Board members are morally and legally accountable for the health of your nonprofit organization, including financial sustainability. It is therefore imperative that Board members are engaged in fundraising. It’s not just another good idea; it’s their ultimate responsibility. It is essential not only to an organization’s success but to its very existence. Without fundraising, organizations would cease to exist.
We know for certain that a highly engaged Board ultimately leads to more successful fundraising efforts and greater investment in fund development as a whole. With resulting support and greater investment, fundraising revenues will begin to soar. In fact, research suggests that nonprofits with engaged boards are 17% more likely to increase fundraising revenue and 7% more likely to reach annual fundraising goals (Thomas, 2013).
Without this engagement, your organization will lack a strong culture of philanthropy and, as a result, the fundraiser will not be supported in their role, instead left alone to meet high expectations without understanding.
Therefore, taking action to engage your Board members as active and engaged ambassadors within fundraising is key.
Below, we’ll walk you through five concrete strategies you can use to activate your Board members as effective fundraisers using a number of strategies aimed to increase their engagement in fundraising campaigns overall.
1. Find the Right Fit
Typically, we think of Board members as being involved in fundraising initiatives by reaching out to potential donors, assisting with thank-you notes, and making phone calls. However, such activities might not be happening as often as expected. A study completed by the Stanford Graduate School of Business, in collaboration with BoardSource and GuideStar, found that out of 924 surveyed directors of nonprofit organizations, only 45% of nonprofits require directors to fundraise on behalf of the organization (Larcker et al., 2015)).
BoardSource’s Leading with Intent: 2017 National Index of Nonprofit Board Practices (2017), found that out of more than 1,700 nonprofit organization leaders surveyed when fundraising expectations are clearly articulated during recruitment, only 52% of chief executives report that their Boards are actively engaged in the organization’s fundraising efforts. Of further concern is the fact that, when fundraising expectations are not clearly articulated during recruitment, only 12% of executives report that their boards are actively engaged in fundraising efforts. In addition, this same report revealed that, overall, only 40% of organizations could say that their Board was actively participating in fundraising versus relying mostly on the CEO and staff.
This situation may occur if your Board does not have the right Board members for successful fundraising. It all starts with relevant recruitment and savvy screening at the start. Make sure your Board members are the right fit for your nonprofit by:
- Developing a formal recruitment process
- Identifying the skill sets needed by your organization and assessing those already on board
- Proactively recruiting new prospective members based on those previously identified skill sets
- Interviewing and screening of candidates
- Reviewing your organization with the candidate
- Considering what the candidate is willing to bring to the board
- Having the Board member sign a member contract
- Conducting performance reviews
If organizations do not follow the recruitment and screening steps outlined above, they may find themselves with Board members who are a poor match. Circumventing any of the above steps will result in Board members that either does not have the right skill set, have not been oriented properly to their role, or were screened before being asked to serve.
If an organization does all of the above but fails to complete an assessment or performance review of the Board as a collective and/or individual Board member, this will inevitably lead to the perpetuation of disengaged Board members.
A yearly self-assessment of both the Board as a collective and individual Board member allows the Board to be critically honest about its performance. Underperforming Board members will often be able to address their performance as a mere fact of the findings. Other times, the Board Chair and other Board members may meet with identified Board members to discuss their performance candidly and to determine if and how the Board member may become more engaged or not. In many cases, Board members already know that they are being deficient in their roles and will graciously accept an offer to “bow out” of their service.
For Boards to be fully engaged and functioning, it is crucial that they must engage not only in composition analysis, screening, orientation, expectation setting, etc., but they must all regularly conduct a self-appraisal both of the Board as a collective and its members individually.
Conduct a yearly self-appraisal of your Board and watch your Board level engagement and involvement skyrocket.
2. Set Fundraising Expectations
According to Rachel Muir in her Bloomerang Blog titled, “Why Your Board Isn’t Fundraising and How to Fix It,” (2018) some boards fail in fundraising because of a simple lack of direction from their nonprofit. Communication right from the start is critical: nonprofits must provide job descriptions and clarify their fundraising expectations.
Have you offered “job” training, education, and support? Board members can’t raise funds if they don’t know how!
Implement a formal orientation program for each new and current Board member each year to share with them not only information about the organization, including its mission and financials but also expectations for fundraising.
For instance, you may want to share your annual fundraising plan to ensure that everyone recognizes all of your fundraising goals and objectives, plus offer training on donor motivations, trends in fundraising, and best practices.
Your Board members are some of the most valuable assets to your organization’s fundraising success. While not technically employees, the role of Board members in your nonprofit’s success isn’t any less crucial.
In fact, as the legal, fiduciary, and moral vanguard of the organization, your Board of Directors probably holds the most important job in the entire organization. It is the guardian of the organization’s mission and works to ensure that the organization is healthy and effective. It also strives to ensure the vision of the organization and its future direction. While staff oversees the day-to-day operations and management, Boards oversee the governance of the organization and its due diligence (Joyaux, 2013).
