Why Training Your Board Is So Important

By Brian Saber

If we think we can send board members out to fundraise without giving them tools, we might need some analysis. What are we thinking?! It’s a license for complete failure, and the proof is in the pudding. Time and again our board members fail to partner successfully with staff to develop the organization’s resources because we never show them how or provide the training.

But They’re So Successful!

Yes, we ask people to join our boards because we think highly of them. They might be successful businesspeople or impassioned community activists or enthusiastic volunteers. They might be articulate believers or prominent philanthropists. We bring them into the fold because they have a talent, track record, or other indicator of high ability or “success.” And we mistakenly translate this into an ability to fundraise.

Oftentimes board members don’t even realize what fundraising is. For most, when we say fundraising they assume it means asking everyone they know for money. That would be unpalatable to almost anyone, but more troublesome is the fact that asking is the least of where we need their help. We need them to open doors and cultivate people who can make major gifts.

So What Do They Need?

Well, what did we need?

First, we needed to understand the goals of the organization and how our fundraising helps the organization fulfill those goals.

Then we needed to understand the mechanics of fundraising. How do we figure out who might be a prospect? How do we learn about a prospect? How do we begin to cultivate a prospect? When and how do we ask for a gift?

Once we’ve got the mechanics, we need practice. Now of course we probably got that original practice on the job. Perhaps we were mentored and went on our first cultivation and solicitation calls with a seasoned professional. Or we started small and learned by trial and error. We certainly asked lots of questions, read articles and books, perhaps attended professional development programs.

Are we providing any of this to board members? I’ve worked with more than 100 boards and I can vouch that very few of them even fully understood the goals of the organization and how fundraising fit in. Perhaps they knew what the organization did, but not why it did it or what the ultimate goal was. Without this understanding, the fundraising is nothing more than an obligation.

Before engaging me, more than half those boards hadn’t had a lick of training…and they’d been pushing their board members to fundraise for years (as many as 100 years!). Obviously not a formula for success.

And virtually none – not 5% – had been given the opportunity to practice what they had learned.

But We Don’t Have the Time or Money

I spent more than 20 years working at social service and small arts organizations, so I understand the scarcity of resources. So let’s be as creative and resourceful when it comes to fundraising as we are about everything else.

Let’s start by carving out time at every board meeting to discuss mission, to give board members a chance to articulate their story, to teach the mechanics of fundraising as we know them, and to give board members the opportunity to practice.

Fifteen minutes per board meeting will make a world of difference. We can all find 15 minutes to carve out for something so important. Fifteen minutes doesn’t cost us any money.

No doubt money is helpful when it comes to training. Can you put anything in the coming year’s budget? Perhaps you can at least have your board and fundraising committee chairs take a webinar or read a book (they might fund this themselves)? Starting small is fine – you don’t have to accomplish everything right away.

Maybe the board would even be willing to underwrite having a retreat with a trainer? They understand the value of training in their lives and they want to succeed – they just don’t know how. Don’t be shy about proposing this. What’s the worst that can happen? They’ll say no! And that’s good training for you as an asker!

Here’s to giving our board members the tools to be successful partners in developing our organization’s resources.

Learn more from Brian in his upcoming webinar “Get Your Board to Give Their Biggest Gifts and Help You Fundraise”


About The Author

Brian Saber is President of Asking Matters – a online learning platform that trains people how to ask for money and motivates them to do it! Combining the best low-expense and high quality resources in the field, he promises that Asking Matters will help countless organizations continue to do incredible work for their causes.

How to Host a More Meaningful Volunteer Appreciation Event

by Tobi Johnson, MA, CVA

Volunteer appreciation events can be wonderful opportunities to recognize the hard work and achievements of your board members and volunteers with authentic, heartfelt and generous acknowledgement.

Too often though, overworked nonprofit organizers resort to the same breakfast, luncheon, or happy hour formula year after year. After awhile the event loses its glam and becomes a little worn and tired.

Whether you are looking for ways to refresh your annual volunteer and board appreciation events, or you are kicking off a new event, you can incorporate more meaning into these celebrations. Here’s how:

  • Chose Your Event Site or Location Carefully – You don’t have to go with the run-of-the mill conference or event center. Think about booking your celebration in a unique location (e.g., outside at a city park). Symbolic locations that relate directly to your mission (e.g., a civil rights museum) are also very powerful places that can reinforce a connection to your cause.
  • Event Special Speakers & Guests – You don’t have to go with that tired old speech about the value of volunteers and board supporters either. Volunteers already know how valuable they are! Instead, share success stories (e.g., a volunteer challenge that resulted in triumph). Also, make space during your event for expressions of appreciation between volunteers (e.g. a gratitude wall). Ask those who have benefitted from the volunteers’ work to share their personal reflections. Invite spouses or families of volunteers and thank them, too. After all, how many board members could do the work they do without the encouragement of their spouse?
  • Design The Event Program & Activities to Focus on Mission, Altruism & Individuality – Provide a “state of the organization” update & “sneak peeks” of the future. Read thank you notes from clients aloud. Create opportunities for volunteers to take a role in helping your community (e.g. make a donation to a sister organization on their behalf). Individualize name tags and table tents as much as possible (e.g., include information about each specific key reasons for volunteering or catch phrases). Make space for socializing & “supported” networking & teambuilding.
  • Recognize the Symbolic Nature of Sharing a Meal – In ancient times, sharing one’s meal symbolized hospitality and goodwill. Build on that sentiment by asking community businesses and local leaders in your field to sponsor the meal as a symbol of gratitude from the greater community. Ask employees to serve a seated meal as a gesture of thanks. If you’re low on funds, consider hosting a potluck where volunteers and board members can break bread together and share their own culture and traditions.

Your appreciation even needn’t be expensive or grand to make an impression. Nor do volunteers need to be given trinket for their service. Simple, yet authentic acknowledgements of each volunteer’s unique contributions is all it takes.

Bring people together to celebrate as a group is icing on the cake.

Ready to Learn More Ways to Recognize Volunteers and Board Members?

Check out our upcoming 90-minute live webinar NEW! Volunteer and Board Appreciation on a Shoestring – How to Recognize and Inspire Deeper Commitment to Your Cause on February 14 (1pm EST) or February 23 (3 pm EST). We will share simple ways you can keep volunteers and board members motivated and engaged all year long using methods that are creative, inspiring, and easy on the budget.

About The Author

Tobi Johnson is President of Tobi Johnson & Associates, a consulting firm whose mission is to help nonprofit organizations strengthen their volunteer engagement strategy. In 2015, Tobi launched VolunteerPro, an online learning and networking community for leaders of volunteers. Tobi is also the author of Chapter 1 of the anthology Volunteer Engagement 2.0: Ideas and Insights for Transforming Volunteer Programs in a Changing World.

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