Who Cultivates the Blue Birds?

Passionate nonprofit board members are wonderful.  They often encourage their friends to become donors and supporters.  Their friends often appear to be very generous and involved supporters until the board members leaves the board.

When the involvement of a board member’s friend ends it usually indicates their involvement was driven by their friendship.  There are two solutions to this problem.  The first is to find an alternate activity for board members after their term on the board ends.  When you sustain their active engagement, you sustain their passion and excitement, which keeps their friends involved.

The second solution is to cultivate the friends of the board members.  There is a temptation to leave the cultivation to the board members.  However, in our experience board members rarely do a good job of cultivating their friends.  In part, this is because recruiting the supporter rarely takes much effort.  In fact, usually it is as simple as asking the friend to be a supporter.  From there, everything goes smoothly until the board member announces involvement somewhere else, which results in the support moving somewhere else.  This is true even when board members are very good at cultivating strangers.

It is relatively easy to start cultivating a board member’s friend.  Once the first donation or other indication of interest happens, ask the board member to arrange a meeting or lunch for the three of you (new donor, board member, and senior fundraiser).  Since the donor already has a senior-level contact, you want the donor to have a senior-level cultivator.

Start the meeting by thanking the new donor for their interest.  Then begin the normal cultivation process by asking the questions that help you to know and understand the new person’s interest in charity, volunteering, various causes (related and unrelated to your cause), their background, and special interests.  During the normal flow of the conversation, ask questions to determine what they know about your mission, nonprofit, and clients as well as what they would like to know.

Provide them with information about the areas of your nonprofit that they are curious about.  Then schedule another meeting with the donor to talk at length about the areas of interest.  During that meeting, you can start determining how the donor would like to engage in a personal way with your nonprofit.  When they become personally involved, you can begin to build on their engagement.  Once they become an engaged donor, you will know that they are a friend of your nonprofit as well as a friend of your board member.  Their friendship with your nonprofit means they will probably keep providing support after your board member leaves the board.  Their continuing friendship adds to the sustainability of your funding stream and your nonprofit’s sustainability.

Whether your board member continues to attend the cultivation meetings should be determined by what is best for the donor.  If the board member is going to be part of the ongoing cultivation, give you board member a role in the meetings.  Ensure that you and your board member are able to function as a team during and between the cultivation meetings.

Next Step:

Train your board members, especially new board members, on how to engage their friends in your nonprofit

Establish a thank-you meeting with each new donor recruited by your board members

Take responsibility for the cultivation of new donors

Develop the interests and engagement of new donors slowly

Use the retention of new donors after the term of a board member as a success measure for your cultivation process

New donors recruited by board members are likely to be donors for as long as the member serves on the board.  Therefore, you have more time than usual to capture the interest of the new donor.  Slow, careful cultivation is usually the most comfortable for the donor.  Once the donor’s enthusiasm is kindled, it is time to pick up the pace to something that matches the donor’s enthusiasm.

A slow pace is also more comfortable for the board members, even if the cultivation is being done without the direct involvement of the board member.  No one wants to think their friends are being rushed (strong armed).  If a board member ever thought that, it is unlikely they would recruit additional friends and it might discourage other board members from recruiting their friends.

Whether a donor is retained after a board member leaves is almost exclusively dependent on the cultivation process.

Take It Further:

Remind board members that recruiting donors helps to ensure the sustainability of your nonprofit and, by extension, builds their legacy

Use the willingness of board members to recruit their friends as an indication of their engagement and enthusiasm

Ask your board development committee to give preference to board candidates who have a history of recruiting supporters for the other nonprofits they are or were associated with


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