Question: Who Asks for Money?

In a recent post, Who Talks to Your Donors, I mentioned two different styles of fundraising. One style involves board members soliciting donors, and another style involves staff cultivating and soliciting donors.

Does your organization primarily use Board Member or Staff to ask for donations? And, how do you think it should be done?

I see advantages to both sides. Can Board Members really know an organization like a staff member can? Is it sustainable to have staff solicit gifts when the average staff member stays at the organization less time than the donor?

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12 Responses to Question: Who Asks for Money?

  1. PlanoPride says:

    Jason- I have worked it both ways and there are advantages using both ways. First of all the pro side of using Board Members to make the ask—they know the person being approached and are usually one of their peers. They should have credibility since they are perceived to be responsible for the ultimate expenditure of all funds of the organization. On the other hand Board members can actually work against successful solicitations when they say to prospects esentially “Give us your money, even though I can’t or won’t give my own money I will make sure YOUR money is spent wisely.” RIGHT! If they have no “skin in the game” it is very easy to spend someone elses money….

    The ideal situation would be for the Board member to make their own gift first and then act as a “door opener” and go with the staff to make the call.

    I had an Exec once tell me that Board members should either give, get pledges or get off the Board. The amount of Board gifts are not nearly as important as the fact that they are 100 % vested. Thats about 2 cents worth of small change!!!

  2. Jason says:

    That’s a great point. I’ve heard from a number of people that you are better equipped if you create a strategy that leverages board members and empowers staff.

    And I think it’s a great point if you have a board member who hasn’t given, they can not ask for a gift.

    One question I have is if you do go with a strategy of both how do you make the decision when to involve a board member versus just involving a staff member? Do you do it based on strength of the connection?

  3. PlanoPride says:

    Because of todays politically correct world, not every Board member can make a “major” gift but if they make a gift at all it is “Major” to them. I personally feel that –at least in major gifts— it is important for two people to make the presentation to the prospect. The relationship needs to be on a peer to peer level for the presentation to work. It will take some “detective work” to determine who the right person is to make the ask… Even though the life insurance person on the Board would love to ask Mr. Bigbucks for money he wouldn’t necessarily be the one who is a trusted associate. Its not a matter of style as much as it is credibility and trust that takes years to develop and only one bad experience to destroy forever.

    The staff person must recognize this. Generally speaking the larger the ask, the more important it becomes for the chief paid executive to go with the Board member. Unless the Development Director has spent at least 6-8 months cultivating the prospect he shouldn’t even be in the room.

  4. Paul Cheney says:

    I’ve done some work on a plan that addresses this very question for a nonprofit I worked for.

    We basically came to the conclusion that (at least for them) a board member’s fundraising responsibilities and staff and volunteer responsibilities were on a kind of continuum.

    100% of the board members were to give their own money and they were in turn charged with 80% or so of the outreach. Staff were definitely encouraged to ask for donations, but we figured their time and energy (fundraising-wise) would be better spent conserving and leveraging the organization’s resources. They were more in the resource development side of things.

    The rationale behind this was that our board members generally had better connections and were viewed as peers by people with lots of money.

  5. Jason Dick says:

    Paul thanks for your comments. I agree with you for smaller organizations but having board members as the only method of outreach can be very limiting for an organization. You obviously have a system that works for your organization I’d love your thoughts on a few questions that I’m having a hard time answering.

    What happens with you have so many major donors that you no longer have enough board members to maintain and grow those relationship? What happens when a board member leaves the board, how do you continue that cultivation with those donors?

    I think board members should be encouraged and supported to approach their peers and colleagues. But, there should be a key group of long-term donors of an organization that staff is cultivating and building.

    What do you mean by time spent “leveraging the organizations resources? Do you mean cultivation, events, managing new prospects?

  6. PlanoPride says:

    The reasoning behind both staff and board member making the “ask” is that it provides a ready explanation of the mechanics involved and answers concerns of the donor about the reason for the request. With all their contacts and peer relationships, volunteers simply don’t like to ask for the money from their friends. They are though, expected to provide the credibility needed where “major” gifts are concerned. The staff member is able to explain the benefits of the request and the use of the money. Bottom line– it does take the two prong approach.

    I would agree that the staff person should concentrate on providing the organization with an efficient use of the dollars raised.

  7. PlanoPride says:

    Jason and Paul
    Paul is right on when he said the process is a continuum. Board selection is probably one of the most important things a NPO can do to strengthen its fundraising position. However today, most organizations do not simply use wealth or influence as the only criteria. Strong volunteer leaders on the Board should be able to identify potential candidates based on their relationships. If nothing else strong leaders will insure that the institutional stability of the Board is maintained with the right people.

    I would’nt worry about “overcultivating” your major donors. I hope I didn’t give the impression that only major donors should be on the Board. The bottom line is that the major players will come forth with the money needed for your programs when they see those with a lower capacity stepping up. I think this would be “leveraging” the Board and the organizations resources….

    Good conversation though and thoroughly engaging!

  8. Paul Cheney says:

    Jason,

    What happens when you have so many donors that board members can’t keep track?

    I don’t know. We never ran into that problem:) At that point, I’m sure we would have needed staff to step up to the plate.

    We sort of blundered into the whole thing. That org was pretty obsessed with the big gift now approach. I think we had the continuum part right, but probably overly reliant on the board and their peers.

    What happens when a board member leaves?

    Not sure. People give to people, etc. If the board member they give to leaves, it’s probably just a fact of life that they’ll leave with them. There should probably have been something in place that got them more deeply connected to the organization rather than the board member. I bet some good donor software could help with that too.

    Suffice it to say, our “system” never really got a chance to get off the ground. I was only a VISTA so I had a year long term and then left.

  9. Paul Cheney says:

    By leveraging resources, I meant keeping and using the resources we had more efficiently. The example my supervisor kept using was that he saw people throwing away pads of construction paper that were wet on one side. Basically anything to use the funds/resources we had in the most efficient way possible. He saw that as a kind of fundraising in itself. (I tend to agree, though I think he put a little too much stock in it).

    P.S. that’s also what I meant by continuum earlier. Board members did 80 or so percent while staff did 20 or so percent. Instead of either/or it’s more/less.

  10. Jason Dick says:

    This has been a really great conversation. I’ve learned a great deal from both of you from your comments. One area the bugs me a little bit about the board development model is that it seems to discount the value of staff. I’ve always hoped (probably because I’m staff not a board member) that a well connected, motivated, and skilled staff member can do wonders for an organization. Maybe this is a question for another day but what value does staff bring to the table?

  11. PlanoPride says:

    Board Members may come and go. The institutional “memory” and continuity is maintained by a quality staff. Board members deal with policy decisions and the staff must provide guidance and direction for implementation. A Board without a strong staff is like a ship without a rudder. While fundraising is or should be “donor-driven” the staff is responsible for the sellable “product” and must drive the programs that fulfill the mission. You can’t depend solely on the Board or the staff—both are essential. The biggest role of the staff in the fundraising process is to demonstrate professional competency and to instill donor confidence that the money given will be put to good use.

  12. Paul Cheney says:

    I’m with PlanoPride.

    I’m not sure there is such a thing as a “board development model.” Just degrees for staff/board involvement. That will vary from org to org.

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