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    board development

    The Three Magic Words


    Once upon a time there was a major gifts fairy godmother and she would swoop down, wave her magic wand, say the three magic words and poof! The major gift would appear — just like that.


    What, you ask, could those three magic words be?  


    “Join with me”


    How do they work? Well, “join with me” in learning today’s three step lesson in Major Gifts fundraising:


    1. Get your Board to give
    2. Get your Board to ask
    3. Get your Board to use the Three Magic Words
    We all know that a basic rule in the world of nonprofits is that 100% of the board must give.  OK, I see a group of you thinking “but we don’t have that kind of a board!”  YES YOU DO!!  Every person who is on your board, regardless of the level of their wealth (or lack thereof), believes deeply in the mission of the organization.  Otherwise, why would they give their discretionary time to be a member of your board? So if we have established that they believe deeply in the mission, why would they not want to support that mission?  And since there is “NO MONEY NO MISSION, how can that support not include a financial donation?
    We are not, in many cases talking about putting a minimum “give or get or get off” level into this equation, though this is totally appropriate for some of your organizations.  What we are talking about is helping to make the achievement of the mission goals possible…something that takes money.  That mandates asking each and every board member to make a gift to reach those goals.


    I have worked with many human service nonprofits that have by-laws that require that there will be at least two “clients” on the board.  And I have found with the most successful of these organizations, it is the client who is the very first to make an annual financial contribution to the organization. I have seen some of these gifts be $2.00…and have been awed by the power of those gifts. And if that formerly homeless woman, that high-risk, single parent of a child deemed “at risk”, that unemployed and in-debt elderly gentleman can do it…then certainly every other member of the board can make an annual financial donation to the organization.   Again…how can we ask others to do what we ourselves did not think was important enough to do?


    Which brings me back to the three easy steps.  These steps are as important to non major gifts fund raising as they are absolutely critical to major gifts fund raising.  Once the board member has made his or her own financial commitment, Step 1 is done. When a board member is ready to have personal conversations with others in the community (in other words has had some training in ‘how to ask’), willing (in other words has learned that passion for a mission must be followed by action towards reaching those mission goals) and able (in other words has the ability to form sentences and speak them). Step 2 is done.  And now, along with a wonderful (and short) mission story, a very few (very few) facts, much eye contact, a whole lot of active listening to what the donor has to say, it is time to ask the donor for a gift, Step 3.  And what could be more powerful than using saying “join with me”?


    And you know what? Even without a magic wand, you just might get that gift!


    Leadership is about what you DO!

    “Leadership is action, not position.” — Donald H. McGannon, Former CEO, Westinghouse Broadcast Corporation

    Whether you are the board president, the rabbi, rosh yeshiva, CEO — or hold any title that makes people site up and take notice, remember what people really want and need from you — your commitment to roll up your sleeves and participate in a meaningful way.

    I believe that most of us have two fundamental needs, regardless of our role in the organization — the need to benefit and the need to contribute. In fact, when I teach sessions on running effective meetings, those are the two criteria for determining who should attend a meeting. If a meeting participant will neither benefit from nor contribute to a meeting, then give them back their time to do something more useful than sit in on a meeting! Trust me — he or she will thank you for it, and your meeting participants will appreciate a leaner, more focused meeting process.

    Those in Jewish organizational leadership positions often benefit from title, position, status, connections, and paycheck for those in paid positions (and yes, I see you — the one eye-rolling about the idea of benefiting from a Jewish organizational paycheck. But I won’t let you distract me!).

    Here’s the question: does your level of contribution — decisions made, problems solved, resources developed — meet or exceed the benefits you receive from your position? How would your lay or professional counterparts and direct reports answer that if asked about you?

    If you’re not sure, are you willing to ask? If you’re willing to ask, who will you start with? If you’re not willing, why?

    In the words of writer Elbert Hubbard, “Don’t make excuses. Make good.”



    “Deb has been a respected speaker and facilitator for a number of our JCC conferences over the past few years. While I've heard about her energy, hard work in preparing, and meaningful content, it took her recent keynote speech at our annual JCCs of North America Professional Conference to make me realize what an incredible asset she is. Watching her present a content-filled, energetic, and personalized session -- without using any notes -- was very impressive. Deb is a multi-talented, serious, and impactful presenter."

    – Allan Finkelstein, Past President and CEO, JCC Association of North America

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