Wednesday, October 7, 2015

The Art of Selling Isn't Hard to Master

You are an executive director reporting to a board of directors. Your agency is facing some difficult economic challenges and of your 20 board members, only 5 donate more than $500 each year and it is not unusual for several others to donate nothing at all. The board does not have a formal “give or get” donation amount for board members, although it has been discussed – and rejected – in the past. Your board president is sympathetic to the problem but also feels like “most of the board members donate enough of their time and energy that it is too much to ask for their money as well”. You suspect that in reality the president is reluctant to try to address the problem and unsure how to go about it anyway. You need the board to increase their giving. What specific steps would you take to increase board giving?

The first thing that strikes me about this question is that the board seems very large. You want a multiplicity of voices on your board, but that may be a cacophony. Part of me would think that the board is too big, but I would put a pin in that and perhaps address that later.

For me, coming from a financial perspective, I would center my argument towards the board president. He is sympathetic, but already comes loaded with excuses. It would depend on the organization’s mission and the board make up, but my first look in this situation would be to implement a formal give or get.

I’m not much of a salesman, but I would talk to the president. I’m not sure what his or her financial background is but I would lay my case to them in as stark terms as possible. Look, we have issues where the government is trying to cut us, giving is down, the staff is grumbling about another year of no pay raises. I’d use numbers and pie charts to show the depth of the financial issue.

Because the bottom line is that people are on the board for various reasons, and it is not just altruism. There is a time commitment, but the staff and the clients are feeling a real problem with the monetary issue. They are making sacrifices every day, Madame Board President. That other members of the board don’t want to contribute on a consistent basis. They like feeling nice that they are helping us out just by their presence. There’s one that that is the ultimate current, and they aren’t willing to sacrifice.

You see, I’d say, you and the other board members have be the ones who lead. If you go to  friends in industry and ask them to give, you know what the first question will be? They’ll ask you how much you give. How can you sell the agency when you haven’t fully bought in. No one understands time and money constraints like a nonprofit Ed does, Madame Board President, I’m asking for your help.

And my good sales job would make her see the error of her ways and become a convert to my side, leading the charge for a give or get that is relevant to the size and scope of the agency’s mission.  Even better, when it comes to the meeting, it will look like her idea when it comes up and I’ll have a powerful ally. Then if people still don’t buy in, I start figuring out how to get rid of the deadwood and bring in my own people.