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I have heard many nonprofit executive directors and fundraisers say, “My board just won’t do any fundraising.” I’ve also heard, “My board doesn’t understand anything about fundraising.” Both of these statements may be accurate, but it is also true that part of nonprofit professionals’ jobs are to arm board members with the tools they need to comfortably play a part in the fundraising process. It is also your job to appropriately set expectations and show gratitude to board members in the same ways you do for donors. You can’t just say, “We need you to fundraise,” without any supporting tools, information or encouragement.
Recruit and Set Expectations for Board Members
The first step in involving board trustees in fundraising to support the mission of your organization is to recruit members strategically all year round, and to appropriately set expectations for what is expected during board service.
In addition to general board services expectations, there are a few fundraising-related expectations that should be covered during the recruitment process, so that your organization and the prospective trustee can each determine if the situation is right for you. Your nonprofit should ask that:
- The prospect can truthfully say that your organization will be one of their top three philanthropic priorities during their time on your board.
- They will make a personal, annual financial gift to the organization and actively participate in fundraising for the organization. In other words, “Give AND Get”.
- Actively participate in creating a Culture of Philanthropy in the organization; understand and share the message that positive fundraising to support the optimal level of operations is the responsibility of everyone at the organization, both staff and board.
Train and Prepare Board Members
Too often, as soon as people join the board of directors, nonprofits expect them to jump headlong into fundraising. You want them to know how to do it, when to do it, but to not get in the staff’s way while doing it. These are not reasonable expectations, and when you do this, you set the trustees up for failure.
What you should do during the orientation process is make training about fundraising and the board’s responsibility in fundraising one of the main topics.
1. Share the Organization’s Fundraising Strategy
For example, do you focus on major gifts, grassroots appeals, grants or other methods of fund development?
2. Explain Where Board Members Fit in the Picture
In governance, we ask that board members focus on strategy and not on day-to-day operations and management. The same is true in fundraising. As an example, we do want board members to review our development plan to see if there are any areas of question or concern. But we don’t want them to approve the verbiage used in a direct mail piece or to choose the vendor we use to send that mail appeal.
15 Helpful Fundraising Actions Board Members Can Make
It can be very helpful to provide board members (and prospective members) with ideas for what they can do to be a part of the fundraising process. It is important to ask that they do these things in concert with the paid fundraising staff. Fundraising is an art and a science, and we want to ensure that all the pieces of our fund development puzzle fit together smoothly.
Here is a non-exhaustive list of actions board members can take to help with fundraising. Notice that the ask is not a part of every item on the list. Some of the fear people have about fundraising is due to the erroneous idea that it is only about the ask and nothing else.
- Learn the organizational talking points. Make sure they know how to tell the story of the mission.
- Make a financial gift — at an amount significant to them — to the organization. In order to ask people to invest in the organization, they must be able to say they have already done so.
- Talk to people in the community about the organization and why they are involved.
- Share the names of people they are willing to introduce to the organization, and set up a time for them to meet with the executive director or CEO.
- Host small gatherings in their home to engage with new or major donors. Consider inviting the executive director or CEO.
- Work with leadership to determine if they know any top prospects. If so, facilitate a meeting to engage them.
- Join or help create the development committee that shares responsibility for fundraising with the staff and champions the need for board members to be involved in fundraising.
- Work with the development department’s or organization’s leadership to identify goals for each prospect or donor meeting to which they are assigned.
- Go with a staff representative to a meeting with a prospect or donor.
- Represent the organization by wearing their board of directors’ name tag out to community events, such as chamber of commerce lunches.
- Connect the organization with resources, such as PR companies, marketing firms, elected officials, etc.
- Make thank-you calls or write thank-you notes to donors. (A staff member should supply the information, but the dollar amount of the gift should be omitted.)
- Help recruit other board members who are willing to make a financial gift and participate in the fundraising process.
- Give community presentations about or guide tours of the nonprofit.
- Be vocal about their giving. It is not bragging. It actually encourages others to give.
Fundraising to support the mission of an organization should be as important to every board member as it is to the nonprofit’s staff. But it is the staff’s job to provide trustees with the training, ideas and support they need to be confident participants in the fundraising process.
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