Engaging (Rather Than Estranging) Your Board in Fundraising

Tracy Kaufman (Network Engagement Manager, Candid), First Republic Bank
February 10, 2022

If your board members haven't been as involved in fundraising as you need them to be, you’re far from alone. The 2018 report “A Study of Nonprofit Leadership in the US and Its Impending Crisis” found the overall state of board fundraising to be underwhelming. 

Among its findings, the report notes that many boards “seem unwilling or unable to play an active role and fundraising seems largely regarded as a narrow functional specialism rather than everyone’s responsibility.”

When considering fundraising from the board’s perspective, however, there are often legitimate reasons that board members hesitate to raise money. If those reasons are addressed head on the problem can be remedied.

When examining your board’s level of involvement in fundraising, here are three fundamental questions to ask that may help turn the situation around:

Do board members understand that it’s their responsibility?

Sometimes, out of eagerness to build their board, organizations can be a little too quick to add a new board member, without first having a truly thorough discussion with the incoming board member about all of the duties that come with their new role.

Similarly, a person may be enamored with the idea of becoming a board member, and agree to join a board without a full understanding of the responsibilities to which they’re committing taking on.

As with any new relationship, be sure to ask: Are we on the same page? Once someone is officially on your board, it can be hard to remove them if it turns out they’re not as good a fit as you'd hoped.

Before a new board member joins, don’t leave anything unsaid. Take the time to explain what your organization expects of its board, including specific fundraising duties and what kinds of tasks those duties entail.

The new board member should be informed of and prepared to meet these expectations before committing to join. After joining, they should be onboarded with both verbal and written overviews of their roles and responsibilities. 

Have they been trained?

Your current board members may have ample experience with fundraising. Prospective board members, however, may be newcomers to fundraising. This could lead to new members feeling nervous and unmoored when confronted with a new duty that tests them in a major way.

Feeling confident and well equipped to handle a task helps us move quickly and effectively as we’re more likely to procrastinate and avoid the tasks we find difficult. The good thing is that fundraising is a skill that can absolutely be taught.

It's up to you and your board to provide members with training that strengthens their professional development in fundraising. Proper training can give your board members, both new and old, the ability to do a great job without any sense of worry or dread.

Can they adapt to the world of fundraising?

Fundraising should be enjoyable and not feel like something they desperately want to avoid. Board members should be actively engaged in fundraising in a way that feels right and plays to their strong suits. For some board members, this can include using their own financial resources to give significant contributions. However, their contribution shouldn't be the only fundraising work they do.

There are several ways that board members can fundraise beyond personal contributions:

  • One way is to reach out to their friends and colleagues. They can make introductions between their network and your organization, sharing their passion for your mission or programs and highlighting what a donation to your organization means.
  • Another way is to thank existing donors — it’s a low-pressure assignment that doesn’t require asking for money. Stewardship is one of the most important ways to retain donors over time.
  • Board members can invite their friends to your events. This is another low-pressure way of expanding your pool of prospects.
  • For introverted board members, they can help fundraise by researching and writing grant proposals.

Ensuring that your board knows that they have options can improve their comfort with joining and participating in fundraising for your nonprofit.

Engaging your board

All in all, an organization whose board is fully engaged in fundraising will be more successful and financially sustainable. As you build and interact with your board, consider the reasons that board members may be less engaged with the process. There are many ways to nurture their confidence and skills so they can become successful fundraisers. By keeping the earlier questions in mind, you can help each board member find their perfect path forward.