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Launching a Nonprofit Major Gift Effort in the Right Frame of Mind

We read about the importance of seeking board members with “deep pockets.” Meaning: having lots of money that they will gladly give to our cause. Starting a board recruitment effort with this in the forefront of the brain will not work out well. Usually. And here’s why.

People become involved with a nonprofit, generally because they first and foremost feel a kinship with your mission. The Governance Committee working with the CEO is best served when the group seeks relationships with individuals who care about the cause. And want to be involved in some way. Giving to the cause is just one aspect of best board search practice. There’s also networking, which includes speaking with friends and colleagues about the mission; telling friends why they are involved.

It is true that you gotta ask to get. And if your nonprofit board has folks with “deep pockets” they can help find friends who will join, support the mission and give because a good friend asked. This is not bad. But in my work with nonprofits, I like to get the relationship focused on mission. So it’s clear that the cause and the people we’re helping are our primary purpose in being involved. Yes, we want to launch a major gift effort to help further advance the mission of our nonprofit. But we want to be clear that it’s the relationship to the mission first and foremost; and that the funds we are seeking will clearly help advance that mission.

When a nonprofit organization decides to launch a major gift campaign, the development committee begins its work looking at the donor list…those who give to the annual campaign…and “qualify” individuals who have the wherewithall to commit at a “major” level, however the nonprofit decides to define it.

From my experience, people with significant resources are not always eager to join the board. But when approached in the right way by the right person, they may be inclined to contribute to your major gift effort. They, like most of us, want to make a difference. When we find something that looks properly designed and has a good team implementing the work, it’s easier to say “yes.” Make the gift. Perhaps over time the relationship will blossom. And Mr. or Ms Deep Pockets will commit to a term on the board.

The moral of the story: don’t make “deep pockets” the focus of your board recruitment. Or fundraising, for that matter. It becomes apparent to people rather quickly if they’re being pursued for $$ and not for commitment to mission.

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