-Josh Slocum, executive director
If we treated feeding ourselves the way most of us approach getting active board members, it would look like this:
Camera dollies in to a man with a panicked expression, clutching the phone. .
John: The cupboard is bare, and I’ve tried everything, but all the grocery stores are closed. . .what will we do!?
Mary (on the other end of the line): Didn’t you ask the kids to stop at the store even once this week before they came over for supper? You knew we were having them over on Sunday like we always do.
John: But none of them wanted to, Mary. I pestered and pestered them; I even left a note scrawled in red paint that said WE’RE ALL GONNA DIE OF STARVATION IF YOU DON’T GET FOOD RIGHT NOW! Nothing works. . .no one’s interested in shopping.
Mary: Can you blame them? You’re making a dinner party sound like a Donner Party. I live there and I don’t even want to come home. You do absolutely no planning, then you leave the kids horror-movie notes and act surprised when they say, “We’re going to McDonald’s.”
Member development, like meal planning, has to be an everyday, ongoing part of life at your FCA. “Getting new board members” is not a discrete activity that happens once a year (when it is, it fails). Grooming the membership to see themselves as active participants, as owners of the nonprofit mission they support, has to be as much a part of your regular mission activities as answering the phone and email. Last-minute desperation is immediately off-putting to prospects. If you’re at that point you’ve already gone too far.
First, realize there’s no such animal as Board member professionalensis. Board members are just people. They’re just members. You were probably once just a member-at-large. We need to train ourselves to see every member query, every communication to us from the public, as a potential to bring someone into the fold as a contributor to the cause, not merely a “customer” that pays a membership fee and then passively receives products and services.
Let’s look at the components of a more successful approach—everyday “member maintenance” and development, and special activities and gatherings.
Collect and curate—Every single person who calls or writes to inquire about membership, for help with a complaint, etc., needs to go in your database and right onto your mailing list. Every. Single. One. Whether they’ve made a donation or not. Especially those who you’ve spent personal time with to solve a problem. These people are the most likely to remember your kindness and respond to your call for service and donations in the future. Remember to ask for their email address!
Whenever you give a talk bring a sign-up sheet. Do not just leave it at the door, keep it with you. It works best if you present it with a bit of theater. When I speak I read and respond to the crowd’s mood. When they’re at their most attentive and engaged—sometimes it’s a laugh-line, sometimes it’s shock at a case of consumer abuse—I say, “Oh, that reminds me! Before I forget I want to give you this sign-up sheet. If you want to make a difference with us to help prevent this kind of abuse/lobby for legal change/etc., we’re ready with open arms. We need you because you are the FCA. . nothing happens without your support!”
When I did this in Princeton they reported that nine people volunteered on the sheet to work on legislative change. Let your passion and enthusiasm shine and you’ll find it’s catching.
See the case-study below for a recent example of how this can work with a phone query.
Follow-up—Send the person a note along with your most recent newsletter or price survey. Thank them for their interest, and include a donation envelope. This is key—if you don’t follow up with folks regularly you won’t build interest.
Don’t wait until the last minute and then spring potential board membership on a cold prospect—Otherwise interested people can be intimidated or uncertain by an offer to be (cue dramatic music) On the Board. The title itself carries connotations of huge responsibility; it sounds much scarier and less fun than we all know FCA service can be. Instead, think of offering volunteer opportunities.
Even the smallest tasks can help get someone in the door long enough to be worth mentoring. Contact members in an area where you need help picking up funeral home price lists for your survey, for example. Yes, I’m suggesting you call or email people right out of the blue:
"This is Josh from FCA. I wanted to tell you about our latest project and ask for a little help. We’re doing our updated price survey—you know how useful it is to folks—and we can get it done much more quickly if folks like you would stop at the closest funeral home to your house and pick one up for us. Would you help? We’d love to credit you and the other volunteers when the survey is done. Oh, and we’re having a luncheon at Pam’s house to compile the results—we’d love to have you there."
John from Colorado called. His sister was scrambling to find money to pay for Aunt Sadie's funeral. Sister was convinced that "I'll have to come up with $4,000 in addition to the $6,000 we already have, because I've heard a funeral costs $10,000."
