When it comes to fundraising, many non-profits feel frustrated with their boards of directors. They know that the board could be very helpful with development, but believe that the members of the board are too focused on other areas or are otherwise under-performing.
Likewise, many nonprofit board members feel resentful when it comes to fundraising… they make a gift to the organization every year, sell tickets to the annual gala, and generally try to be helpful. Why, then, does the development director come to board meetings and constantly beg the board to do more? Most board members don’t feel comfortable making large direct asks… yet they feel like the fundraising team won’t be happy until they do.
In my experience, both board members and the fundraising staff have the best interests of the organization at heart. Both want the same thing: to see the nonprofit succeed, do more good, and help more people. So why is there such a disconnect when it comes to board fundraising? Generally, the disconnect comes about because of a misunderstanding, on both sides, about the proper role of the board when it comes to fund development.
The Proper Fundraising Role of Nonprofit Board Members
When it comes to fundraising, your nonprofit board members have several key roles.
First, every board member should be a donor to the organization. Your nonprofit should be able to say that it reaches 100% board giving, each and every year. The best way to achieve this is to explain to your board the importance of 100% board giving and to run an annual board giving campaign.
The second key fundraising role of your nonprofit board is as fundraising visionaries. Your board members should set ambitious goals for your programs, and for fund development. Then, your board should make sure your fundraising team has the resources, staff, budget, and time it needs to achieve these goals.
The third key role of your board when it comes to fundraising is as fundraising support. Many board members love to play supporting roles in development. This includes making thank you calls, attending non-ask events, and helping find silent auction items for your next gala. Make sure to utilize board members who enjoy providing this support to your fundraising program.
The fourth, and most important fundraising role for your nonprofit board members is to serve as fundraising ambassadors for your organization. This means that your nonprofit board should be out in the community talking about the organization, and making connections for your fundraising team.
This doesn’t necessarily mean making asks – most board members won’t feel comfortable making asks. Instead, your nonprofit board should talk with their friends, family, colleagues, partners, vendor, clients, and neighbors to tell them about your organization’s vision, mission, and programs. And then – and this is the key part – your board should be introducing those connections to your development staff. Your team can then cultivate those connections and build relationships before making asks.
Of course, board members who want to make asks can do so… but your nonprofit board shouldn’t feel pressured to make asks. If they are, it will lead to frustration on both sides as the board fails to make the asks the staff assumes they will pursue.
Getting Outside Your Comfort Zone
Supercharging your nonprofit board fundraising will require both the staff and the board to step outside their comfort zones. The staff will need to resist the urge to rely on the board to make asks, and instead appreciate and support board members in making introductions for the team.
This change includes ensuring that staff members don’t come to board meetings to beg board members for new names or to bring in new checks by certain deadlines. Instead, they should come to board meetings to celebrate the introductions being made, and to offer easy ways for board members to make connections, including offering several non-ask events per year. Board members can use these non-ask events as easy, low-pressure introductory events for their friends and colleagues.
Board members will need to step outside their comfort zones as well. Many nonprofit board members have tuned out of fundraising. They figure that since the staff wants them to bring in big checks, and they can’t (or won’t) be making big asks, they can just forget about fundraising and focus on governance, marketing, and other board activities.
Your board members will need to get tuned back in to fund development. If they are uncomfortable introducing your organization to their connections, your staff should teach them how to talk about your work. Board members will then need to practice, and get over their unease.
Your nonprofit board can and should be a powerful resource for your fundraising program. Every nonprofit board member should be both a donor and a fundraising ambassador for your organization.
Photo Credit: tec-estromberg