Nonprofits' board members should know about raising friends as well as funds

NONPROFITS INC.

January 31, 1994|By LESTER A. PICKER

The year is still fresh, and nonprofits are, one hopes, running on high energy, refining and implementing their 1994 goals and objectives. Now is also the time of year for nonprofits to nail down commitments from members of their boards of directors.

Whether you are fund raising or friend raising, every charitable organization today needs to have an active presence behind it -- figuratively speaking. I say figuratively because ideally, a board should be out front of the organization, charting its direction, defining its values and creating a common sense of mission and vision that serves as its highway to the future.

Fortunately, in our country, commitment is defined by action. At this time of year, board chairs and executive committees should be reviewing last year's board-member performance and designing a program to do better in 1994.

Board-member performance can be easily defined in at least two areas: fund raising and friend raising. In one case, board members should raise or donate funds to the charity; in the other, they act as good-will ambassadors who foster support.

One of the most effective ways to boost board giving is through pledge sheets. Locally, the Red Cross, a large nonprofit, and The ReVisions Foundation, a community rehabilitation charity on the small end of the spectrum, define what is expected financially of their board members. ReVisions provides a pledge sheet that board members use to indicate level of support and method of payment.

Defining the board's personal gifts early in the year is useful. A charity thus could predict even a modest baseline cash flow, although for a small nonprofit, board giving can represent a substantial portion of revenue.

But, more important, it affords the fund-raising committee an opportunity to predict the size and success of annual fund-raising efforts. Board members who stretch to give personally invariably raise more money from others. Asking a peer for funds to support a worthy cause in which a board member is involved is a whole lot easier if the person making the ask has given substantially.

As with any fund-raising effort, soliciting gifts from the board itself should be undertaken with care and sensitivity. Allow members a gift schedule that responds to their circumstances, from monthly gifts to one lump-sum annual check. Offer to send invoices if they feel it will help.

In many cases, a member's business will match gifts. Staff support could be offered to help the member file the forms with the employer.

Beyond the mechanics, the board chair and fund-raising committee should review all members' giving and discuss their capacity to increase -- or in some cases downsize -- their gift. Has the member's business suffered a downturn? Is the member of an age in which a planned gift could be recommended?

Similarly, board members should commit now to friend raising. Would members be willing to speak before a business group? Can they serve on a government committee, representing the interests of the nonprofit? Will they offer their as-needed services to the nominating committee for approaching potential board members? It's a good idea to tie friend-raising activities to the organization's marketing goals.

Asking for board-member commitments at the start of the new year helps create a board culture that emphasizes service to the organization's charitable mission. It keeps members focused on the beneficiaries of their work. It also avoids year-end scrambling for gifts, with the attendant ill will generated by that effort.

Many organizations have turned to a minimum board-giving level, which enables an organization to dispense with the gift negotiation process, makes expectations clear and provides flexibility for larger gifts. This technique is not for every board, however.

The annual board commitment process also enables a board to uncover dissatisfactions that prevent members from giving at their full potential. That, too, is a good way for a board to identify issues that must be addressed in 1994.

(Les Picker is a philanthropy consultant. Write to him at 71 Bathon Circle, Elkton, Md., 21921; [410] 392-3160.)

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