I went down a TikTok rabbit hole recently. If I’m being honest, I was diving deep into mindless distraction every day before I disabled the app and addressed some life stressors, but that’s not the point. The point is that watching people sprint down a dark street carrying random things to a snippet of Johnny Cash’s “Ring of Fire” gave me a laugh when I needed it. Another time suck that will always make me giggle is videos of horses or donkeys nipping and chasing other animals against the sound bite of “Am I the drama?” (Recited in a dramatic voice for extra effect, obviously.)
And then, yesterday, I reflected that I could be the drama (without biting animals or anyone else for that matter). I have ranted and raved over the years about how to get nonprofit boards of directors to help win grants and increase fundraising. In my experience, people who volunteer for boards or are recruited to nonprofit boards are high achievers in their fields, community leaders, or people with lived experience related to the nonprofit’s mission.
Development, including grant writing and fundraising, are not usually areas where they have experience—yet, these skills and abilities are essential to connecting nonprofits to individuals and grantmaking agencies and can smooth the road for agency staff to send off proposals, host site visits, present new programs, and host a host of other significant activities to raise money and transform the communities they serve.
For years I felt this disconnect as board members’ inactivity led to “leaving money on the table,” a true statement but not the whole truth. “Deadweight” burdens any group activity involving human beings. Some board members are not interested in participating but only show up to meetings and micromanage operations because they feel they know best. But most board members may not have the first idea of how to build relationships and make connections to secure more funding. For people who are successful in their fields, admitting they don’t know something or don’t understand it is not an easy thing to do.
Earlier in my career, I didn’t understand this dynamic and found the whole process of board relations intimidating and frustrating—cue me dramatically ranting to colleagues. It helped to let off some steam, but only temporarily, as nothing changed. Now I see that I can play a significant role in helping to educate board members and connect them to fundraising and grant-seeking activities that play to their strengths.
And because I am a lifelong learner, I was thrilled to co-interview Board Expert Christal Cherry for the most recent episode of the Fundraising HayDay Podcast: Working with Your Board of Directors (podbean.com). She has a wealth of board development knowledge and shared some fantastic ideas, including Tip #3.
With that, I give you the top three tips for increasing positive board involvement for grants and fundraising:
- Ramp Up Board Orientation: Make sure to include basics on cultivation (AKA networking) of potential donors and grantmakers for every new board member. If you don’t yet work directly with board members, provide tips or offer to lead a 30-minute Fundraising 101 during the board orientation or as an item on the agenda of a board meeting. It doesn’t have to be dry and dull. Ask me how I know 😊.
- Provide a menu of ideas: I did this one year in the form of an actual menu where I asked board members to choose an appetizer, entrée, and dessert that were all activities to help cultivate donors, sponsors, and grants. Corny but effective.
- Keep Communicating: Christal Cherry suggested working with the CEO/ED to send out bi-weekly or monthly short emails with opportunities for small but powerful actions board members can do to further development goals such as new elevator pitches, thank you emails, phone calls to new or renewing donors, visiting a foundation or hosting that visit on site with staff, and even templates for social media posts about community achievements made possible through funding.
While I am still dramatic at times (because life is too short to be boring), ranting without a solution kept me from achieving actual, lasting, transformative change in grant seeking and fundraising through board members. Figuring out ways to start offering solutions after you identify the pain point (and rant about it to clear the air) is the next step that will ultimately help everyone.
DH Leonard Consulting & Grant Writing Services, LLC is so excited to be season 5 sponsors for Fundraising HayDay, a podcast about grants and such. Catch up on seasons 1 – 4 and stay up to date on the new season here.
Don’t let grants stress you out, check out the helpful grant writing services our team has to offer here.