One of the most frequent frustrations for nonprofit executive directors is their board of directors’ lack of involvement in fund development activities. Not only is it often challenging for nonprofit staff members to engage board members in fund development, the idea of the board advancing fund development activities is laughable to some executive directors and fund development staff. Because one key aspect of a nonprofit board and an individual board member’s responsibilities is fund development, building a board culture that supports and advances an organization’s fund development is essential for organizational effectiveness.
Start with personal contributions.
Expecting board members to make a personal contribution to the organization, especially a personally significant contribution, is typically considered an essential board member responsibility[i] Giving a personal gift often helps a board member feel more directly connected to an organization’s work because he/she has made a personal investment in advancing the mission. Also, it is difficult for board members to have credibility in asking others for money if they do not make a personal contribution on their own. Having a board leader communicate this expectation is a first step in building a culture that supports fund development.
For new board members, start off on the right foot.
The challenges with getting a board of directors engaged in fund development activities often stem from the recruitment process. Because an organization does not want to scare away potential board members, those overseeing the recruitment process sometimes downplay the importance of board member involvement in fund development. Additionally, some boards have the expectation that board members participate in fund development but do not specifically articulate what “involvement” means. One of the best ways to get board members engaged with fund development is to articulate expectations and then ask potential board members how they would see themselves meeting those expectations – before asking the individual to join the board. Then once that person joins the board, another board member should meet with that individual to discuss involvement in fundraising as part of the board orientation process.
Help board members customize their commitment to fund development.
For board members who came onto the board without the interest in, understanding of, or comfort with fund development, customizing a board member’s involvement with fund development is one key to success. Instead of setting the same expectations for all board members, especially expectations that involve asking for money in person or from their circle of contacts, an organization’s leadership on the board and staff can likely identify 15 to 25 ways board members can participate in fund development (including cultivation, stewardship and direct fund development activities). Then, with encouragement from the board’s leadership, each board member can choose five to seven ways he/she can personally support and advance fund development activities in a way that is comfortable for each individual. Customizing a board member’s involvement with fund development can significantly increase involvement with fund development because each board member is able to select the options that make the most sense for him/her. Then, the board can recruit new board members with a specific focus on filling any gaps that exist.
Build shared accountability.
Building shared accountability with the board as a whole can also help develop a culture that supports and advances fund development. An important first step is having board members individually identify and share their commitments with the rest of the board and then having the board as a whole identify its own goals for advancing fund development. For example, a board could agree to raise $5,000 through its members’ own direct contributions, $10,000 in additional support, and meet 85 percent of the board members’ personal commitments to advancing fund development. By setting goals for itself, the board can start taking responsibility and ownership of some important aspects of an organization’s fund development activities.
With a few small successes, positive encouragement and support from the board’s leadership, a new culture around fund development should start to emerge. While this is not an overnight process, following these steps can over time move a board from fear and dislike of fund development to one that helps develop significant resources for the organization.
by Sarah Fischler
[i] In working with dozens of organizations on fund development as a consultant, I have only come across one good reason for not asking board members to give. An organization had representatives of partner agencies on their board, most of whom were government employees, and those individuals were strongly discouraged by their employers to make charitable gifts to organizations with whom their departments had business relationships. I have found that almost all other reasons for why board members cannot give money to an organization on whose board they sit are simply excuses.