by Jane B. Ford
One More Question: What about My Financial Commitment?
Several years ago, my friend Bob, who served on the board of an independent school, told me that he thought that I would make a great addition to that board because of my passion for educating girls and my skills in fundraising. I told him that I might be interested so he set up a time for both of us to meet with the board president. She presented good information about the school, its students, and why she wanted me on the board. When she asked if she could put my name in nomination, I had one more question: what was the financial commitment that the school expected of me.
For the first time, she hesitated and seemed ill at ease. Finally she said “Well, we really want you for your nonprofit fundraising and management expertise. Of course, we would hope you give a financial donation but that’s not required.” Bob, who was equally uncomfortable with the topic of money, said that the school would be happy with any size gift. As I saw their discomfort with my question and their reticence to talk about money, I realized that I could make a big impact on this board so I agreed to serve.
Some Board Members Gave and Some Didn’t
After a few months of board service, I helped the board create a functioning development committee that I agreed to chair. Reviewing the donor lists from past years, I saw that less than half of the board members had given donations. I met with the head of school and the board president to ask them why not all board members financially supported the school. The head explained that the school had undergone a very challenging period during which they had lost many board members. As the school recovered, the head wanted to bring people with specific skills to the board and he was afraid that, if he mentioned that they would be expected to give, they might run the other way.
Although the board president consistently gave generous gifts, she was uncomfortable talking about money. She simply couldn’t bring herself to introduce the issue of board giving when meeting with prospective board members and, once they joined the board, she felt embarrassed to raise the issue.
The subject of board giving was taboo.
By their example, these well-meaning leaders had created a culture in which the subject of board giving was taboo. Board members weren’t asked to give and weren’t educated about their roles in fundraising. When I looked at the development reports, I knew that the school would have trouble raising more money without board members being actively involved in fundraising.
Shifting the Culture with a Bit of Training
As a way of shifting the culture, I offered to do brief educational segments on fundraising at the beginning of the next few meetings. I designed the mini-sessions to help members understand why they needed to both give money and ask others for financial gifts. Through discussion and role playing, members learned how to identify potential givers and ask for gifts.
Every board member soon began to give regular gifts according to their means.
It didn’t take long before several members offered to solicit gifts from friends, family and colleagues. When they began to report on their successes, others stepped up, too. Some members didn’t agree to ask for gifts, but every board member soon began to give regular gifts according to their means. The commitment of the board had a direct impact on the growth of the annual fund and eventually led to long-delayed plans to have a capital campaign to expand the school.
In the words of one of the long term board members, “Thank you for showing us how to give and how to ask. Your practical approach inspired us to do more for our beloved school.” I thanked her for the kind words and shared with her a quote from one of my favorite fundraisers, Kim Klein — “When board members know that everyone is giving their best effort to fundraising according to their abilities, the board will function more smoothly and all members will be more willing to take on fundraising tasks.”
Jane B. Ford is a teacher, trainer, speaker and consultant in the vicinity of Boston, Massachusetts. She is both practical and inspirational. You can learn more about Jane at her website, The Joy Path.