What’s the Math? 3 Questions Your Board Members Really Need to Know

, , ,
  • Where does our money go?
  • Why does it cost so much?
  • What $$ do we need to invest right now?

How can we help board members, who are key decision makers, understand just how important fundraising is?

Here’s a solution. Help them see the lovely results that fundraising creates: where the money raised actually goes and all the good it does in the world.

Take fundraising away from “money” and make it about something real.

We’ve always wondered if board members would be more enthusiastic about fundraising if they understood the connection between fundraising revenue and their organization’s ability to change the world.

Often board members don’t understand where the money goes.

Think twice. Board members get plenty of financial information at meetings. But does it make an impact? Do they just see numbers, or do they see the lives behind the numbers?

How to bring your budget alive – and inspire your board members at the same time.

The question and answer format we describe below helps bring the budget to life.

Even better, this approach will bring your fundraising goals alive in a way you never thought possible. We have seen magic happen when we stage a discussion like this during a board workshop.

A question and answer interview.

Our preferred format is this: we simply sit down with the CEO and have a “fireside chat” with them about finances. It’s in a slower-paced Q and A format, in which we are tossing the CEO softball, easy questions.

With this format, the financial discussion becomes a discussion – not a presentation.

Our goal is to generate a real give and take conversation, helping board members to digest the content in order to actually get it. You can achieve amazing, sometimes astonishing results with this approach.

Follow this simple series of questions.

1. “Let’s start with the big picture. What’s our annual budget?”

It’s a very simple question. One that the CEO knows by heart.  However, the board members, who are listening, probably don’t know the answer. They may be thinking to themselves, “do I know how much our budget is?”

Because their brains are primed to want to know the answer, they are interested to find it out. This is an adult learning principle – to engage people in asking themselves a question before you give them the answer.

2. “How much do we have to raise every year?”

Similarly, board members may wonder to themselves, “How much DO we have to raise every year?” – And they are suddenly more interested to know the answer.

3. “Why do we even need private contributions anyway?”

This question helps the CEO explain how, without the private contributions, your organization would be decimated. Then ask the CEO to give an example, of what might happen if private contributions declined.

Handshake | Gail Perry

Partner with us.

Find out how we can help you achieve your fundraising goals with world-class consulting and custom training.

What layoffs might occur? What number of people would be ejected from your programming?

4. “What’s our top program area and about how much does it cost? Why does it cost so much? Where exactly does the money go?” 

Then, you and the CEO can dive down into program costs. The CEO can explain, for example, why insurance is such a big part of the budget. Or, the CEO can chat about transportation issues and why the new van is needed so badly. You’ll see board members heads nodding and they may even start asking questions.

5. Then we dive down even deeper: 

  • “Why does it take so much staff to do this work?”
  • “How many people are we helping in this program?”
  • “About how much does it cost per person helped?” (Or per center that you operate? Or other measure relevant to your operation?)
  • “What else does this program really need? And how much would that cost?”
  • “How many people are we missing? What happens to them if we can’t help them?”

6. Our favorite question: “What would you, the CEO, do if you had an additional $500k?” (or millions – whatever is relevant to your budget size.)

Often the CEO will describe an urgent need. It might be the parking lot repaved, or a new roof. It might be a new school nurse or nutritionist. The CEO may need to invest in technology, but there are no funds. Or they may need to raise salaries up to competitive levels.

Your board members then get fired up about fundraising.

Why? Because you have taken the discussion away from “how much money we need to raise.”  And you have created a NEW discussion called “what do we need to do for the cause?”

You moved the fundraising talk away from “money” and put it in terms of “people.”

You can create magic with this discussion.

Here is an example:

We were working running a board workshop for a hospital foundation in Montreal. I held my fireside chat with the CEO of the hospital. We had a riveting discussion about where the money goes and why we needed private contributions.

I asked him: “What do you need that you don’t have funding to purchase right now?”

The CEO replied that the hospital urgently needed a medical technology that cost a million dollars.

I asked him why he needed this million dollar equipment.

He said that patients who needed this particular test had to ride in an ambulance across town to another hospital. The CEO said that was no way to run a top hospital.

You should have seen the board members. They were engaged, alive, on the edge of their seats. You could feel the energy in the room.

It was truly a breakthrough discussion. Then at the break, a board member went up to the CEO and said:

“I think I know where we can get the million dollars for that technology.”

This result happens over and over when we stage the Q and A financial discussion. We could give you more examples:

  • About the Dallas Boys and Girls Club board members who were brought to tears in this discussion.
  • Or the Literacy Council board member who went off on a personal mission to find a $30k sponsor for a prison literacy program.

Bottom Line: Bring the Budget Alive

Try this format and you will engage your board members in both your finances AND your fundraising. You’ll create a fascinating discussion. And you’ll fire up your board members for fundraising.