Consider devising an ongoing professional development program for Board members by identifying and providing them with the training necessary for them to successfully engage in fundraising. For instance, each year, as part of its self-assessment process outlined above, the Board would determine areas of strength and weakness. As a result, the Board could then pinpoint the skill sets that need bolstering and proactively develop a professional development plan to raise awareness about the identified skill gaps. Professional development may be conducted by an outside trainer, for example, on Board governance or fundraising, or other topics relevant to the Board’s professional development plan.
Research shows that the most significant impediments to successful board engagement in fundraising are due to two very relatable feelings: fear and inexperience (Bullock, 2009; Axelrad, 2019). Don’t leave it up to your Board members by generically saying, “We hope you will play an active role in fundraising for the organization.” Be specific about setting expectations and helping them reach those goals for their engaged participation in fundraising.
3. Get to Know Your Board Members
Like any relationship, engagement begins with connection. A positive culture, collaboration, and consensus are all keys to a successful nonprofit.
According to BoardEffect (Eisenstein, 2019), Board cultures are the most significant indicators of Board engagement. The more numerous and stronger the professional relationships between Board members, the more deeply they are likely to be engaged as a Board. Further, Board leaders who are motivated and encouraged are better able to lead an organization to success. When Board members have a good conversation, take action, and make decisions together, plus have debates that are robust and respectful, Board engagement is at its pinnacle.
One of the greatest issues remains is that Board members do not know how to build these relationships themselves and depend on staff to enable them to do so. Nonprofit executives are able to build these stronger Board relationships by providing Board members with information about programs and operations, as well as the context within which they operate. This creates value and networks with individual Board members, equipping all involved to be open about mistakes and problems, and invite constructive feedback (Haden, 2013).
One way to foster great relationships among your Board members—and boost fundraising success—is to provide essential Board retreats. Retreats can recharge your team, refocus your organization’s goals, and help you to plan effectively.
During the retreat (which ideally should occur at least once a year), it is essential to sit down individually with each board member to share how they can be most helpful based on their talents and availability.
4. Treat Your Board Members Like Donors
Just as you would with any of your other supporters, you can and should take steps to cultivate your Board members as fundraisers. They are and should be some of your top donors. Make every effort possible to help them feel appreciated and to share the latest from your organization.
Be sure to set a personal fundraising goal with each Board member. Each Board member must make a financial contribution to support the organization. An organization must have 100% Board giving as a demonstration of commitment to the mission of the organization.
Once a Board member has given, you must also steward that relationship with them as well. Savvy organizations will also report back to Board members regarding the impact of their giving, allowing them to become further engaged as donors by becoming charitable ambassadors. Personally thanking them for their gifts in ways that are meaningful and personal to the Board member is an excellent initiative.
In some cases, in some organizations, Board members are the largest donors of all and they should be treated as such.
5. Build a Board Fundraising Plan
Board members have many roles to play in fundraising. They are not limited purely to the solicitation of donors. So, it is crucial to provide them with training and education from the start about the different aspects of the fundraising cycle. This should include key topics such as donor identification, cultivation, solicitation, and stewardship.
First, begin by developing a selection of opportunities that Board members can engage in that don’t involve soliciting funds.
Think of options such as:
- Making thank you calls at particular times of the year, such as Thanksgiving or even Giving Tuesday. While this is perhaps the simplest way to engage your Board members in the fundraising cycle, it also probably has the reach to be the most impactful one. Donors who are properly stewarded are more apt to give again and to give in larger amounts.
- Acting as an Ambassador during your upcoming gala fundraising event. Events are such a natural part of all of our organizations, so why not use a Board member’s time and expertise to serve as an ambassador at your upcoming event? Through such actions, they are in essence cultivating prospective event attendees to become donors.
- Hosting a tour of your organization. There could be nothing more mission-impactful than showing potential donors what your organization achieves and how. This is, even more, the case if the Board member invites friends and members from their own network who may be interested in learning more about the organization.
- Reviewing grant and foundation lists to identify possible networked connections. We often think that foundations and grants are not dominated by relationships; in essence, they actually are. The relationship behind a proposal is often what leads to its funding. Working with Board members to identify potential relationships with funding sources could make all the difference between a proposal being tossed into the “file” or being awarded.
- Recruiting other prospective Board members who meet the identified skill sets needed by the organization. Done strategically, Board recruitment can be the game-changer between a high-performing and underperforming Board. Recruitment can be one of the most important actions that a Board member can take in service to fundraising if done strategically with the Board’s specific requirements in mind.
Also, work to ensure that your Board members have the tools and support that they need in advance before they become engaged in your fundraising efforts. Check that they know about the expectations of fundraising, that they have a proper orientation to the organization’s mission, and that they are provided with the programmatic and financial information necessary to fulfill their role through a Board manual. Additionally, as noted previously, ongoing Board professional development is key to having an engaged and active Board of Directors.
