We hear it all the time. Boards need to be more engaged in fundraising and sponsorship in our organizations. Board can bring so many resources to the table, from making introductions to CEOs of companies to hosting networking events. They can support your sponsorship efforts or stand in the way of them. They can represent a considerable asset to a corporate sponsor in terms of their network or they can simply fear sponsorship and prevent you from moving forward.
In my experience of working with Boards, I often see some common themes that lead to Board disengagement. Thankfully, there are ways in which you can move forward to make your Board the best fundraising resource ever.
Lack of trust has got to be one of the main reasons why Boards don’t donate and do not bring you their networks. Boards, understandably want to protect their friends, associates and other contacts from being treated badly. They may even have been burned before, having taken the chance to make an introduction to a contact and then find that the contact has not been treated well by the charity. So help them to feel that they can trust you, but also in the charity, by demonstrating that you understand the process, that you won’t mistreat their friends and business associates and that you have impact in a cause that they care about.
Do what you say you will:
This leads on from the point above in terms of helping your Board members to trust you. If you say you will call, call. If you promise to send them some further information, do it, and do it on time. Never be late for meetings and don’t let your meetings overrun. These are all factors that impact upon how much your Board members feel that they are being respected, and in turn, that you will respect their friends.
Re-connect them with the cause:
Constantly. I’ve sat in many Board meetings where we deal with the governance of the organization, but then never talk about the impact that we have. While I understand that we need to get the governance work done, I begin to forget what drove me to join in the first place. Over time I stop feeling inspired, and then less enthusiastic about encouraging others to get involved.
So use your Board meetings as an opportunity to let them know about why your cause is so important. Tell them stories about how their hard work, and money, is making a difference. Make it front and centre of your meeting and the first thing on the agenda. Remind them about why they cared in the first place, and why they care now. Help them feel like this is a place and a cause that they feel compelled to invite their friends to join, as sponsors, donors, volunteers and as fundraisers.
Show the love:
I can’t say this enough. Board members sometimes end up only feeling the obligation that their role puts upon them, but do not feel appreciated for their contribution, or indeed, inspired to do more. In fact, I have sat on Boards and committees where I had both raised and given money and not once had I been thanked.
So thank, thank and thank again. Ask them how you can recognise their support. Understand their motivations for being engaged and find ways to feed that motivation and to give them what they need and want. Cultivate a relationship that makes them feel part of something amazing, that is changing the world and that this change wouldn’t happen without them.
Prioritize Fundraising & Sponsorship
Far too often raising money is the last item on the agenda, only ten minutes is allocated to it, and by then everyone is tired and just wants to get home. Yes, your programs are important, but you can’t run them if you don’t have funding and if people don’t appreciate the importance of sponsorship to your organization. So after you have re-connected your Board with great stories, at the start of your meeting, let them know how important sponsorship is to making this stuff happen.
Give them the tools and support to thrive, including:
- Having a great Case for Support: A regular experience I have with Boards is that they just don’t feel like they know enough about your organization, and your funding needs, to talk to people. Yes, they have your website, your Annual Review and your Board reports, but even with this, it can be a struggle to figure out the right way to talk about the cause.The right Case for Support helps your Board to better understand what the organization does, what it needs funding for but it also gives them the language that they need to use when talking about the cause. As a result, not only can they feel more enthusiastic as a result of reading it, but also more confident when talking to others, while giving them the message that you most want them to hear.
- Help them to understand the difference between sponsorship & philanthropy: You don’t need to go into a deep dive with this with your Board, but by helping them to understand that donations and sponsorship often come from different places in a company and there are different motivations behind them, it can help them to build a meaningful connection to the right people in the corporation, whether it is the Brand Manager or the Community Engagement Manager, to help you meet your goals.
- Coaching: Helping your Board to understand fundraising and sponsorship better, and their role within this, can make all the difference in encouraging them to get engaged. People often think that fundraising and sponsorship is about strong-arming their friends or cold-calling, when in fact, this approach rarely works and less often makes anyone feel good about giving (and giving should ALWAYS feel good). Where your Board members are often best suited is in making introductions to the people you want to reach, and being willing to engage in the process, so help them to do that.
- Make it easy for them! Your Board is best engaged at a level that they are most comfortable and in line with their time commitments, so do not want to be bogged down with scheduling, writing letters, doing research etc. So do it for them. Give them the backup their need to do the stuff that really matters, and that’s reaching out to their contacts. Whether they need help with scripts for a call, drafting an email, researching a company, or even if they just have questions, be on hand to give them the support they need.
First Published for The Sponsorship Collective, January 18, 2016.