Ask a Nonprofit Specialist: Engaging the board of directors in fundraising
Question: My board of directors is not effective at raising funds to support our organization. Many members seem afraid of the issue and say things like “I will do anything but fundraise.” How do I get them involved?
Effectively engaging board members in fundraising is a very common challenge for nonprofit organizations. Many board members are unaware of their responsibilities to fundraise or feel inadequate in meeting the challenge. Others may have had bad experiences or have misconceptions about fundraising. While it can be difficult to engage board members in fundraising, there are a few steps that will help ease the way, build confidence and improve effectiveness.
Set clear expectations
Start by setting clear expectations about the board of directors and individual members’ roles and responsibilities for fundraising. Evaluate your board’s current perception on its fundraising role. If it is vague or undeveloped, work with the board leadership to define and elaborate on expectations. This may require education and plans for overcoming obstacles. It may be helpful to share information about a nonprofit board of directors’ two essential financial responsibilities:
- Ensure assets are protected and used to support the organization’s charitable purpose in compliance with regulations and standards
- Make certain the organization has sufficient resources to fulfill the organizational mission, otherwise known as fundraising and resource development.
The Board Sources’ Ten Basic Responsibilities of Nonprofit Boards is a useful tool in affirming other board responsibilities.
It is important to cultivate advocates among board members to help make a fundraising priority. Organizations should also set concrete expectations for the board collectively and individual members’ responsibilities and incorporate these into board recruitment, orientation, and training. Some organizations have a “give or get” expectation that board members donate or raise a specific amount of money, which is a very clear way of setting expectations.
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Provide training and connection to the mission
Effective fundraising training should enhance Board members’ understanding that raising funds is an important component of championing your organization within the community. As such, training should include facilitating board members’ personal connection to your organization’s mission. Invite members to a tour of your program so they can see your work in action and maybe speak directly to those who benefit. If that is impractical, bring your program to the board at a meeting, not just in numbers and written reports, but in real stories of your organization’s impact.
Your fundraising training should be aligned with your organization’s specific plans and provide the means for board members to turn their new found “champion fundraiser” status into practical efforts. For example, a common strategy used by many boards to raise funds is to prepare a list of personal contacts and reach out via mail, social media, and phone calls or in person. In order to do this confidently, board members need organizational information and the ability to speak from the heart and mind about your efforts. So, part of your training could involve engaging Board members in finding their voice in telling the story of your organization.
Whatever specific fundraising plans are set, board members will benefit from training on engagement and cultivation of potential donors. Effective resource development requires successful engagement and cultivation of potential and existing funding sources from an ever expanding circle of supporters and stake holders, and board members play a key role in this process. As the organization’s champions, members can effectively engage those who believe in your organization’s mission. This may include family and friends, but also people touched by the mission, those served, and those who are supportive of your efforts.
A great way for someone to learn about your organization is through a relationship with another who already supports and is engaged in the organization, and who is better equipped for this role than a member of the board of directors?
Establish concrete tools, plans and support
Charging the board with fundraising responsibilities without reasonable plans and support is likely to doom your efforts. Instead, determine how the board could most successfully engage in fundraising and make plans to support the members in this effort. With a goal to create sustainable long term results, start small to build individual and collective confidence.
Suppose you offer program tours as a first step in engaging potential donors and ask your board members to invite guests. “I don’t know who to invite,” is a common refrain and obstacle. So, instead of simply asking board members to bring people to the tours, brainstorm with them on all the connections each person may have with individuals that may share an investment in the mission and would be excited to come on a tour. You might be able to help them remember that casual conversation on the golf course with someone who cares about your organization’s issue and who would likely love to come on a tour and ultimately donate to the organization. These individual connections are the foundation of sustainable fundraising success, but the Board will need assistance in linking individual connections into a larger organizational fundraising plan and vice verse.
Together, setting expectations, providing training and concrete plans with support will go a long way in engaging board members in fundraising.
- The ASU Lodestar Center’s Nonprofit Management Institute offers great training for nonprofit professionals and volunteers in Board governance and fundraising, with online and in-person classes coming up soon.
- Our Effective Motivated Board Governance Training is available to come to your organization.
- Check out our Frequently Asked Questions section on our webpage for information on nonprofit management issues.
- You are also welcome to pose your own question to the nonprofit specialist.
At age 23, Anne Byrne was the founding executive director of Denver’s rape crisis center, an organization that continues to flourish today, over 28 years later. Byrne went on to build a nationally recognized, multi-site summer and after school tutoring program for inner city youth. With 25 years of experience as an executive director of emerging nonprofit organizations, Byrne brings valuable expertise and perspective to the ASU Lodestar Center's "Ask the Nonprofit Specialists."