This certainly seems to be the topic of the month for non-profit people running in my circles. I’m not sure why this is the flavor of the month, but I’ve been asked this question so many times recently I took is as a sign from the universe (or the fundraising gods) that I should blog about it.
Why do board members quit on you?
Oh, well let me count the reasons . . .
- They feel lost when it comes to asking for charitable contributions (aka lack of training)
- They feel uneasy about asking friends for money (aka they are asking inappropriately due to a lack of training which results in any number of FEARS and the feeling that they’re begging)
- They feel unsupported by staff (aka staff aren’t going out with them to help and model best practices)
- They sense there is a lack of organization behind their efforts (aka meetings are poorly attended or poorly organized, acknowledgement letters are sent late or sporadically, etc)
- Prospective donors are assigned to volunteers by staff without input from volunteers (aka they aren’t asking people with whom they are comfortable soliciting)
- They are busy people and there aren’t accountability tools being used by staff to keep everyone focused (e.g. report meetings, dashboards, scorecards, campaign reports, peer-to-peer phone calls)
- Fundraising efforts lack urgency (aka deadlines always seem to be extended, goals seem to shift/change, etc)
- They weren’t recruited appropriately and didn’t know what they were saying ‘YES’ to when joining the board (aka your board recruitment process lacks “expectation tools” like volunteer job descriptions, commitment pledges, etc)
I could go on and on and on with this list, but that wouldn’t be productive. Suffice it to say, if any of the aforementioned reasons describe your organization, you need to address it. Quickly! Otherwise, no matter how many new board members you recruit to replace the ones who quit on you, the problem will continue to recur.
All of this begs the question, “What can and should be done about board volunteers who quit on their fundraising responsibilities?”
Step One: Have a heart-to-heart discussion
I have no idea why this is so scary for so many non-profit staff and board volunteers. It doesn’t have to be a confrontation. Here are a few talking points:
- Describe what you are observing (e.g. a reluctance to fundraise)
- Assure them that it happens in the case of many board volunteers
- Ask them what the trouble seems to be
- Listen – Listen – Listen (empathize where appropriate)
- Ask them how you can help
- If there is nothing you can do to help, then ask them how they’d like to move forward
Unfortunately, I’ve seen it too many times. Board members disengage and no one asks them if everything is OK and if they are in need of assistance.
It is troublesome when non-profit families start acting this way, which is why Step One is always to sit down and listen.
Step Two: Engage in cultivation & stewardship
If the reasons given by your board volunteer aren’t things beyond anyone’s control (e.g. family member illness, work-related challenges, etc) and they simply don’t feel comfortable with solicitation, then ask them to get heavily involved in cultivation (e.g. engaging new prospective supporters) and stewardship (e.g. showing existing donors gratitude and return on investment) activities. (Note: don’t simply let them focus on other non-fundraising activities like programming or marketing)
The following is a partial list of things you can ask of reluctant fundraising volunteers:
- Host a house party with people who don’t currently support your organization (e.g. party where staff briefly talk about the organization and the host follows up with participants to see if they are interested in learning more)
- Invite people who don’t currently give to your organization to tour your facilities and see the mission in action
- Invite people who aren’t donors/supporters out for a cup of coffee and simply chat about the organization (e.g. it is important for the board volunteer to share reasons why they are involved and passionate about the organization)
- Hand write letters to donors to express gratitude for their support
- Make phone calls to donors in the middle of the organization’s range of gifts chart to express gratitude, engage in a discussion about their reasons for support, and share a piece of organizational good news
- Invite larger major gifts donors/supporters out for a cup of coffee, share a copy of the most recent annual report, share any recent pieces of good news or programmatic results, and talk passionately about the future
I’m not suggesting you ask a reluctant fundraising volunteer to do one of two of these things. I am suggesting you immerse them in these activities. You might try asking them to complete five handwritten letters, five phone calls AND five in-person contacts every month for the next year.
In my experience, there is something curative when board members have substantive encounters with others that focus on community need, mission, vision, and impact.
I’ve seen a heavy dose of this approach help many volunteers get over their cold feet or malaise when it comes to fundraising.
Step Three: Finding a New Seat on the Bus
Sometimes we can’t fix the problem. Board members are people, too. Their parents get sick. Their marriages falter. They end up with a new boss who demands more from them.
When these things happen, the first order of business is empathy. This is what you’d do for a family member going through the same thing. Right? And board members are your non-profit family.
But whatever you do, you cannot make exceptions for individual board volunteers with regards to their fiduciary responsibilities. It is an all or nothing proposition.
I’ve seen it too often where one board member is given a pass (usually for good reason). It’s a slippery slope. Others board members start identifying reasons in their life why they can’t participate in fundraising. Worse yet, a schism materializes in the boardroom between “those who fundraise” and “those who don’t.” When this happens, resentment and ugliness aren’t far behind.
So, what does finding a new seat on the bus look like? It could be any number of things including (but not limited to):
- Taking a short sabbatical from the board
- Resigning from the board and moving into a new role (e.g. joining a committee, becoming a program volunteer, helping with small projects, remaining on as a donor, etc)
- Acting as an advisor (e.g. monthly, bi-monthly or quarterly coffee meetings with the CEO or development director)
- Becoming a community ambassador (e.g. speaking periodically at service clubs, etc)
We don’t banish or fire board members (unless of course it is a toxic/destructive situation). People who support our mission are valued and important. We keep them involved, but we do so in roles that are mutually beneficial and fulfilling.
How has your organization dealt with and addressed board members who quit fundraising (or maybe never really got started)? Please use the comment box below to share your thoughts and experiences. We can all learn from each other.
Here’s to your health!
Founder & President, The Healthy Non-Profit LLC