Don’t Rely on Board Members for Fundraising


If you opened this blog to read how to berate or encourage your board to go out and do more fundraising for your organization, you’ll find yourself disappointed.

Tips on ways to get your board more involved in fundraising abound, including in this blog series, pointing to the dissatisfaction most development professionals have with their boards when it comes to resource development. In fact, in a recent survey conducted for the Chronicle of Philanthropy and Association of Fundraising Professionals, 36% of fundraisers expressed dissatisfaction with their board’s support of fundraising.

Why the dissatisfaction?

I think development professionals have unrealistic expectations of their boards when it comes to their fundraising and development role.

Let me explain the evolution of my thinking on this topic to arrive at this conclusion.

A few years ago, a friend of mine who serves on several nonprofit boards and has worked in development for numerous nonprofits, commented, “I’m tired of fundraisers blaming their lack of success on their board’s unwillingness to fundraise.” How many times have I also heard that excuse? More than I can count. Hmmm. Maybe she uncovered something here.

Fast forward to earlier this year. I attended a seminar and the speaker more boldly said “Fundraising is not the board’s job.” Whaaaat??? That goes against everything I ever learned. This person seemed knowledgeable. Did I hear him correctly or had he fallen off his rocker?

Then, I attended BoardSource training for nonprofit board consultants and got the best explanation I have ever heard on this topic. The board creates the strategic direction for the organization and assures that it has the resources needed to carry out its mission effectively; staff implement programs using those resources to achieve that strategic direction. As a programs, development falls under the purview of staff. Wow! That makes more sense. And the more I thought about it, the more sense it made.

I believe that most staff have defined “assure the organization’s resources” to mean that the board has to actually raise the money. Instead, this view says that “resources” means that the board provides adequate personnel, budget, and support for the staff who go out and raise the money needed to achieve the organization’s mission and vision. Obviously, this only applies to boards that have staff; on an all-volunteer board, all board members have to fundraise or no money comes in.

Before my fundraising friends and colleagues disown me or think I’ve gone off the deep end, think about it for a minute.

Do you really think your average board member – with little or no experience or knowledge of development practices – can do your job as effectively as you can?

You bring the expertise of the profession; knowledge of your organization, programs, needs, and donors; and ethical standards to your position and organization. No board member can replace that. Do you want him or her to? I don’t!

That said, board members play a very important role in assuring the success of the development operations of the organization. What can they do?

1.     Give staff the resources they need to do their jobs. Staff need time, money, plans, and prospects to successfully develop relationships and raise money for your organization.

  • Assure that you have enough staff to succeed; lumping development with others tasks short changes the amount of time they can spend building relationships. If they work on development only part-time, assure your expectations match your investment.

  • They also need a travel and entertainment budget, professional development funds and time, and a salary commensurate with their responsibilities and experience.

  • Finally, they need something for which to fundraise. Here, the board’s role in strategic planning comes into play. Any development professional will tell you that they can raise funds for an exciting organizational vision much more easily than for “same old, same old.” That does not mean that you should create programs just to raise money, but having a plan demonstrates the strategic direction for the organization which makes fundraising much easier.

2.     Actively advocate for the organization. People give to people. Your board members serve as your most important advocates for your mission and the quality of your programs. As I often tell organizations, staff get paid to love the organization; board members come to that love genuinely. They can spread the word and help people – potential donors – see the value of investing in the organization.

3.     Introduce others to the organization. Board members often have a network that differs from the development professional’s network or those people already familiar with the organization. Invite people from within your network to the organization’s programs, events, or other opportunities to see their good work.

4.     Accompany staff to meet with and solicit prospects. Most successful cultivation and solicitation meetings include both a staff person and a volunteer. Even if board members do not ask for gifts themselves (and some will do so successfully), their presence and testimonials at solicitation and pre-solicitation meetings can reap great rewards. People give to people. As a peer who the organization does not pay to love it, your words can carry more weight.

5.     Recognize development as a profession and the hard work of your staff fulfilling this role. Thank them for their hard work, personally and publicly. Development professionals often work behind the scenes; they enjoy some recognition – especially from the board – for the things their hard work allows the organization to accomplish.

Successful organizational development – fundraising – exists as a partnership between the staff charged with that function and the board. Staff bring expertise and organization; board members bring connections and testimonials. When we start to see the board’s role as such, perhaps then both can work together more harmoniously for the benefit of the client served.