Fail to plan, plan to fail. This is true for all fundraising, including the need to prepare your board members to become effective, confident fundraisers at your fundraising events.
In the third post in this series, I share my top tips on how you can prepare your board members to become exceptional fundraisers and donor cultivation experts at your fundraising events.
Share your event goals with them
This is crucial in helping your board members to be effective in their roles at the event. If your board members don’t know what your event goals are, they cannot help you achieve them. Of course, this means that you have to have clear event goals, some understanding of how you are going to achieve them, and how you can measure your success to do this (the topic for a future blog?), but when you know what you are looking to achieve, you can determine how your board can help you do this.
So if, for example, your goal is to get donations on the night, how can you position your board members to encourage people to give? Perhaps this is a donor stewardship event, so your board members’ main task is to ensure that your donors feel thanked and appreciated. Or are you looking to build a stronger connection to donors and potential donors, so their focus is on building rapport, and learning more about so that you can target and tailor your future communications more effectively?
Whatever your event goals are, not only do you want to make sure that your Board members know what they are, but that they are also on board with supporting you to make sure that they happen on the night.
Be clear on THEIR role at the event
The best role your Board members can play at your events is to steward your donors, so if you can, avoid the temptation to ask them to manage coat check or stand behind a reception desk. They need to be out there, meeting and greeting donors and getting to know them better.
Your Board members are key figureheads in your organization. By having them at your events, it gives donors the opportunity to get up close and personal with your organization, to ask questions and discover who the people are behind what makes your organization move forward. If board members become effective donor advocates, they can also become more involved in engaging with donors after the event, therefore increasing your capacity to steward more donors more effectively.
Understand their fears
For those of us who aren’t social butterflies, events can be scary. It can be like walking into a wall of people you don’t know and then being expected to “perform.” While this article isn’t strictly about networking skills (if you are looking for some guidance on networking, I recommend checking out some of the blog posts from the networking guru himself, Michael Hughes), it can be very helpful to really understand your board members’ fears before the event so that you can provide the right support to make things easier.
A great way to do this is to take some time to meet with your board members one-on-one to understand what they might need from you to make their role at the event easier to play. Perhaps having access to certain information, like a Case for Support or donor profiles (more on this later), or encouraging some of your less confident board members to “buddy up” with more confident ones (or with staff), might make things easier for them. By exploring what your board members need from you, you can find solutions to allay their fears.
Encourage them to tap into their passion
While it is not always the case, it is pretty safe to assume that your board members joined your board because they cared about the cause, but once they get bogged down in governance and administration as a board member, it can be easy to disconnect from that emotional connection that they once felt.
So I always recommend board members try to spend some time thinking about why they joined the board in the first place. What inspired them? Who inspired them? What was the first story they ever heard that really moved, or enraged them? Can they think of three stories that they can tell that demonstrates the seriousness of the problem that your organization seeks to address, as well as the impact you have? If they don’t have these in mind, can you provide them?
Stories are powerful motivators and help people to really engage the passion within themselves, and this passion is what is going to cause people to want to take some action, providing they are the right stories. So help your board members feel engaged, but also more tooled up to encourage others, by giving them the right stories that can help them send a strong message to donors about your need and impact.
Bring them on board with your Case for Support
This leads me to the Case for Support.
It is rare that Board members have an encyclopedic knowledge of your work. More often than not, over time, board members lose touch with some of the key aspects of your work, and as a result, they do not feel confident in talking about your work with donors. This can be an almighty barrier when you ask them to become more involved in fundraising.
On many occasions, I’ve seen how effective a Case for Support can be in encouraging Board members to become more engaged in fundraising at events. Not only will the right Case for Support help to enthuse your Board members (and will typically contain some of the stories I mention above) and help them to feel more passionate, it should also contain the language and information they need to talk about your work, and your funding need, with confidence.
Most importantly, your Case for Support should focus on the most important information they need to share with regard to your work, the needs you address, your impact and your most immediate funding needs. With such a document in the back of their minds, it makes your Board members’ conversations with donors flow much more easily.
Share the guest list in advance (including guest profiles)
If your board members have played a part in inviting people, whether their own contacts or those of the organization, then they should already know some people, which can make it a whole lot easier for them to build a rapport with the guests. If this is the case, then maybe their focus needs to be re-connecting with those people specifically at the event.
If, however, they don’t know anyone at the event, a useful strategy can be to profile some of the key individuals that are to be in attendance, and provide brief information to the board member so that they know more about them, and can determine how best to develop the conversation. Profile information might include the level of relationship the organization has with them, who they are connected with (inside the organization and outside of it), some details of the kind of support that they’ve given in in the past and any clear interests they might have, some public biographical information, and maybe even some ideas on what your ideal next steps would be.
When profiling, however, take care with regard to sharing sensitive information you might have. If you aren’t sure if you should be sharing information, then better to err on the side of caution and stick to information that you know the donor will not mind being known about them.
Identify some people for them to meet
Once you have your profiles, think about how you can match certain guests with different board members, according to interests and commonalities. When people are able to build a rapport, based upon common ground, it can really help the conversation to flow. Refer back to this post on ways to engage potential donors if you would like to learn more.
This can vary significantly at larger events, but even dinners too. I have often organized major gift dinner parties which have involved having detailed seating plans that are prepared with the intention of putting people together who have things in common and it can be hugely effective. Providing that your donor advocates, whether board members or staff, are well trained and understand the opportunity for donor engagement, what you can end up with is a series of great one-on-one donor cultivation meetings taking place all in one place.
Have a briefing meeting
A briefing meeting should always be part of your event plan.
This briefing meeting is to orient your Board member with regard to some of the details of the event, who is going to be there, and what their role is to be. You might share some details like venue, room layout, format and agenda for the evening, details about the host and who your guests are likely to be.
Specifically for a donor cultivation event, you might even want to reiterate how they are there to champion the cause, find out donor interests, more about their current involvement (from their perspective), and encourage them to become more involved. Specific questions they may want to ask themselves at the event when meeting with guests could include:
- Did they seem interested in any particular part of the work?
- Did they seem to get on well with anyone in particular? Could this person become involved in follow up?
- Did they talk about their previous support, why they supported in the first place and why they continue supporting now?
- How did they appear to feel about follow up of any kind?
- In what way do they feel that the relationship could be moved forward?
By gathering such rich information on your guests, you can develop much more effective donor cultivation plans so that you can follow up with guest much more effectively, and develop truly fruitful relationships with donors that help your organization to thrive.
In the next blog post I will talk about how your Board can continue to be involved after the event has finished, and how your work has only just begun (and that’s a good thing, I promise!).