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When Imagination Inspires Performance

From my years working with the American Lung Association, to my more recent consulting work for It’s The Results, the question always seems to come around to “how can I get board members comfortable with asking for money?”
From my experience, it starts with board members getting comfortable with giving money. When we cross that bridge, the asking part follows more naturally. When board giving comes from a firm belief in the mission, and when board member giving rises to the level that accountablilty becomes an imperative (now it’s not just someone else’s treasure; heck, it’s my treasure!) we’ve achieved a new level of commitment. 
Not all people are comfortable with asking for a chritable donation. Even if belief in the mission is firmly in place.
I follow the advice of Kay Sprinkel Grace and enlist those members who are comfortable to take that step and ask. And I like to learn what the member prefers: to ask the prospect on his/her own, or in the company of a staff member, a board member…or me! The idea is to make the situation as comfortable as possible for all concerned.  And, when we qualify a prospect for the ask, we have a relationship with the donor prospect. And this prospect will not be surprised that we’re asking for money, because the meeting has been arranged in advance with conversation about a financial gift to the nonprofit identified as a primary reason for the meeting.

However. If we’re still in the phase of developing a donor prospect list, we can ask for a different focus. We can ask this person, who has been qualified as a friend of our issues and possibly a donor to our nonprofit, to help us by talking with us about the campaign we’re about to launch, its purpose, and seek this friend’s help in identifying prospects for us to talk to and seek their support.

In the first year of this effort, we’re employing board members we know who feel comfortable with the ask process. And as we report progress back to the board of directors from time to time, and get questions from members, we begin to identify other member who will become willing to be part of the ask process.

In the interim, we want to prepare board members to be good ambassadors for our organization: to talk with enthusiasm about our mission, and to be on the look-out for prospects others on the board might approach to ask for their financial support. In this way, over time, we engage more members in advancing the mission proactively.

We always have two or three great stories to tell that help paint a picture about our mission, and exemplify certain action we’ve taken that has brought us steps closer to achieving our mission. Something to spark a person’s imagination. Something that conveys how we stand for hope for the future.

I’m an admirer of the work of Josh Simpson, a glass blower/artist based in Western Massachusetts who’s famous for his glass planets. You can see examples of his work at http://bit.ly/cBTY81, “Visions of Our Galaxy.”  Josh has one of his largest planets on display at the Corning Glass Museum. This artist inspires me. I have a couple of examples of his work in my office. The spiritual uplift we feel when we see art that moves us, when we hear music that inspires us, when we see a play or opera performance that challenges us…this is the kind of connection I want to go for in a  story. When our board members and other representatives communicate stories about our nonprofit achievements that exemplify hope. That make life better. That make the link of the donation to the donor’s imagination.

We can work together to move your board and your supporters to this kind of thinking and action.

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