Jim Eskin Says, “Board Fundraising is Now a Necessity” is veteran fundraisers Jim Eskin’s take on the roles of nonprofit boards in the era of COVID-19. Here’s what he has to share:
When my wife Andrea and I launched Eskin Fundraising Training June 1, 2018, our motivation was to combine two passions: Empower non-profit board members, volunteers and staff to overcome the fear of asking for gifts, and to venture out on my own. I had just completed three fulfilling higher education advancement management positions that gave me the privilege of working with a broad cross-section of business and community leaders. These leaders were fearless in virtually everything they had to face in their lives, with the exception of raising money for favorite organizations and causes.
We concluded that more than anything else, this was a fear of the unknown. Simply put, we as practitioners could do a better job of demystifying the art and science of fundraising.
More than 100 workshops and webinars later, we are more convinced than ever that the men and women who lead non-profits, lifted by the Jeffersonian virtues of a knowing head and an honest heart, can and should be effective fundraisers.
To repeat a premise, I make incessantly: Non-profit leaders can contribute mightily to resource development success without ever having to ask for the gift. They can play huge roles in the discovery, cultivation and stewardship of donor prospects. If they break the ice and reach out to prospective donors in their professional, civic and personal networks, when the time is right others can step in and solicit the gift. The solicitation is but one moment in the gift continuum. In fact, when the prospect is properly informed, engaged and cultivated, the ask is relatively simple.
What has changed dramatically in the last two years is that fundraising can no longer be a spectator sport for board members. It’s become a necessity in the fiercely competitive COVID-19 philanthropic environment.
Like businesses, and perhaps even more so, non-profits are being challenged to do more with less. Non-profits don’t have a board seat to waste. In fact, they’re going to be hard pressed to maintain full-time staffs. As much as it pains me to say so, this could also mean a reduction in fundraising positions — at precisely the time they are even more crucial.
The COVID urgency means that board members must firmly and fully embrace fiduciary responsibilities for the financial health and future of their non-profits. This can no longer be relegated to “don’t worry about that” status. Fundraising must move to the top of the list of priorities.
Here’s the good news. Board participation in fundraising can be both productive and enjoyable. Again, fundraising involves much more than just asking for the gift. It’s fueled by the board member’s passion for the cause. This can be as simple as sharing in their own words why they’re investing the most precious resource of all, their time. Board members should be proud to tell personal stories of why the non-profit is so important in their lives — and that’s the essence of successful fundraising. Non-profits can no longer afford members who abdicate their fundraising commitment.
This isn’t to take any of the burden away from the CEO/Executive Director and development staff. Just as the board is being asked to do more, the staff needs to step up likewise. I always emphasize that a good CEO/ Executive Director can and should be the solicitor-in-chief. It’s just that now that staff will likely be stretched more thinly.
Keep in mind that discovery, cultivation, solicitation and stewardship will be conducted virtually for the foreseeable future. Video-conferencing technology has become a fixture in our everyday lives. Even when social distancing rules are relaxed, it will remain a big part of our routines and should make it easier for board members to schedule quality time with prospective donors they know.
One more thing has profoundly changed since we launched Eskin Fundraising Training two years ago: The very notion of fear itself, COVID-19 has given us a keener perspective on the meaning of fear. Being afraid of fundraising is nothing compared to the fear of COVID and death. We keep on coming back to this truth: What’s the worst thing that can happen when you ask for a gift? You hear you hear the word “no.” Who doesn’t hear that word virtually every day of their lives?
This is a time for genuine leadership, service and courage. I have every confidence that the millions of men and women who serve on non-profit boards, fueled by their beliefs and convictions in the causes they serve, are capable and ready to rise to the challenge.
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