♦ by Eva E. Aldrich
For nearly two decades, my life has revolved around educational institutions. I’ve been an educator, a consultant working with independent schools and private colleges and universities, and a member of the boards of several nonprofit educational programs. Currently, I teach board members how to help grow philanthropic sustainability through our course “Purposeful Boards, Powerful Fundraising” at The Fund Raising School at the Center on Philanthropy at Indiana University.
While there are a number of excellent resources for board members who want to understand better the key role they play in fundraising, sometimes advice from those who have “been there, done that” can offer a real boost to jumpstarting your own potential. With that in mind, here’s some real-world advice from a real-world fundraiser and volunteer who knows what you’re facing and wants you to succeed in raising money for your school—and to have fun while you’re doing it!
- Fundraising is about relationships and shared visions. Most of the time when board members say they don’t like to fundraise, it’s because they don’t have a clear idea of what fundraising is. At heart, it’s an opportunity to grow relationships with people—people who then naturally want to support your cause because they share your school’s vision.
Remember that when you’re raising funds for your school, you’re not “selling” a product or asking someone to do something they don’t want to do. You are building a relationship that is based on shared values between your school’s mission and the world that the donor wants to help bring into being. That’s a very powerful proposition—and something that all board members can be proud to be a part of.
- There’s more to the fundraising process than simply asking for money. Too often, when board members hear the word “fundraising,” they fixate on the act of asking for money. There’s a lot more to fundraising than that. As an example, take a look at the following activities. Which would you be willing to do to help your school?
- Identify people who might be able and interested in making a gift to your school.
- Invite a few people you know to your home to learn more about your school’s mission, vision, and programs.
- Help out with school fundraising events.
- Talk to your friends, business associates, and others about your school and why you support it.
- Make a presentation at a local service club about the educational excellence of your school and its programs and values.
- Write a thank-you note or make a thank-you call to someone who has given a gift.
- Personally update a donor on the good his/her gift has done and why your school is stronger as a result.
If you are willing to do any of the above or any similar sorts of activities, then congratulations—you’re a volunteer fundraiser! Because you are helping nurture the relationships that will grow into donations for your school, you are an active participant in the fundraising process.
I’d challenge you to push your comfort zone. Take on more and more of these activities, and soon you’ll have the confidence to help your school when it comes to asking, too.
- If you want others to give, lead by example. As a board member, you’re a leader of your institution, and others will follow the example you set, particularly when it comes to giving. So you need to set the bar high for the board as a whole and for yourself as an individual if you want your school to have fundraising success.
In practical terms, this means:
- Every member of your board has to make a gift. No exceptions. Nothing less than 100% participation by the board in your annual fund (or in other major fundraising efforts like capital campaigns) is acceptable. If the volunteer leaders of your school won’t give, why should anyone else?
- Every board member should make a gift that is significant in comparison to his/her means. Nobody expects a school teacher on your board to make a gift that’s the same size as that of a local captain of industry. But both the school teacher and the CEO need to make gifts that are comparable in terms of the amount of financial sacrifice required. In deciding what constitutes an appropriate size for your gift as a board member, use the following guidelines:
- Is your gift one of the top three that you make annually? As a volunteer leader, your gift to your school needs to be at the top of your personal giving priorities.
- Is your gift large enough that it’s not a decision you can make yourself? If your gift is of a size that you need to talk with your spouse, significant other, or other family members because it represents a substantial philanthropic commitment for you, then it’s probably in the right range.
Another reason why every board member needs to make a significant gift: knowing that you’ve given the best gift that you can makes it a lot easier to ask others to give to your school. After all, you’re not asking anyone to do anything you haven’t already done yourself.
- Continue to educate yourself about fundraising. There are a number of marvelous resources out there for board members who want to understand better the key role they play in fundraising. In addition to information and training opportunities available through The Fund Raising School and the Center on Philanthropy’s website (www.philanthropy.iupui.edu), be sure to check out information from BoardSource (www.boardsource.org). Their publications offer sound, solid, easy-to-read advice regarding how board members can maximize their effectiveness as volunteer fundraisers.
Also, don’t limit yourself to print resources. Other resources at your doorstep include:
- The chief fundraiser at your school. Ask him/her about how you can play an active part in raising the money your school needs.
- Other board members—both at your school and in your community. Find out who has fundraising experience you can learn from. Network and share experiences so you can learn from each other.
- Your local chapter of the Association of Fundraising Professionals (you can find your local chapter at www.afpnet.org). You don’t have to be a fundraising professional to attend AFP’s informative programs on fundraising.
- The National Association of Independent Schools and the Council for Advancement and Support of Education. Check out their respective websites at www.nais.org and www.case.org to see what resources they have that may be of help.
And be sure to request your school to provide continuing education for your board on fundraising—and make this continuing education a priority. Learning by doing is good, but learning by doing when it’s supported by sound training is faster—and yields better results!
5. Above all, enjoy the process. Fundraising for your school is a chance to learn and achieve success—for yourself and your school. Work hard at your volunteer fundraising responsibilities, enjoy the relationships you build along the way, and take pride in the fact that the dollars you raise today are building a brighter and stronger tomorrow for your school. You’re making the vision you believe in manifest itself in a very real way through your school’s success—and that’s a lasting legacy both for you and for future generations. ♦
Eva E. Aldrich, M.A., CFRE, is Associate Director for Public Service and The Fund Raising School at the Center on Philanthropy at Indiana University. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.