Most nonprofits have boards full of hard-working people, committed people who give as generously as they can of their money, their time and their talents.
But most board members themselves aren’t very wealthy, nor do they rub shoulders on a daily basis with people who are. They aren’t people who can sidle up to someone on the golf course or at the country club and say, “Hey John, I’m giving half a million to the XYZ organization and I’d like you to join me.”
In fact, most of the 1.5 million-plus nonprofit organizations in the United States are small, with more than 80% of them with budgets of under $1,000,000. Those numbers are a pretty good indicator that most nonprofits don’t have what you might think of as a “fundraising board.”
Does this mean that 80% of nonprofit organizations can’t have successful capital campaigns?
Specifically, does it mean that if you don’t have a fundraising board, your organization can’t have a successful campaign?
NO! And here’s why.
Why You Don’t Need a Fundraising Board for a Successful Capital Campaign
It just doesn’t make sense for many small nonprofits to have “fundraising boards.”
Small organizations most often have working boards — boards with members who are creating, shaping, and growing the nonprofit. And the work they’re doing is powerful, important, and most of all, “hands-on.”
At the same time, many wealthy people just aren’t interested in that kind of in-the-weeds work. They don’t really want to be members of the board of smaller nonprofits.
But many of them still care, passionately, about the causes these nonprofits serve. They know how important daycare is. They believe in children’s theater. They want to do everything they can to stop domestic violence in their communities. They care about spaying and neutering animals. They believe in importance of their local food pantry.
They understand that at the critical times of growth, they can help move an organization forward so it will make an even bigger difference in their (and your) community.
So when a smaller organization — like yours — builds a successful program and develops a clear vision of how to move forward, they find that many of their community’s wealthy citizens are very willing to help even though they aren’t board members.
Seeing it in action
I know this is true — I’ve seen it in action.
For example, I lived in a small Pennsylvania town for many years and worked on many capital campaigns with small, local nonprofits. These organizations didn’t have fundraising boards stacked with wealthy people.
But in campaign after campaign, the town’s philanthropic leaders came through for these organizations.
No, they didn’t serve on the boards of the nonprofits they helped, but they did join the capital campaign steering committees. They were campaign chairs and co-chairs. They made the lead gifts, and encouraged others to do the same.
In fact, after awhile I realized that the same cluster of individual and foundation donors supported a lot of that town’s capital campaigns!
How You Can Engage Your Community’s Philanthropic Leaders
Start by finding out who in your community generously supports organizations similar to yours.
1. Learn Who’s Who in your community
Like the rest of us, wealthy philanthropists support projects they’re passionate about. Some of them support the arts. Others support education, or youth programs, or programs to end domestic violence. Name the cause, and you’ll find wealthy philanthropists who care about it enough to fund it.
And when wealthy donors share the same interests and give to specific causes, they are likely to know one another. At the very least, they find themselves rubbing shoulders at events which support the causes they’re passionate about.
So if you’re part of a smaller organization that doesn’t have a wealthy fundraising board, your first task is to find out which of your community’s wealthy donors support causes similar to yours. Collect programs with donor lists. Take photos of donor walls. Talk to people about who’s who.
2. Involve them in your campaign right from the start
Then, once you’ve identified the major donors in your community, get one or two of them involved in your capital campaign plans from the beginning. They can introduce you to others.
- Ask for their advice about the project you want to fund.
- Ask them for their expertise about the community and how your project fits.
- Ask them for advice while you are still formulating your plans.
And listen to their advice!
Yes, you’ll want to have preliminary plans ready to discuss with them. But don’t wait until you’ve dotted every “i” and crossed every “t” to approach them. That’s far too late!
3. Reach out to the most receptive individuals
Then, as your plans become more fully developed and you’re ready for a capital campaign, reach out to the wealthy individuals who have been most receptive to your plans and ask them to help. Perhaps they’ll serve on your capital campaign’s steering committee. Maybe they’ll even be your campaign chairs.
A Campaign Steering Committee Will Lead Your Capital Campaign — Not Your Board
Your board must be involved in determining the direction and plans for your growth. They’ve got to be committed to the plans. But they don’t have lead the capital campaign. For that you’ll rely on a campaign steering committee that includes at least some of your communities’ major donors.
And while the steering committee will have some overlap with your board, you don’t need more than two or three board members to join this group. The rest can be the people in your community who have the power and influence to make your campaign successful.
So if you’re planning a capital campaign and you’re worried that your organization doesn’t have a “fundraising board,” take heart! This is your chance to move your nonprofit to the next level by recruiting just the people who can help to make that happen!