When facilitating a board retreat, there’s one question I ask board members more than any other:
Why do you give your time, expertise, and finances, (time, talent, treasure) to this organization, when there are so many other worthy organizations out there?
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I recently asked this question a few weeks back when I was facilitating a retreat for an organization whose mission is to help needy children through sports by building teamwork, creating a sense of responsibility, building confidence, physical fitness, and generally keeping kids safe after school.
This question got them thinking.
Why Do Board Members Do What They Do?
So then I asked the board members a more specific question:
Why do you bother to serve on THIS board?
I gave the group a few minutes to jot down their thoughts. Then they went around the room and answered the question, one by one.
If you have the time, you may want to take this exercise a step farther.
Becoming True Advocates for Your Nonprofit
Gail Perry, a fundraising colleague and mentor of mine, does a version of speed dating. You get up and tell your story to a partner for 2-3 minutes, and then switch partners and repeat three or four times. At the end of the exercise, their story or pitch will be clear, concise, and solidified in their mind.
It’s always interesting in debrief after an exercise like this to hear what the board members learned about themselves and others. Every time I do this exercise, board members are surprised and delighted by what they come up with. They generally have never stopped to think about the organization or their service in these terms before. This simple question reaffirms and clarifies why the organization is important and in need of their support.
It’s really a great exercise for helping your board members to become better advocates for your organization — which is an important step toward being a good fundraiser.
Breaking the Elevator Pitch — the “Un-Elevator Pitch”
It’s also important for YOU to understand why your board members choose to serve on your board, and why they care.
I like to use this instead of a traditional elevator pitch (you know, the pitch you’re supposed to be able to make in the time it takes you to ride down in an elevator) because their reasons for serving are so much more personal than a traditional elevator pitch.
When they use their own pitch instead of your canned pitch, your board members are more likely not only remember their story and reasons for serving, but to also be able to articulate them better.
This is important, because you want your board members to be able to tell their friends, colleagues, and anyone in their networks, WHY your organization is important to them.
Sometimes when I’m going through this type of exercise, I’ll come across a board member or ED who is concerned that board members be armed with facts and figures about the organization, but the bottom line is that they won’t remember them. But they WILL remember why THEY chose to serve — and THAT’s what will inspire others to join your cause.
Think of the most compelling case for support you’ve ever heard. Was it personal? Did it sound genuine and emotive? Share your comments below.
This post is part of my Year of the Fundraising Board series. Check out the entire series to learn how to create a stronger, smarter, and super motivated nonprofit board.