How to Use your Major Gifts Team to Professionally Staff Board Development
By Chris Cloud
I did a podcast about how to professionalize your board development function at your nonprofit organization. We talked about using your major gifts professionals to drive this process and I have clients who are adopting this method now. This is different than hiring a broker on a fee basis to source board members. The idea is to activate major gifts professionals to drive action. They have complementary interests. They are pros. They will produce better results than lay volunteers working on their own.
Board development is too important to leave solely to volunteers. Instead, charge your major gifts officers with doing the support tasks. Have them report to the nominating committee on an ad hoc basis. Have them identify potential board members (subject to nominating committee approval). After all, their main professional task is identifying, qualifying, and approaching suitable prospects. That’s the skill set you want. These fundraisers have an institutional database to work with and professional research tools available. They know who has money. They can work lists of approved prospects, make initial contact, and get meetings on the calendar with nominating committee members. They can drive action week by week.
Crucially, major gifts officers can reliably manage the homework that flows from board recruitment meetings including follow-up letters, providing requested materials, and feeding contact details into the institutional database for tracking. This follow-up is vitally important. If the follow-up is crisp, fully-informed, and attentive it sends exactly the right message and maximizes the chances of successful recruitment. On the other hand, if your board members are tasked with this you will have delay and incomplete focus which is only natural because board members usually have day jobs that take priority over volunteer tasks. The suggestion is to assign these professional tasks to the actual professionals.
There are many advantages to this kind of arrangement. For your nominating committee you get staffing and attention, more board candidates with more money, and you get crisp, professionalized follow-up that maximizes the impression you make and chances of recruitment success. You also get a more uniform, better-quality presentation for things like prospective board member packets and new board member orientation materials.
It’s worth noting that there are also distinct advantages for your major gifts team that will make them fully motivated partners. Working with the nominating committee under the banner of board development gives major gifts officers an offer-based approach to big prospects. Major gifts officers are constantly wondering: how do I make contact with a big prospect? What’s my point of connection? What’s the rationale for outreach? If their call is about brokering a meeting with senior board members who will be asking for advice, that changes the equation. It is flattering; it offers something. A meeting framed this way is also likely to kick up other names of people who might be suitable for board or major gifts consideration.
Major gifts driving board development is an approach that expands a prospect list and provides new tools to get in front of people who can make a difference for you.