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Board and fundraising, whatever you call it

Working with Boards is a significant part of my consultancies. Among the most recent ones, I have developed a Board coaching with a nonprofit organization in the field of international cooperation, in particular working with children’s and women’s health.


[for those who, perhaps, had no idea what Board coaching is: it is a side-by-side consultancy path that brings together learning, practice and development of fundraising, as a tool of sustainability, for those organizations whose Board needs tailored and customized sessions from the point of view of skills, commitment, to say it generally the “design” of a different way of declining the issue of development for the organization.
It is a challenging job – but this always happens when dealing with fundraising -because it has no pre-identifiable solutions or models upstream, it must be developed in relation to the as-is situation and always finds original ways of development]


The organization I am writing has an amazing history, it was born from a strong motivation, has an established reputation and an appropriate number of committed volunteers. Despite these strengthen points, however, the level of their fundraising struggles to grow, being an issue to work on to secure the future of projects and programmes.


My consultancy with them has been developed following two main lines:
1) the fundraising strategy – the analysis, review and upgrade of campaigns, database development, communication and everything related to fundraising from a technical point of view;
2) direct and practical work – I would say coaching – with the Board of Directors, so that it can be the real hub towards a more effective sustainability strategy for the organization.


Once having “framed” the situation in terms of facts and figures, objectives and programmes, the transition of the conversation to fundraising saw some fear from the Board members.

While convinced – everyone! Which is already an excellent starting point – that fundraising is necessary, they showed a certain reluctance in asking, together with the fear (usually…) of creating embarrassments among friends and acquaintances, some perplexity about being able to ask.


The point was exactly this: “fundraising is fundamental, but I would never be able to do it because I don’t know how to ask for anything, not even for this organization that I care very much about”.

The Board members I am talking about are really volunteers of the organization: they not only make up the Board but have always provided professional volunteering activities on an ongoing basis to advance projects. They are genuinely involved and active in the cause. They are available to support the staff.
But they don’t feel to … fundraise.


[a short note: in the last 2 months, I guess by chance, the same type of situation has already happened to me 3 times. Evidently the issue arises, the Boards questioned themselves on fundraising and development and are interested in finding ways to overcome the stasis. And this is, in my opinion, a crucial step towards change]


As we always do during our consultations, I began to “tighten” on the subject to understand where to wedge a lever to be used to generate that change of pace that is the goal of the consultancy.
At one point, during this exchange of questions that I was leading, one of the Directors – referring to the president – reported that he had made an act of “piracy” (he literally used this term) because, dealing with the need to replace an essential surgical instrument which had broken and should have been the subject of a fundraising campaign in September, the President thought about it, rethought, worried that the broken tool would make it impossible to provide certain medical treatments. And in the end, one morning a few days ago, he picked up his mobile phone to call one of his corporate contacts… and asked him for 50,000 euros. Thus, without a shot being fired. And he got almost all of them.

I looked at him, then looked at the Director who reported the episode, and I couldn’t believe it. Not so much for the figure – I was certainly delighted for the lucky chance that perfectly fitted a need and a desire to contribute – but because the approach reported contradicted in fact what the president himself was saying until a minute earlier.
I pointed this out to him and asked him what he would call it, if not fundraising. He told me that yes, it was like an act of piracy because he went straight in with his contact and, without even going around it, told him that the surgical instrument had broken down, they could not provide treatments and that it would take a few months to replace it and, in the meantime, people would not have been able to take medical exams and that, in short, was not a good situation because it meant blocking the activity of the hospital. And the person in question replied that no, this shouldn’t happen and that he would take care of it, given the emergency.

While I was trying to put together the elements to point out, in the most flat and convincing way possible, that fundraising was exactly that thing, another Director – he too until recently was telling me that he would have no problem writing or contacting friends and acquaintances, former colleagues and anyone else, but without even mentioning the expression “I ask you to …” – he told me that a similar thing had happened to him too. Unlike the president, he had not called it piracy but rather “Providence”.
During an evening with family friends, he had talked about a project that he was following personally for the organization and that he would have liked to develop it by involving a greater number of beneficiaries and that he hoped to be able to have the funds to do it. Then, listening to one of those friends who talked about his company budgets and savings due to their efficient management, he said to him – literally – “since you still have this money in hand, why don’t you think to do something for someone else and donate for this project? “. This person had told him that he had never thought about it and that yes, he would have talked about it during the next company meeting because it was a good idea. A few days later he had asked for a meeting with the Board member of the organization and, within a few days, that money had arrived.

Providence, then. Or piracy.

Whatever you call it, it’s something these people feel more comfortable with than the term “fundraising”.


I have thought quite a bit about this aspect. As I wrote above, it happens quite frequently to me that I find myself faced with this type of approach and that I have to find the key to be able to turn it into something concrete and structured – which in my head and in my vocabulary is called fundraising but, obviously, it can also take on different names.


On this point, therefore, I would like to list two aspects / suggestions:

Demystifying the term fundraising can sometimes be the interpretative key to change the perception and, consequently, the concrete approach (because not all Directors, I am aware of this, are “pirates” or benefited from “providence”). It is evident that it is the correct term but, if it is a repulsive one, perhaps sometimes it is worthwhile to find alternative ways to achieve the same conclusion.
Whenever I have taken this approach, in cases where it seemed necessary, it has turned out to be the right one. Of course, I had to learn to be flexible in terms and lexical properties, but it was – and is – always a useful exercise for me too. Because learning to look at things from different points of view is what it teaches to include (as well as being enormously stimulating);

Going deep, not feeling satisfied with the first answer or perplexity or doubt, is the way to understand what the real situation of the organization is and, above all, its potential. The ability to analyze, the comprehension both of facts and figures and the context, the active listening and identification of the right questions are, in my opinion, among the fundamental tools of the fundraiser – in this case declined on a consultancy path aimed to develop the Board but, in general, valid in the relationship with donors and with anyone involved in the development issue.
Not having stopped at the first question / answer – “we are afraid to ask” – meant that, in an informal atmosphere and open discussion, without judgment or hesitation in sharing doubts and perplexities (and this “openness” must be generated, because a sometimes it does not come at all by itself), the “true” answers emerge.


In this year and a few months in which we have all had to deal with the unthinkable, my impression is that one of the lessons is precisely that of openness to the other, even when what is shown is vulnerability.

Because that’s where you build it, whereas perfection (or, to use a term I don’t like: performance) doesn’t need curiosity and insights.

Board in prima fila

Spunti, buone pratiche, riflessioni e strumenti utili per chiunque si occupi di fundraising e lavori insieme ai Board.