Recently I had the opportunity (and great privilege) to be part of a board meeting with a charity that I volunteer my time. During the meeting I was given 30 minutes to update the board on the organization’s fundraising performance.
30 minutes is a lot of time. From my experience, and the anecdotes I’ve heard, most directors of development (or similar staff) get much less than that to present to their board during an annual or quarterly meeting. This begs the question, how can you effectively inform the board of fundraising performance in so short of a time?
My recent experience opened my eyes to what the board is most interested in learning about when it comes to financials and fundraising. It also highlighted what “next steps” you need to provide board members with to make sure they are involved in fundraising efforts. With the end of the year firmly in sight, now is the best time to engage your board, share progress and get them involved in fundraising.
Let’s address how you can do that.
Three-step technique to inform the board
Fortunately for you and I, sharing fundraising progress with leadership doesn’t have to be a daunting task. There’s a simple three-step process that I’ve adopted which makes the experience run smoothly and effectively. I’ve used this technique both in my personal (volunteering) and professional (creating and sharing reports with organizations for a fee) life.
- Share what the organization has been doing well. Touch on a goal that has been achieved.
- Discuss areas where the organization can improve.
- Suggest and provide “action items” for how the board can help and get involved.
Those are the three steps. Nothing too complicated here.
For the organization I volunteer for this meant the following agenda:
- Show how the development staff successfully achieved their 2017 goal of raising $500,000 from corporate partners.
- Explain how mid-level and entry-level donor retention had unfortunately fallen during that same time period.
- Suggest that development staff and board members engage with recently lapsed donors before the end of the year in an attempt to bring them back to the organization.
At your organization it might look a bit different, but the idea is still the same. Step one entails sharing some sort of fundraising success with the board. We want to highlight a “win,” something you and your staff have done well and accomplished over the past six months to a year.
For a lot of organizations that haven’t mapped out strategic development goals I suggest highlighting growth in year-over-year donors. If your organization has lost donors year-over-year, but has been getting more money from donations, consider showing increasing donation revenues year-over-year. Again, the idea here is to simply share a “win” — something going well for the fundraising department.
After that we’ll want to highlight an area for improvement. For most organizations that means a focus on either donor retention rates or the number of downgraded donors. Take a look at your year-over-year retention rates. Have any particular giving level segments faltered? If so, that may be the area to highlight for improvement.
What about downgraded donors? Has the count of downgraded donors been increasing steadily for the past few years? That may be a sign that reducing the number of downgraded donors is where you should focus your attention.
Wherever you identify your area for improvement, make sure you have a visual and descriptive way to share it with leadership. As we’ve discussed in the past, that’s crucial for making sure board members quickly and succinctly understand what you are showing them.
Finally, you must come prepared with “next steps,” or “action items.” After seeing an area for improvement one or two board members will most likely say something along the lines of, “Thanks for sharing that, now how do we make it better?”
Let’s imagine your area for improvement is mid-level and entry-level donor retention. If that’s the case you’ll want to come prepared to the meeting with a list of ten recently lapsed donors. In addition to that you’ll want to have a call and email script prepared and ready to share. Next, you’ll work with your board members to assign one or two lapsed donors to each of them.
The “next step” the board requested was: have board members contact lapsed donors. Culture of philanthropy, anyone?
Remember: Be prepared to put on your “coaching” hat. Board members notoriously “ask” adverse and generally (in my experience) don’t feel comfortable calling donors. One technique I’ve used to get past this dilemma is to frame the call as an “engagement” phone call, not a solicitation call.
Imagine your donor on the other end of the line:
“Hello, this is Jane from XYZ charity. How are you today?”
“I’m well, thank you. How can I help you?”
“Is now a good time to talk? At XYZ charity we’re trying to learn more about our donors. As a member of the board, I wanted to let you know that we greatly appreciate your contributions and support. I simply wanted to learn more about your story, why have you engaged with XYZ?”
No one, and I mean no one anticipates a) receiving a call from a board member, and b) not being solicited for a donation. So, when a donor picks up the line and hears, “Hi it’s so-and-so from XYZ charity,” they immediately assume they’re about to be asked for money. They’ll be pleasantly surprised when they aren’t and that they’re talking to someone with real roots within the organization.
By empowering the board with the right people (the list of ten recently lapsed donors), at the right time (end of year when there is a sense of urgency), with the right script (focused on engagement instead of solicitation) you are setting them up for success. Board engagement increases and retention rates increase. Win-win.
Applying this at your shop
The concepts we covered above are not too complex. Actually, they’re quite simple. As with most things though, it comes down to execution — how effectively can we convey to the board our need for them to be involved in this process.
When you take this back to your shop consider the following three “takeaways:”
- The end of the year is the right time. Use the upcoming “busy season” to convey a sense of urgency to your board. Remember, share with them a success (what we’ve been doing well), an area for improvement, and next steps they can take right now (before the end of the year) to make a difference.
- Use tools to help with the manual work. Check your donor management system, or call your advancement resources department. Can you get your hands on a list of ten good prospects to share with the board? If not, try Fundraising Report Card®. Whatever you do, don’t end up spending a weekend in Excel making pivot tables.Use technology and tools to help with the manual, menial work.
- Be prepared to coach. Your board will most likely need some coaxing and mentoring. Don’t be scared, instead, come prepared.