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Pitching Your Fundraising Plan to the Board, Part 2

Sep 30, 2021

Remember last week’s blog post when I shared a story about how hard I worked on my fundraising plan, had some allies on the board and pitched it to them?

Well, let me share some of last week so the rest of it makes sense…I didn’t sit down with my CEO, John, to go over the plan in detail because he didn’t really want that.

So I presented. I had my charts and my graphs and the narrative. I walked everyone through my scenarios.

And then a board member asked…“What does John think about this?”

>>It didn’t matter about all of the work I had done.

>>Or the allies I had.

>>The board trusted my CEO, even if I had a prickly relationship with him.

Because he and I kind of had a mutual avoidance strategy, he didn't ask about my plan and I didn’t really include him. And when the board asked what he thought, I thought my plan wouldn’t get passed…but it did.  

But I can tell you in that moment, I realized what an error I had made by not engaging him.

It would have been hard and I don’t know how I would have done it, but he easily could have derailed all of the work I had put in.  Fortunately, he was smart enough to know that if I said I could raise whatever it was I said, I’d come through. So, he didn’t throw up any roadblocks.

But it was a powerful lesson to me.

Anticipate the questions. And know who the influencers are and do your best to make sure they are brought on-side in plenty of time.

Even if it’s difficult to work with them.

And really, that’s the lesson I want you to take away from this story. Long before you present your fundraising plan, you have to engage people throughout the organization.

So, who are the influencers in your organization? Who are your allies?

At the time, I included my Director of Finance. He said that my numbers all seemed to make sense. And the board trusted him, so that meant they believed in my numbers, through my Director of Finance’s seal of approval. I included my Treasurer in many conversations and some later iterations of the documents I was presenting. 

He was the best guy ever and really knew how to support me both in board meetings and behind the scenes. I had another board member who was a big fan of mine, so I made sure he saw some of the numbers and understood what I was trying to accomplish.

My board President was on-side because I asked the Treasurer to speak with her. In this particular case, our Program Director was very influential and respected, so I made sure she was on-side.

Now, at the time, that irked me a bit.

I was kind of frustrated that my numbers were only trusted because the Director of Finance agreed with them. I knew enough on my own to submit a really good budget.

It kind of pissed me off that they only cared about what my CEO thought. But now, I realize it wasn’t about me so much (although, it may have been about my youth) but it was about groupthink and board behaviour.  No one wanted to be the outlier.

It was their volunteer role and they wanted to be presented with things that would be easy to say yes to. They didn’t want to assume risk. And they certainly did not want to approve something that the CEO wasn’t okay with. I had a bunch of bankers on my board, so I knew I had to have the numbers really well defended. I did my homework. In addition to a great presentation, I had done a lot of work leading up to the meeting.

I missed one glaring person, as it turns out.

Fortunately, the plan and budget passed. But not without a few moments of heart stopping OHGosh.. how did I not think of that??? 

Engage allies. That’s the biggest lesson I can share with you.

Here’s what I suggest:

  • Think through who you need to engage.
  • Be strategic about how to socialize an idea with the board.
  • Never bring a fledgling idea to the board because they want to review, ponder, ask questions and add their insight. That won’t happen at one meeting so how can you bring them along?
  • Who do they trust and how can you bring them along on the journey?
  • Do you have a sub-committee that can be the first test case...where you bring the idea and let them poke holes in it, revise and adapt it?

You need to think this stuff through. 

One more thing about presenting the fundraising plan and budget.

Remember how I said earlier I had the best Treasurer ever? Well, here’s how we did it. He started the presentation and said that he had spoken with me and that he was on board with everything and then he handed over the meeting to me to share the details. And if any difficult questions arose, or if board members got a bit aggressive or overstepped their boundaries, he had my back.

To be fair, my board of directors was pretty polite, but I think that was partly because I had learned to have a board member do the presenting on my behalf. 

Board members feel like they need to be more polite when asking questions of their board peers. Sadly, too often I have seen board members not offer the same level of respect to staff who are presenting ideas. 

So, who is your board member who will step up and say, “Yes, I’ve reviewed all of this and I think it’s great. Over to you to provide details, staff person.”

Here’s the other thing that does: it forces you to think through which board member is your ally or champion for each initiative you are presenting at the board.

Keep this in mind. It will make your work life in the charitable sector easier. Trust me on this.

Start thinking strategically about who your champion on the board is now. And get that person involved to help you as you introduce new ideas at your board meeting. In fact, I’d have that person go over every board meeting agenda with you so you know you have someone who is aware of what you’re hoping to achieve.

I hope all of this gives you ideas on how to be more strategic with your board. And you know, one of the biggest initiatives you’ll ever present to the board is your fundraising plan. And if you don’t have a plan or have an old plan or have it all in your head, then you need to join us for a FREE webinar, 5 Steps to Developing Your Fundraising Plan.

Here’s what you’ll learn:

  • 5 simple steps we use with our clients to build a plan, a budget and get buy-in throughout the organization (and buy-in is critical – case in point above!)
  • Essential pieces you need to develop a plan that will help you raise more money
  • The mind shifts that will help you as you work with your organization’s leadership 

So join us on Tuesday, October 5 at 3:00pm EST.

And yes, it’s free. Kid. You. Not.

Yours in kick-a$$ fundraising,

Cathy and the team at The Fundraising Lab

P.S. When you attend, you’ll receive a BONUS – ask any fundraising question you want to Cathy…because we’re doing this live. No pre-record for you folks!

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