Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Your Board and Donor Relations

I often hear from peers just how difficult it is to engage volunteers, specifically board members in the fundraising process. As with many things, I look to donor relations for the solution. Many of us have development committees of the board, but how many of us have donor relations committees? More of us should not just have a committee dedicated to the thank, but an entire board who "gets it". Leading up is part of the art and science of donor relations, why not start at the very top!? 

But how? I have a few tangible ideas for you to implement with your board. Not only are these ideas effective, they will start to create a new bridge to the idea that philanthropy is about so much more than the ask. Of all of the fundraising activities that we do, the ask is actually less than one percent of our time. So why do so many folks spend all their time focusing on it? Why is it that when we go to conferences, there are 10 or more sessions on solicitations, but less than three on thanking donors and cultivating relationships? Here's your turn to help shape that paradigm.

  • Take a portion of the next board meeting and have an "attitude of gratitude" session. Teach your board why the simple act of saying thank you is so valued among your donors. 
  • Start having them each write 5 hand written notes at each board meeting- start by  having them thank loyal donors.
  • Have a thank a thon phone calling session at the next retreat where they call donors, you pick the segments, to say thank you. These calls are powerful for both people involved.
  • Teach them about all the other activities they can participate in outside of solicitation. Where do you need help most?
  • Bring a student, or beneficiary into the board meeting to have them tell their story of how the support has changed their lives.
  • Take a portion of the board meeting and have them tell why they give back. Record this information so you can help them be reminded of why they are key to your organization. These stories are invaluable to you.
  • Understand that these are super busy folks, so communicate with them in bullets or top points. I do an email called top five Friday that  lists five unique but quick things they can do to help move a relationship forward. Each item should take less than 5 minutes.
How do you help your board live the donor relations centered life? What ideas do you implement often that help those relationships move forward? What challenges do you face? I look forward to hearing from you!


  1. Fantastic blog post Lynne! As always...

  2. This is a topic I'm discussing with a peer at another institution. At the Oklahoma State University Foundation we currently have our own Donor Relations Committee of the Board of Trustees. Because we are building a program and everything we are doing is new, we rarely have to stretch for material. Long-term, I think we will back off having a committee of our own. As in any case, one topic for too long can lead to volunteer fatigue. If I could share any piece of wisdom it would be to always present material in a way that involves them giving feedback on which you can act. That seems like a no-brainer but I guarantee, once you have that kind of volunteer access after an age of having none, the impulse is to push information out-out-out. Good luck, all! I'd love to see more of us have this kind of access. It really empowers us to do well at the work we do each day.

  3. As usual, you have some great thoughts and ideas here, Lynne, and I know that boards I've worked with would respond well to your concepts.

    I do think it's worth noting that there is one preliminary step that can't be taken for granted: ensuring that your CEO is "on board" with both these suggested meeting activities and the overarching importance of donor relations. CEOs tend to be highly protective of their board members, careful about what the board is exposed to, and jealous of how they spend their precious meeting time. I would propose using logic, the promise of a big payoff, and personal flattery to get the CEO's buy-in. (In the latter case, I suggest something along the lines of, "Gee, Mr./Ms. CEO, can you spend part of this proposed time talking about that great thing you did to thank....yada, yada, yada.")

    If the CEO is unresponsive? Well, we can talk about how to carefully plant the seed with a key Trustee, but I'll save that discussion for later. And hopefully we all have enlighted CEOs who will quickly embrace your concepts!