in a deeper way on our new podcast, Nonprofits Are Messy? Please let me know in the comments below.
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