This post is one in a series written by 2014 BoardSource Leadership Forum presenters. There is still time to register for BLF, which is being held October 9 & 10 in Washington, DC.
We all know that a board’s role includes fiduciary and legal oversight, which can be said of the boards of both nonprofit and for-profit organizations. But there are major differences between the two. One is that money travels in different directions. In for-profits, board members get paid for the value and contacts they bring. In nonprofits, board members, who also bring value and contacts, don’t get paid: In fact, they are actually asked to make significant philanthropic gifts to the organizations they serve.
The best boards and board members know this, celebrate it — and relentlessly promote a culture of relationship-building and philanthropy. They recognize this work is as important as the organization’s mission! Unfortunately, not all boards understand this —and choose not to orient themselves in this direction—and, because of this, will never realize their full potential.
While some of these boards and board members don’t believe they can raise significant philanthropic support because they are grassroots or too young or a myriad other reasons, it’s just not true. My colleagues and I are blessed to work with many nonprofits — large and small, newer and established — and we see under-performers and high-performers. It’s all about the rigor and genuine commitment with which the board members approach their development work. For the successful ones, it’s not transactional fundraising; it’s true development work. And the successful organizations produce short-term return on investment and long-term security.
Development work may look like a series of meandering lunches; in fact, it’s genuine relationship building — respectful, serious, substantive, and business-like. And there are no shortcuts. Here are a few facts and tips:
- Recognize that the average time frame to identify, cultivate, solicit, and receive a major gift commitment is 72 weeks.
- Identify and work with a portfolio of prospective donors throughout every stage of the philanthropic cycle to ensure that you always have prospects ready to be asked — today and 72 weeks from today.
- Continually introduce new prospects to your organization.
- Reinforce a thoughtful, disciplined approach to fundraising.
- Meet one-on-one with prospects. There is no better way to build relationships. And pick up the phone to schedule meetings. Email is extraordinary — but not the only form of communication.
Many people unfamiliar with philanthropy ask me if it’s difficult to ask someone for a big gift. For the most part, they wonder how anyone could give away so much money. I tell them our country was built on a culture of philanthropy. Colleges and universities, independent schools, hospitals, museums, zoos, churches, social service, and human rights organizations…and many more! I tell them the challenging part about fundraising isn’t asking people for money. By the time you get to the “ask” you already have researched, introduced, educated, and cultivated. After all that, if your organization is changing lives, gifts — and big ones — will follow!
Jay Angeletti is a development and organizational design specialist with 30+ years of experience that includes working with Choate School, Yale, Penn, Drew University, and New York – Presbyterian Hospital. In 2007, he founded The Angeletti Group, LLC — a firm composed of 20 colleagues who work exclusively with nonprofit client partners.