One of the best ways your organization’s board of directors can help your fundraising efforts is by referring new prospects to your organization. Board members can serve as “ambassadors” for your non-profit, making introductions to people that could become potential donors in the future.
Referrals from board members should be a powerful source of new prospects for most non-profits. So… how do you actually go about asking your board members to make those referrals? I use a simple, 4 step process for getting board members to open up their network and introduce their friends, family, neighbors and business associates to a non-profit’s fundraising team.
First – I Explain How Referrals and Introductions Work
The first step is to attend a board meeting to teach board members about referrals, and show them how the introductions process works. I tell board members how important it is that we keep meeting new prospects, and then I talk to them about how we will treat new prospects that they introduce to us.
This is extremely important because board members don’t want to feel bad for introducing their friends to the fundraising team. If your board members think that the fundraisers are going to hound their friends and colleagues for money, they won’t make introductions.
Instead, tell your board members that no one will be asked for money until they indicate a desire to get involved, and never during the first or second conversation or meeting. You want to cultivate relationships and see who is interested. You will always cultivate before you ask.
Second – I Run an Exercise for Board Members to Show Them How Many People they Actually Know
Remember – most people, including board members, don’t realize how many people are in their personal and business networks. To show the board how many people they could potentially refer to us, I hand out mind maps during a board meeting and ask the board members to fill them out.
I tell the board to start listing people they know in different categories, like their best social friends, the top three places they spend money for things for their home and family, the top three places their companies spend money, college friends, their accountant, lawyer, doctor, dentist and plumber, people they know from church, etc. I run it like a workshop, going through each category, giving examples, and giving the board members time to write people down. I tell the board that I won’t collect the papers from them or force them to contact anyone, so they can feel free to write people down.
After we go through the exercise, I tell the board that everyone they wrote down is a potential donor to the organization, whether they are a $5 donor or a $500,000 donor… each person on that list could afford to give something to the organization, if they really wanted to.
Third – I Ask Board Members for Referrals (Usually In-Person, but Sometimes on the Phone)
After I complete the mind mapping exercise, it’s up to me to go out and actually ASK board members for referrals. The best way to do this is in person. If you are an Executive Director or Development Director who has an in-person meeting with each of your board members each year, use those opportunities to ask for referrals.
You don’t need to see all of your board members right away to ask for introductions, you can spread it out over the course of the year so that you have time to act on their referrals and follow up on them. If you can’t see each of your board members in person on a one-on-one basis over the course of the year, you can also ask for referrals from them over the phone. Either way, the ask is simple… just say, “Who do you know that might be interested in hearing about what we do?” or, “Who else should I be meeting with to talk about our organization?”
Fourth – I Bring Referral Success Stories Back to Board Meetings on a Regular Basis.
This is a key step. Nothing will convince your board members to bring you more referrals than hearing from other board members that have done it successfully. Have the board members you have worked with stand up in front of a board meeting to tell how great the experience was – how the first meeting went really well, how their friend or colleague was handled in such a great, personable way, and how glad their friend was to hear about and support your organization. Doing this will make other board members want to provide you with referrals to their friends and coworkers.
Board referrals should be a prime source of new prospects for every non-profit. If you haven’t yet harnessed the power of board referrals, now is the time to start. Use the four steps above to quickly and successfully get your board members to serve as ambassadors for your organization.
Photo Credit: Les Roches School