Wait a minute. $6,000? Yes, the family already had $6K from Aunt Sadie. I said to John that was more than enough for what they wanted (cremation followed by burial in another state). What's more, your sister needs to put herself back in the driver's seat. It's her decision how much the funeral costs, not the funeral home's.
Turns out John—a businessman who started a specialty food company—already gave his sister the same kind of advice I would have given. Don’t walk in with a blank check, know your budget before you buy, and remember that love and money are not the same thing.
As we talked I gave John the tools to back up what he was saying. The Funeral Rule, shopping by phone ahead of time, etc. Over a wide-ranging conversation with lots of laughs I told John I would clone him and send him as a volunteer to every FCA group in the country. Well, turns out he was just ready to ask about how to volunteer. "How do people get trained to help you guys carry this out?" I replied, "We just started during this 45-minute talk."
He was eager to contact our affiliate in Colorado, and he offered to make a donation without my even asking.
Follow-up is crucial. Here’s what I did:
a. Put John in our database.
b. Tagged him with a code indicating he was a potential volunteer.
c. Immediately sentan email to John, with a cc to the board members of our Colorado affiliate.
d. Attached our last newsletter and a few other materials I knew John would like.
e. Physically mailed a copy of my book, gratis, along with a brief handwritten note and a remittance envelope.
Results! John emailed back almost immediately that he'd be in touch with the FCA of Colorado and looked forward to joining our mission.
Put the Fun Back in Funerals
We often underestimate the importance of fun when trying to attract people to our cause. But we know how human relationships are forged and maintained—by breaking bread with each other. When you move to a new neighborhood you have the neighbors over for a light meal or a potluck. Webs of mutual interest and feelings of “I’ve got your back when you need me” are created this way.
It’s the same with issues and causes. Here are some ways to inject some social time and relationship-building into your FCA recruitment:
- Death Cafes—These informal gatherings are getting lots of press. They’re groups of people who want to have a bite to eat and be able to talk about end of life planning with others who share their concerns. Type in “death cafe” on Google and you’ll come up with headlines like, “British Web designer and self-named ‘deathentrepreneur,’ helps people talk about the taboo topic over tea and cake,” and “A few dozen Ohioans will meet Wednesday evening in a community room at a Panera Bread outside of Columbus for tea, cake and conversation over an unusual shared curiosity.”
Go do a Google search right now. Look at the pictures of the participants. Notice something? It’s not just old folks. People from their 30s to their 80s—with a heavy tilt toward the middle-aged, who will be burying their parents sooner, not later—are there. Get over the idea that “only old folks want to talk about this.” It isn’t true. If there’s a death cafe in your community, your FCA peers and you should be there yesterday. And if there isn’t, what an opportunity! Start one right away.
- Death and Daiquiris—or donuts, or dim sum. Host a brunch and bill it as a relaxed meal where people can ask any question they want about the end of life and meet others with similar concerns. Members of the FCA of Eastern Massachusetts along with their pals into green burial and family-directed funerals host a regular get-together called Ghoulfriends with food, wine, movies, and sometimes a sleepover (I’ve been and it’s super-fun). Or, have a pot luck with a funereal theme. I’ve been meaning to do this myself, so I may as well write out the invitation here:
You are gathered here. . . well, you will be gathered here unless you want to miss Dishes to Die For! You all know I talk about death for a living. You also know I like to cook (and we all like to eat and party). So join me at [address] on [date] for an evening of funeral food-n-follies. Bring a dish to pass-on and your funniest or strangest story from family funerals past. No story too morbid, no joke too irreverent! THRILL to the tale of Grandma Slocum’s viewing just days after her grandchildren gave her a homemade haircut! CHILL as I recount the hilarious hijinks of her final conveyance. . . into the wrong grave!
I’ll lay the groundwork for the festivities with the tuna-macaroni salad that gets brought out every time a Slocum dies (we do make a fresh one each time). Bring your own family’s favorite “bereavement casserole” and join me for a casket-side chat. Wine will flow freely and there will be plenty of non-alcoholic refreshments, too.
Be there or you’re dead to me.
You can think up any number of creative and affordable ways to have fun and do some serious work, too. Invite your membership and ask them to bring a friend! Evite.com is a great way to send invitations, and you should definitely spread the word on Facebook.
Got a good idea or a question? Leave a comment below the article—thanks!