airplane in blue sky and cloudsFly Higher, Karen’s 9 Steps to Motivate Nonprofit Board  Giving

Are you tired of wishing your board would give more and ready to take action to motivate them to fly higher in their giving? Start here boarding your aircraft and getting ready to fly higher to greater board giving.

1. The Crew Boards First.

I’m meeting with a nonprofit board of directors. They discuss several senior women whom they hope will make a planned gift. In a lull, I add, “You do know that it is most likely that first  endowment gifts will be from current leaders, like you– don’t you?” They were stunned.

People follow leaders. At the airport, the pilots and crew climb on the plane first. First, fill your flight with leaders — the executive committee, board, and key staff. Don’t just hint about this. Have a conversation. Share proof of this truth.

2. Get the Right People on the Plane.

A primary reason for sluggish board giving may not be under your control. It’s not you. It’s them. If a member never gives to any nonprofits, this behavior is difficult to change in the short term.

On the other hand, if you recruit non-givers, it is about you. Guide your nominating committee to seek candidates infected with the giving habit. Ideally, they’ll find evidence in your records.

Encouraging people without giving discipline is like letting people on an airplane without a ticket. To motivate your board, recruit individuals who give.

3. Establish Great Destinations

A board member brags that he is part of a non-giving board responsible for 100 special-needs individuals’ well-being. Your board members won’t give if they don’t consider giving part of their duties and the culture. And, they won’t give if they don’t realize how much value it has to them personally. When someone brags that they’re part of a non-giving board, our collective response needs to be, “How sad for you.” And it is sad. They are missing out on a chance to act our their values.

How do you create this sense of responsibility and understanding? To start, decide if you are committed to earning money from individual donations. Before you ask for your board’s commitment, make your own commitment, preferably a planned asset gift. Once you commit, establish clear expectations, provide ongoing education, verbally and in writing, as you recruit board members and during board service.

4. Fly A Full Plane

While a significant donation will make your day, the first goal is 100 percent board participation. The pilot doesn’t get many “Atta boys” if only the pilot arrives safely. First, help all of the board members to give. Second, motivate them to fly first class by making a stretch gift. Often this results from a motivated board member challenging their peers to join them in committing to a stretch gift. First, focus on filling the plane.

5. Buckle Your Seatbelts

Each time we fly, we are reminded to buckle our seatbelts and given a demonstration. If your board is not listening, bring in experts.

I admire the process Chuck Loring, with Board Source, teaches about using peer pressure. He recommends creating a board scorecard that lists several years of individual member’s giving history. On it, you list board members by a number, not their names. Each person receives the list in a sealed envelope that highlights their giving.

No one wants to be un-generous amongst their peers.  This feedback loop creates positive peer pressure.

Another option? Use this tool.

6. “The captain has asked. . .”

When we fly, from time to time, the stewards come on with timely and occasionally urgent instructions for passengers.

Motivate your board by creating a similar urgency. You needn’t be in danger of falling off a cliff. Do establish logical deadlines with punctuation. “We will drop our spring appeal letter on March 15th. By March 1, we need all board gifts in so we can brag about your 100 percent participation.” Year-end emergency appeals work because they are urgent, front and center. Set a logical deadline that creates urgency.

7. “Can I get you something to drink?”

Perhaps you noticed that people, no matter their intentions, are reluctant to part with their money. We once made an offer to buy a house but “forgot” to sign the deposit check. To overpower reluctance, ask board members individually.

Just as the steward takes individual drink orders, ask one by one. “John, will you be able to make your gift before the end of the year?” And, when John gives you a check, check for his signature.

8. Control Your Air Traffic

As a nonprofit leader, you can start making excuses for our nonprofit’s lackadaisical giving. Do you expect your board to turn you down with responses like these?

“The economy is bad.”

“I’m too stretched.”

“It’s too much right now.”

Instead, believe that the opportunity is yours — that your board can fly higher. Ask for their help. Life is about the joy of participation. Why is it natural for them to give? What are the benefits for them? To refresh thinking, see these two blog entries about Sally, one and two.  Giving makes us happier and wealthier. Control your mental air traffic. Believe your board will invest. Then, act.

9. Fly Friendly Skies

No matter your other nonprofit funding streams, individual donations can stand out.  For long-term success with your board, plant seeds to grow a culture of philanthropy. G. Scott Goyer suggests that we “Teach the discipline of giving.” Plan how you will engage your board. Ask, for instance, them for their ideas about creating a culture of giving and the discipline of giving.  Invite board members to be part of something bigger at your nonprofit. But to fly these friendly skies, you need to plan to travel.

You Can Lead Your Board to Fly Higher and Give More

Motivating your board to give is not a done-in-a-day task. It involves adopting a mindset mixed with actions. You partner and work with your board to motivate your members and yourself long-term. It’s a joint venture. Begin today. Together, fly higher.

More Resources

Karen’s CEO Solutions Library, a collection of resources for nonprofit CEOs and executive directors about common leadership challenges

Nonprofit Strategy 101 

Guilty as Charged, How to Prove Your Nonprofit Board Supports Your Organization

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