Boards and Fundraising: Both Reasonable and Unreasonable.

I’m often asked by frazzled executive directors and well-meaning board members whether it’s reasonable or unreasonable to expect everyboard member to be involved in fundraising.  My answer is yes.
How can we have it both ways?  We have to define our terms. A nonprofit board has a special fiduciary role and responsibility to assure fulfillment of the organization’s mission.  Money must come in the doors. A wonderful series of articles on financing not fundraising your organization (Social Velocity Blog) clues us in to the advantage of making our definition of “bringing money in the door” very broad.
If we give our board members reachable goals they’re more likely to attain them.
Let’s start with the fact that board members wear two gloves: (1) the glove of the board as a whole, and (2) the glove of the individual board member.  Wearing the board glove, the responsibility is to make governance decisions (the “talk”).  Wearing the member glove, the responsibility is to act in a manner to assure the board’s decisions are carried out (the “walk”).
If these do not go hand in hand, the organization will operate at a severe handicap.
How do we hearten board members to “talk” and “walk” at the same time?  

We must give voice to what’s in our hearts.
We start by helping them find their voice .  I like to connect/reconnect folks to their passion for the mission.  Help them find the fire in their belly that inspires philanthropy. What drew them to the organization? What stories inspired them? What values are they invested in furthering? How is our organization helping them feel better about themselves and their contribution to society? Sure, there are some who just want to pad their resume. But more often than not this is just an accusation leveled by a staff that is not doing its job to engage its board. Like anyone else, boards need to be nurtured and coached. Otherwise, it’s unreasonable to ask them to go to bat.  
Most board members truly want to be helpful. 
We have to learn to walk
Next, we help them find accessible ways they can take a stand.  Of course, we need them all to be involved in helping us raise more money. Money is what makes the nonprofit viable. It’s reasonable to put this responsibility on all members, rather than excusing those who say they don’t like to ask. There is more than one way to skin this cat.
For some excellent resources on a range of “ambassador”, “advocate” and “asking” strategies, check out:
If we think big, we can achieve the implausible.
Also, we need to put financing/fundraising within a larger strategic context.  If the board doesn’t see the big picture, they’re going to think too small. Small brings us down rather than lifting us up. It limits our vision and potential. Engage the board in strategic planning retreats (once every three years is good). It’s reasonable to expect the board to help raise funds to fulfill directions they’ve authorized.
If they create the plan they will be more invested in seeing it through to fruition.
Most important? Respectfully and persuasively secure a passionate gift from every board memberIt’s reasonable to stick to the adage that if you’re going to preach religion you have to get religion.  If someone is serving on a board, and not making a stretch gift that is significant to them, then they shouldn’t be on the board.  They should volunteer or join a committee or just be a donor (and all of these are laudable ways to be involved).  Because if boards don’t walk the talk, how can’t they expect to persuade anyone else to do so? 
Mahatma Gandhi said “you must be the change you wish to see in the world.”
What’s your biggest challenge in involving your board – and every member – in financing/fundraising?
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About Claire

I’m Claire and I want to help you raise more money, reach more people and build long-lasting relationships with your supporters. Take a look in the archives.


  1. Anonymous says:

    Claire: Well said. I like this better than the succinct and rougher phrase: "Give, Get, or Get Off." I first heard that 20 years ago and was startled by the bluntness — no doubt, the desired effect. But, hopefully, in that time Board members, who still may need regular reminders, have evolved to the point where your more nuanced message is the right approach. Thanks, David

  2. Thanks for the comment David
    It certainly shouldn't be about beating each other up. It's a partnership. And it starts from a place of love ( or it should). It's up to staff and board governance/ nominating committees to assure expectations are alligned and that a board development plan is in place to help the love to blossom.

  3. I like the continuum of roles offered–from ambassador, advocate to an "asker". With the right training & support from staff,one could start as an ambassador and eventually move into the role of an "asker".

  4. Thanks Diana. And you're right about it being a continuum, although not always a strictly linear one. I find board members are often more comfortable when you used the terms "ambassador" and "advocate", yet they soon grow comfortable with "asking" once they've gotten out there and seen how much fun it is to exchange their passions with other like-minded folks. In fact, sometimes it even feels awkward not to ask!

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