Never Too Late to Start Fundraising

Dear Kim,

Our organization (Senior Citizens Center) is 25 years old and the board has NEVER raised any funds. They don’t even contribute themselves. It is at a point that if we are to grow to meet the needs of older people (including these baby boomers that are aging!) we must raise some funds now. In the past, government grants have funded the programs, but that has remained somewhat static. A majority of our board are seniors and extremely set in their ways. How can I get our Board to recognize their responsibility to raise funds and to help the staff in doing so?

—Scoreless at the Bottom of the 9th

Dear Scoreless,

The problems with your board have nothing to do with the board members being seniors. I have seen this same problem in every age, gender, race, and class and combinations thereof. Board members who are not told that their job will include fundraising and then sit on a board for years without having to do fundraising are not going to change without a big struggle. I suggest bringing in an outside consultant to set out the logic of the board being involved in fundraising and to suggest non-threatening ways that board members can be involved in fundraising. Try to elicit what exactly the board members are balking at. For example, I have had board members say, “I don’t have any money. I can’t afford a gift.” They thought they needed to give $500 or $10,000. When I explained that a donation is any number over zero, they started giving $10, $25 and so on. Ditto for raising money. “I won’t raise money” may mean, “I don’t know how, and I am scared to learn” or “I won’t be good at it and I am bound to fail,” or “I don’t know any rich people to ask.” Explaining that board members can write thank you notes, stuff envelopes for direct mail, write letters, and so on sometimes allays these fears. Finally, establish some term limits and bring on new people who know what their job is and are prepared to do it. Know that the process of converting a board from no fundraising to adequate participation in giving and raising money is about a two year piece of intensive work, and don’t get discouraged.