Development committees have the potential to turbocharge your development efforts, but managing them can sometimes feel like a tedious chore. One time, I hit a point where I felt like the committee chair and I were stuck in a rut. We spent most of our time preparing for and reporting to the development committee at monthly meetings rather than working with committee members to achieve the organization’s fundraising goals. Since we weren’t engaging the members, we couldn’t maximize the potential of the committee. If that sounds familiar, read on to learn four strategies I learned to turn our development committee into an asset.
If your development committee currently meets monthly, there’s a good chance you’re meeting too often. Rather than asking committee members to invest their limited time in such frequent meetings, reduce the number of meetings. Doing so may free them up to complete meaningful tasks like making thank-you visits to corporate sponsors. Consultant Al Cantor offers a compelling argument for reducing the number of meetings if you want to really harness the power of your committee.
You probably know some basic information about them, like where they work and who they’re connected to, but do you really know the members of your committee? What brought them to this community, what compelled them to get involved with your organization, what are their hobbies, etc.? One of the most worthwhile fundraising experiences I’ve had was making a plan to get to know the members of the development committee. The committee chair, the emeritus board president, and I met with each of our committee members for lunch or coffee and took the time to get to know them. That personal interaction was invaluable. I gleaned so much from those meetings and was able to really develop a rapport with each committee member and work with them more productively as a result.
When you shift away from a meeting-heavy schedule, you’re giving your committee members time to take on meaningful tasks on behalf of the organization. And if you’ve taken the time to get to know your committee members, you’ll be able to collaborate with them to better identify tasks that line up with their interests and abilities. Think of things that you as a staff member would love to do but haven’t been able to find the time for because you’re busy with other tasks. Maybe you’ve wanted to drop off a thank-you card, in person, to each of your events sponsors. Maybe there’s an informational workshop for grantseekers at a local foundation that you can’t make due to a scheduling conflict. Ask your committee members to step in!
Your development committee members may be well connected in the community and bring certain attributes and skills to the table, but they aren’t necessarily familiar with fundraising. The more they know, the better they’ll be able to support and understand the work of your organization’s development efforts—and they’ll be more comfortable carrying out tasks. Make a point to help your committee members learn about fundraising. When I worked at a nonprofit that wanted to launch a planned giving program, we invited a consultant who specialized in planned giving to give a workshop for our development committee. Rather than trying, myself, to convince our development committee of the importance of this initiative, or asking the executive director to try to convince them, they were convinced by an outside expert—and we all learned a lot in the process! Our committee members gained an understanding of the key components of a successful planned giving program, and they in turn were able to champion this initiative with the rest of the board.
A development committee can be a fundraiser’s secret weapon, especially if you’re working in a small shop. The four tips described in this article will help you see your development committee as an asset, not a liability, and will enable you and your committee members to work together to propel your organization forward.
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