Empowering Board members to maximize their potential is a critical responsibility of staff, including fundraising staff and the CEO/ED. As Jouyaux (2009) points out, actions that enable Board members include: transmitting your organization’s values; respecting and using their skills, expertise, and experience; providing direction and resources; removing barriers and helping to develop skills; articulating expectations and helping to clarify roles, question assumptions and ask strategic questions; ensuring quality decision-making; anticipating conflicts and facilitating resolution; and encouraging volunteers to use their power, model behavior, and coach people to success; etc.
Most importantly, don’t forget to recognize your Board members’ contributions and a job well done! Just as you would acknowledge your donors it is just as important—if not more—to recognize your Board members whenever they have successfully engaged in fundraising.
The key to any nonprofit’s fundraising success starts at the top—with your Board of Directors. Help your Board take your nonprofit’s fundraising to the next level by choosing the right fit, giving them the tools that they need to be successful, and making it fun so they’ll be motivated to stay engaged.
Here are the key steps you need to take to supercharge your board for fundraising success:
- Recruit the right Board members from the start;
- Set expectations before prospective Board members accept the role;
- Orient and train your Board members so they feel comfortable and prepared;
- Ensure that there is a schedule of ongoing professional development for Board members year-round;
- Get to know your Board members and what makes them tick;
- Work to instill the mission into Board meetings to keep them from getting “boring;”
- Develop a Fundraising Committee of the Board and identify a “Fundraising Champion;”
- Cultivate Board members like you would your best donors;
- Develop personal fundraising goals for each of your Board members; and
- Develop a fundraising plan for each Board member that includes both ask and non-ask strategies.
Axelrad, Claire. (2019). “4 Strategies to Overcome Fear of Fundraising.” GuideStar Blog. February 20, 2020. https://trust.guidestar.org/4-strategies-to-overcome-fear-of-fundraising
BoardSource. (2017). “Leading with Intent: 2017 National Index of Nonprofit Board Practices.” February 20, 2020, https://leadingwithintent.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/11/LWI-2017.pdf?utm_referrer=https%3A%2F%2Fleadingwithintent.org%2F
Bullock, Kirsten M. (2009). “Engaging Your Board in Fundraising: Overcoming Fears.” Bullock Consulting Inc. February 20, 2020, https://bullockconsulting.net/engaging-your-board-in-fundraising-overcoming-fears/
Eisenstein, Lena. (2019). “How to Build Healthy Relationships Between Board Members.” BoardEffect. February 20, 2020, https://www.boardeffect.com/blog/how-build-healthy-relationships-between-board-members/
Haden, Jeff. (2013). “How to Establish a Great Relationship With Your Board.” Inc. February 20, 2020, https://www.inc.com/jeff-haden/how-to-establish-a-great-relationship-with-your-board.html
Joyaux, Simone. (2009). “Enabling Your Board Members and Other Fundraising Volunteers.” Nonprofit Quarterly. February 20, 2020, https://nonprofitquarterly.org/unraveling-development-enabling-your-board-members-and-other-fundraising-volunteers/
Joyaux, Simone P. (2013). “Role of the Board; Job Description of the Board.” Joyaux Associates. February 20, 2020, https://www.simonejoyaux.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/10/Role-of-the-board.pdf
Larcker, D.F., Donatiello N.E., Meehan, B., and Tayan, B. (2015). “2015 Survey on Board of Directors of Nonprofit Organizations.” Stanford GSB, Rock Center for Corporate Governance, BoardSource, and GuideStar. February 20, 2020, https://www.gsb.stanford.edu/faculty-research/publications/2015-survey-board-directors-nonprofit-organizations
Muir, Rachel. (2018). “Why Your Board Isn’t Fundraising and How to Fix It.” Bloomerang. February 20, 2020, https://bloomerang.co/blog/why-your-board-isnt-fundraising-and-how-to-fix-it/
Thomas, Devin. (2013). “Is My Board of Directors Fundraising Enough? How to Engage Your Board.” [Infographic]. Nonprofit Hub. February 20, 2020, https://nonprofithub.org/board-of-directors/board-of-directors-fundraising-infographic/
Are you ready to boost your bottom line by getting your Board on board?
For more on how to keep your Board Members happy, active, and engaged in bringing in those BIG donor dollars, see the CharityHowTo top-rated step-by-step guide: How to Create an Engaged Board of Directors, or even better yet, consider one of these top training webinars on Nonprofit Board Governance and Management with bonus resources and advice on how to get your Board to give their most significant gifts!
About The Author Robin Cabral
Robin Cabral, MA, CFRE, MFIA serves fundraising professionals and executive directors new to fundraising, wanting to excel in their fundraising role or advance in their career. She provides proven fundraising strategies, tactics, and tools including coaching, training, and content for fundraising success.