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What Fundraising Shares with Fitness Training

This post originally appeared on the BoardSource Blog, and is one in a series written by leaders who are presenting sessions at the 2017 BoardSource Leadership Forum in Seattle, October 18-20. We hope you will be joining us there.

By Jennifer Dunlap

As the CEO of a national development consulting firm, I don’t have a lot of down time to spend picking up new hobbies. So I sympathize when the board members I work with hesitate to leap headlong into the fundraising responsibilities outlined in their new job descriptions.

These are people who have built companies and reinvented industries, but asking another person to donate money to a cause requires a different skill set, and acquiring it can sound about as appealing as suddenly picking up marathon training. Sure, the health of your nonprofit may depend on it, but health doesn’t motivate us all to squeeze in high-intensity interval training on the weekends, either.

My job is to teach my clients that fundraising isn’t an all-or-nothing proposition, and I have found the “Continuum of Fundraising Engagement” works well for that. Learning this important fact about fundraising is like realizing that gardening or dancing can count as much in fitness terms as a dreaded trip to the gym. All board members can find a place on the continuum where their natural strengths are utilized. They can decide for themselves if they want to branch out further and at what pace. And organizations can learn how to make it possible.

Several years ago, I partnered with a state-based organization that has diverted tens of thousands of at-risk girls from the criminal justice system. Like many nonprofit board members, this organization’s board members weren’t professional fundraisers and were worried that they would be perpetually under-utilized in resource development. But we saw together through the use of the Continuum of Fundraising Engagement that the skills they did have were more than enough to power the organization’s growth — in fact, to grow it to nearly 20 offices across the state:

  • Some board members realized that their professional experience and counsel could help professional fundraisers develop a compelling case for support, even if they never cultivated donors themselves.
  • Others found they could make fundraising introductions or knew other people who could make them — even if they never personally asked for a dime.
  • Some board members had business connections that were instrumental in developing a new corporate partnership program that helped the organization grow state-wide.

(And of course, some found that they actually enjoyed asking for money!)

Not all board members need to or should play the same role in a fundraising program. Participating in fundraising doesn’t have to mean asking for a million dollars any more than getting fit automatically means doing an Ironman Triathlon. A good development consultant can show you the many points along the Continuum of Fundraising Engagement where board members’ unique skills are critical. And they should be able to show you how to set up a program so that those skills can be seamlessly woven into the fundraising process.

At the BoardSource Leadership Forum, I’ll be talking with attendees about how to open these possibilities at their own organizations, whether they’re board members or professional fundraisers. I’m looking forward to exploring the continuum with you, to helping you use a continuum-based tool to identify your place on it, and to showing how your nonprofit can build structure and support systems to get to 100 percent board participation in resource development. No marathon training required.

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