Do your board members gather around the campfire?

campfireRecently, I’ve been doing a lot of what I consider “Nonprofit 101” trainings focused on board roles and responsibilities. After talking with board members about their fiduciary responsibilities, they often push back on their role in fundraising. I’m becoming really good at giving them the “sympathetic smile,” which communicates that I’m hearing their fear but not giving them permission to wash their hands of their role in resource development.

After my last training, I literally had three board volunteers standing around the room waiting for a private moment with me. Each one told me how much they appreciated the content, and sure enough each one made their way around to the subject of fundraising. My mouth hurt that evening from a lot of sympathetic smiling.  🙂

While driving home, I couldn’t stop thinking about each of those three board members. Their stories were all the same:

  • They are passionate about the organization.
  • They love serving on the board.
  • They were asked to serve because they brought a certain skill set or relationships (e.g. mostly access to their company).
  • They know there is more they to do.
  • They know how important fundraising is.
  • They see the organization’s need for money.
  • They are just very reluctant . . . it doesn’t feel right to ask their friends for money. They mention a few fears, and worse yet they say it feels like begging.
  • They promise to try harder.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard this in the last few months. And in some strange way, I find it endearing which probably explains how I’ve mastered the art of the sympathetic smile.

Getting back to my drive home . . .

With nothing more than windshield time in front of me, my mind started wandering. I started thinking about a recent DVD purchase I made from 501 Videos of Tom Ahern talking about writing. As a bonus, they tossed in a 32 page mini-publication from Chris Davenport titled “Nonprofit Storytelling for Board members“.

As the blurry miles whizzed by me, a thought finally struck:

Stop pushing those reluctant board members into something they find
Instead, focus on something they will find less objectionable
like turning them into great storytellers.

fearAfter all, how scary can it be to “tell stories,” right?

And when you boil down a fundraising solicitation visit, isn’t it mostly a series of stories followed-up with an ask?

So, it stood to reason in my travel weary head that teaching reluctant board members how to tell stories is 90 percent of the battle.

After a few days of reflecting on this thought and a number of cups of coffee, I still think this is a great idea. So, I dusted off that “Nonprofit Storytelling for Board Members” book this morning in an effort to figure out where someone should start.

Luckily for me, the answer is easily found on page 4 where Chris Davenport says, “Here are three stories you need to concentrate on perfecting first . . .”

  1. Your Involvement Story
  2. An Impact Story
  3. A Thank You Story

So, there you have it folks . . . if you have board members who HATE fundraising, I think you should teach them how to be a good storyteller and start with the three stories identified above.

What? You think it isn’t as easy as that? There is more to storytelling than what meets the eye?

OK . . . you’re probably right, which is why Chris Davenport goes on in his mini-book to talk about:

  • The 4 C’s of Storytelling
  • Emotions vs Facts
  • Story Structure
  • Seven Story Triggers
  • And much, much more

I suggest that you go buy the book. It is only $7.95. Such as deal! Click here if you want to learn more and possibly order this amazing little pocketbook resource. (Disclaimer: I do not profit in any way from you purchasing that book. This is not a paid advertisement. I don’t even know Chris.

Do you have board members who are reluctant to fulfill their fundraising roles and responsibilities? How have you dealt with it effectively? Have you tried to teach your board volunteers how to be good storytellers? If so, how did that work for you and what lessons did you learn?

Please use the comment box below to share your thoughts and experiences. We can ALL learn from each other.

Here’s to your health!

Erik Anderson
Founder & President, The Healthy Non-Profit LLC!/eanderson847


  1. Erik:

    I just want a clarification. You are not suggesting that execs absolve thier boards from their fund raising responsibilities are you?

    1. Hi John … I am not suggesting that board members be allowed to wash their hands of their fundraising responsibilities. I’m just suggesting that storytelling is a great place to start with reluctant fundraising volunteers.

  2. Erik,
    Again, great timing. Although as I become more seasoned in this business, I realize this subject is always good timing. 🙂 We are going through a serious morph in our organization and I just sat down today with the board chair and rehearsed his story. I have found that “interviewing” a board member refreshes their memory why they are passionate. He thought he needed me to write a template when really his friends just want to hear from his heart. On to the next tomorrow.

    1. Congrats on “The Morph,” Beth. Thanks for weighing in with your comment. I completely agree with your thoughts about empowering board volunteers to tell their stories “from the heart” … there is no other way to do it. Nice work and please keep commenting!

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