As virtually every arts organization tries to improve their fundraising results, the pressure to get help from board members becomes a priority. And yet, try as they might, I find that many arts managers find it difficult, and often impossible, to get board members to assist, actively, in the fundraising effort. In fact, the question most often asked of me is, "How do I get my board members to ask for money from their friends and associates?"
I am completely sympathetic. There is nothing more frustrating than to have a board member who is successful in business, has access to a number of people of means, and connections to important corporate leaders, who is unwilling to use these connections to benefit the organization.
Isn't this the job of our board members? Don't they understand that our ability to create art while maintaining fiscal stability depends on their active involvement in fundraising?
I have found no magic formula for engaging board members in fundraising. There seems to be a gene that some members have--the ones we all know and love who are fearless about soliciting funds--that others are missing entirely.
And while it is true that those arts organizations that consistently produce exciting art and aggressive institutional marketing campaigns have an easier time motivating their board members, there remain those stubborn few, potentially potent members who remain dormant.
So what to do?
The simple answer is: engage these board members in a specific effort, or campaign, over a limited period of time. I find that the board members with the most unrealized potential are also often the busiest people on the board. They have important jobs and many competing time commitments.
If one asks busy executives to help with annual fundraising efforts, they will often ignore the appeal. They will assume others with the 'fundraising gene' will act on behalf of the organization; this allows these executives to focus on another of their activities.
If one asks a busy executive to participate, or even lead, a campaign of limited duration, however, they will often agree to do so. They can be of service, fulfill their commitments to the organization, and know that three or six months later they can focus on other, pressing activities.
When successful executives are given a specific goal and a limited time frame, it is often astonishing how quickly they will act. The short time frame will often galvanize them to act and to call on others on the board and in the extended organizational family to assist them in achieving the campaign goal. Their connections will often respond to their solicitations with gifts far larger than the organization is used to receiving; and when one busy executive asks another for a gift, the response time can be incredibly short. I have seen multi-million dollar campaigns completed in just a few weeks or months.
The busy executives can then focus elsewhere, comfortable that they have fulfilled their obligations well and have had a lasting impact on the organizations they serve.