Campaign in the ditch

So, I just got off the phone with an organization whose annual campaign isn’t going very well. While on that conference call, I found my mind wandering back to a meeting held last December.

At that meeting, the Executive Director and I were trying to convince the chair of their board solicitation phase to meet individually with board prospects and treat them like every other donor should be treated. As you might guess, we lost that argument and he opted for a big group solicitation with a handwritten follow-up.

Long story short … this organization is still chasing down approximately half of its board members begging them to contribute and not surprisingly their community phase is bogged down. Shockingly, the volunteers are still resistant to going back to their fellow board members with a more personalize face-to-face solicitation.

As I assess their situation, I find myself thinking the problem is rooted in any one of the following issues:

  1. They have the wrong volunteers with the wrong skill sets and experiences on the bus
  2. They have some of the right people on the bus but they might be in the wrong seats
  3. They have done a poor job with cultivating new donor prospects and stewarding existing donors and volunteer solicitors know that and don’t feel right about making the ask 
  4. They are afraid of engaging donors (even those sitting around their board table) because they don’t possess the right relationships and the prospect assignment process went wrong somewhere, and/or 
  5. There is a staff leadership problem and they are relying too heavily on volunteers to do everything and not providing the right amount of support.

I firmly believe that board members are donors. In fact, in many cases they are are most important donors, which is why I get so confounded when we treat them differently that other donors. In the case of this organization, they claim that they don’t have enough time to meet with fellow board members one-on-one. I wonder how that makes the average board member feel? I suspect some feel like an ATM and not like an investor, which then creates a feedback loop and gives them permission to solicit non-board donors the same way.

Hmmmm … I wonder what you think. Are there other possible reasons that might explain this behavior? Please weigh-in with your thoughts on this situation.


  1. What are the dynamics between board members of this organization? I wonder about that claim of not having enough time to meet with fellow and sister board members. If there are factions on this BOD, perhaps that could explain the reluctance to personally engage with one another. It is confounding.

  2. Typical run of the mill board with engagement levels that run the spectrum. I suspect that involving board members in more prospect cultivation and donor stewardship activities would lessen volunteers’ fears around making an ask. Perhaps, getting volunteers involved with cultivation and stewardship prior to their annual campaign will act as a way of giving solicitors “permission” to go solicit.

  3. Sounds to me like the board doesn’t buy into the program. Many board members sit on board for status or because it is expected (employment requirement or community persona) or even to network. Either way, the organization suffers unless there is a strong person either on the board with responsibility for board development and/or fundraising or at the ED position that isn’t afraid to ask for donations. Since the board is usually full of volunteers, they are donating their time so don’t discount not giving a monetary gift, if they are involved as a board their time is valuable. Finally, in my humble opinion, you need someone to pull these people together as push them in the right direction. Have the board give you contact information for 10 possible donors then have the ED go after them, it’s really a part of their job to fundraise, they get paid, board members don’t. If the ED struggles, have the ED contact the particular board member that gave that referral for some help.

    1. Great comments by Kevin because I find myself wondering if there is clarity around the board’s role versus the staff’s role in resource development. More to chew on! Thanks.

    1. Awww shucks, Cathy. Thanks! But everything I ever learned, I learned from donors. On a different note, it has been an absolute pleasure working with you for the last three years in Indiana on the Lilly Endowment Capacity Building initiative! Good luck with your new job.

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