Why won’t a board member make the ask?

Lots of nonprofit board members are resistant to asking for donations. In my 25+ years working with nonprofit boards, I’ve heard scores of objections and hesitations from board members. Many objections are valid and are not (only) the board member’s fault; the nonprofit must take some responsibility, as well:

  • A nonprofit has not made it clear to its board that fundraising is each board member’s responsibility; board members feel caught off guard or duped by the organization.
  • Board members do not have experience in soliciting donations, and they need training and practice (ideally, they can practice with another board member – a friendly audience!).
  • Board members do not fully understand the organization’s day-to-day work or long-term vision.
  • A nonprofit may not have provided its board members with the materials – fact sheets, FAQs, annual plans, testimonial videos, etc. – that board members can refer to and/or share when they reach out to potential donors.
  • Board members may feel that they do not have anyone to ask. Nonprofits have not helped them think through their networks and affiliations, suggested people or organizations where they would like to make inroads, set achievable goals (“have three conversations about our organization this quarter”), provided research from publicly available sources about individuals in their board members’ networks, etc.

The good news is, many of the items in the list above are within the nonprofit’s power to improve and change! Training the board, clarifying board responsibilities, providing good materials that the board members can reference… these are all doable.

What if you’ve tried everything, and a board member still won’t ask?

Occasionally, I run into a board member who simply Will Not Ask. No amount of training, resources, goal setting, network deciphering, etc. will change their mind.

Every organization needs to figure out how they can and should proceed. Ideally, board members will have a signed Board Member Job Description or similar agreement that outlines their responsibilities around fundraising. If they will not budge on this issue, the nonprofit can ask them to step down from the board, but this is not always the best way forward. Bad blood and ill will on the board doesn’t serve anyone. You also don’t want a former, disgruntled board member to bad-mouth the organization in the community. In addition, some board positions may be occupied by people from whom the organization’s bylaws require participation, e.g. the organization’s past president. It’s hard to get around that.

The absolute minimum standard should be that every member of the board is making their own, personally meaningful gift to the organization. If your organization has a minimum gift, stick to that. If it does not, each board member should be making a gift in an amount that is meaningful and significant to them. Once that minimum standard is met, there are other things a board member can do if they absolutely refuse to ask for donations:

Steward donors: I once worked with an organization where a board member refused to ask for gifts. This person was highly respected and was a strong leaders in many other ways. He took on the role of writing handwritten, personalized thank you notes to every person who made a gift to the organization. Donors loved getting these letters, and the board member provided a service that was definitely valuable to the fundraising process.

Host a meeting or event: Whether it’s bagels and coffee at the local diner or a cocktail party in their home, the board member who refuses to make an ask, but is still a donor herself, can host other potential donors. This board member should co-host with another board member who is comfortable with making the ask.

Be the tester: Does another board member want to practice asking for donations? Do you need someone to take a look at a fundraising FAQ list or a testimonial video? If the board member isn’t going to be the asker, they can play the role of the askee.

Recruit other board members: The board member who will not ask for donations may have a connection to another potential board member with vast networks or much-needed expertise. Finding the right board members will ultimately help your fundraising bottom line. Talk with this board member about who you need to recruit, and set mutually agreed-upon goals and timelines for their outreach efforts.

While it might be frustrating when a board member flatly refuses to make an ask, remember that board members are valued volunteers, and there are other ways that they can add value not just to the organizational overall, but specifically to the fundraising process. Also remember that board members are responsible for the organization’s fiscal health; if they WILL NOT ask for donations, don’t be shy about asking them to contribute to the fundraising process in other ways.

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