What are the right roles for board members in major gifts fundraising? 

Often board members want to know if they have be out there soliciting.  Not at all.  

Because, with major gifts, asking is not our focus. Instead we are all about the cultivation and engagement process, building up to the ask.

We know that if we develop a happy donor relationship, then the gift often takes care of itself.

Many powerful roles for board members in major gifts.

There are many other steps in the entire process where board members can shine – without having to be involved asking or soliciting.

First, as consultants, we always focus everyone on the basic major gift philosophy:

  • We work toward the long term, not the short term – developing important human to human relationships – not transactional ones that involve buying and selling.
  • We always take it slowly, politely.  We go at the donor’s pace. We’re patient and we never, ever make a donor feel rushed.
  • We know that developing a trusting relationship takes time. As I learned in my early fundraising days at Duke, the more times you connect with your donor before their gift, then the bigger their gift.
  • Finally, we don’t ask till we think the donor is ready. And, we always ask for permission each step of the way. “Is this a good time to discuss . . . “

So what are the best roles for board members in major gifts – especially with our patient, polite major donor approach?

1. Help identify potential major donors.

Smart board members keep their eye out for potential major donors.

For example, they’re always alert for people who might have financial capacity and a strong interest in our work.

They help review and screen lists of prospective donors. They can host screening sessions with small groups of donors to identify prospects. 

They’re good detectives for us – who might be selling a business in town, who is interested in our type of work?

They’re constantly looking for our True Believers – donors who are wildly passionate about our mission, and who want to get more involved.

2. Graciously host and attend VIP cultivation events.

There’s lots of power pulling donors together for VIP cultivation events.  In the capital campaigns we’ve coached, small events are a powerful tool for gently engaging with potential donors. 

These small social events can take many forms: Porch parties, picnics, fireside chats, meet and greets, lunches, dinners, all types of small gatherings.

This is an important role for board members in major gifts fundraising.  They can host and invite their network of contacts. They can:

  • Attend and bring a few interested friends.
  • Pick up older guests who don’t drive at night.  
  • Provide names for the invitation list and help get out invitations.
  • Help underwrite the cost of food and drinks.

One of the bigger jobs is to graciously play “host.” Go engage with the guests. Help the staff “work the room.”

Share your story of why you care. Ask guests to share their own stories. Listen to donors and be alert to indications of strong interest.

3. Listen to major donors and help them feel heard by the organization.

Listening is a lost art. It’s also one of the chief tools of major gift fundraisers.

Our job is not to pitch a donor or “sell” her. Instead, it’s a delicate art of asking questions, bringing out our donor’s personal story of why they care.

One of the important roles for board members in major gifts is to simply chat with donors. They can encourage our donor to share their point of view, their hopes and dreams, and their philanthropic vision.

Modern major gift fundraising is completely, totally donor-centered.

We gently let the donor lead the way, while guiding them with questions, suggestions and opportunities to consider.

4. Ask only when you are “cleared” to ask.

We plan our asks carefully in major gift fundraising. We’ll thoughtfully decide when, where, who should go, who should be asked, how much to ask for, and for what project.

We’ll script out the ask. We’ll warm up the donor by asking if they are ready for this type of discussion.

A lot of preparation and deliberation undergirds major asks.

No one ever makes an ask unless they are “cleared.”  The strategy team will decide that it’s the right time and that the board member is the right person to ask.

Board members who don’t understand the delicate asking process can shoot themselves in the foot by moving to an ask too quickly. And the donor takes it as an affront. Whoops!

5. Express personal appreciation and help donors understand the impact of their gifts.

It’s all about the thanking process. As my friends at Duke used to say:

The first gift is, hopefully, never the largest!

In fact, the first gift from a potential major donor needs to be an occasion of joy and celebration on the part of both the organization – and the donor.

One of the important roles for board members in major gifts is to help steward donors.

They can help a donor feel deeply gratified by helping sharing the impact their gift is making. They can bring a donor joy. 

When board members, as the legal stewards of the organization, express their appreciation to donors, it means so much to donors.

A board member thank you has more power than anything the staff can do.

Bottom Line: Board Member Roles in Major Gifts Fundraising

There are many powerful roles for board members.  Everyone should choose their own role where they feel most comfortable. Put them to work in places where they can shine.