Posts Tagged ‘A Fundraising Guide for Nonprofit Board members’

Don’t go it alone: Turn your nonprofit board into fundraising partners

I conducted a straw poll that confirmed my suspicions: Other consultants, executive directors and development directors get the same blank stare from board members that I do when I tell them their job includes an active partnership in raising money. We all know that the economy has created a situation of higher human service needs and, at the same time, a decrease in foundation resources. 

Now, more than ever, board members need to tap into the community philanthropy base that’s out there: individual donors. And they are out there. Giving USA’s latest annual report reaffirms a consistent trend–more than 70 percent of philanthropy comes from individual donations.

In this article, I’d like to offer some simple ways to increase your board’s comfort zone and strengthen your board members’ partnership with you and your organization to impact the bottom line. I’ll be relentlessly repeating the three important components of a successful individual donor effort: Acquire, Retain and Upgrade. Your board may need some support in cultivating donors. Make their job as easy and effective as possible. As with any motivational strategy, the more your board members get positive results, the more enthusiastic they will be to continue their participation.


Develop your key messages


Work with your board on simple, consistent messages that will convey to prospects that your organization:

Is differentiated and unique from other organizations;

Will use their investment efficiently;

Provides programming with measurable results; and

Has a compelling mission and vision that you believe in.

Leverage your board’s strengths


Not all board members are good or comfortable at all aspects of fundraising, and there’s no sense trying to fit a square peg into a round hole. Help your board choose their own action steps – all with the goal of Attracting, Retaining and Upgrading donors. Possible ways to contribute include:

Give a significant “leadership” gift

Identify prospective donors

Design and participate in fundraising activities and events

Engage in media and community outreach

Recruit other people who can join your work

Once your board members select areas of participation, move on to your strategies to Acquire, Retain and Upgrade your donors. It will be important to identify a collaborating “champion” or champions on the board to shepherd its development activities, ensuring that the work plan moves toward the organization’s funding goals.


Setting the stage in your community


Raise your organization’s visibility with strategies that need not be complicated or costly. Using the key messaging your organization has agreed on, board members should be actively involved in garnering attention, reputation and donor prospects by helping with:

Media coverage: Plan for four newsworthy events or photo opportunities during the year; match each event/opportunity with a compatible reporter (i.e., the education editor or the sports editor); then make a phone call and send him or her a compelling press release. You are doing them a service by offering them great fill for their assignments.


Community events and visibility: Get invited to host a table at a community-wide event, join committees and task forces, show up at affairs and network continually throughout the community.


Constant ambassadorship: I am like the old stereotype of an insurance salesperson. I am always on the lookout for prospects. Sell, sell, sell. If someone is interested, make sure you know how to contact them to send them follow-up materials.

Personalize every strategy you and your board uses

Take care that each interaction with prospects is culturally sensitive. (You may want to refer to my article on fundraising in diverse communities if you have questions about this).


Infuse a sincere passion into the key messages you have developed. Whether making a personal visit or sending a letter of appeal built around a template, you will be asking an individual to support a cause to which your organization is deeply committed. It’s worth spending time on an activity that reminds your board why your mission is important to them, so that those feelings are potent and compelling when they promote the organization.


Using the messages that you have agreed on, help your board members customize them to an individual prospect, emphasizing common values and playing to people’s self-interest. If you will be approaching a business person, he or she may care about community economic stability; if it’s a parent or caregiver, he or she may care about access to services. The question is, “Why would they care?”

Acquire new donors

Have your board members make a list of at least 20 people each that they know who also believe in the organization’s mission. That means anyone, without presumptions about finances or life situation. It is critical here to remember that you will be giving someone an opportunity to invest in a cause they believe in. If they choose not to, for whatever reason, they are free to do so.


Provide specific guidance to the prospect regarding what level of giving he or she might consider. For instance, you might create levels of giving that resonate with the services you provide, such as a Heritage Patron level of $2,500 to support cultural programming or a Legacy Patron level of $500 to support citizenship education activities.



Whether they donate or not, continue to keep prospects informed about your organization’s plans and accomplishments. Remind board members to leave calling cards at places of business that they frequent (i.e., a copy shop or local restaurant) to convey your organization’s appreciation of their contribution in the community.


Continually acknowledge donors. Have your board thank donors promptly and personally with a phone call and handwritten note, acknowledge them in your materials (unless they wish to remain anonymous), invite them to events and involve them in other ways in your organization.


Identify a few dependable donors, including board members, who can give generous “leadership gifts” and, with their permission, leverage that information as motivation when you approach other prospects to join on or to increase their gift.


Provide past giving data to your board members, and have them identify individuals or businesses that they know. It may be time to suggest an increase to past donors. Use your judgment here, but it’s reasonable to believe that after several years, a $50 donation could be doubled and so on.


These loyal donors are also a great source for special board appeals when your organization embarks on a specific, short-term or emergency campaign.


The reality is that raising sufficient money to help your organization achieve its mission can be a relentless and daunting task regardless of the rewards. Your ability to engage your board as a partner in your efforts could be a “four-way win” situation: Your board members become inspired because they personally are making a difference, your donors are able to make an impact on a cause for which they believe, your job is just a little bit easier and, of course, your organization and the constituents you serve are the overall winners.


Learn more about Page to Practice nonprofit book summaries related to this article:

A Fundraising Guide for Nonprofit Board Members

Fundraising the SMART Way™: Predictable, Consistent Income Growth for Your Charity + Website

Super Boards: How Inspired Governance Transforms Your Organization

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Forecasting and fundraising with a “table of needs”

When I worked in the university setting as an annual giving director, the goal-setting process was a mixture of art and science as well as feasibility versus need. Unlike my colleagues who sought major gifts exclusively, I had the fortunate position of leaning more on science due to the nature of expected response rates from a combination of direct mail, the telephone outreach program and our direct solicitations by committee. Oftentimes, my major gift counterparts were dealing with much more uncertainty, such as well-researched prospects who didn’t give to their potential or surprising windfalls from the consistent $25 annual donor.

Forecasting and fundraising

Whenever there were “windfall gifts” that far exceeded our expectations, we always factored them out of the equation for our projections in the new fiscal year because they unfairly skewed our estimations to a more optimistic goal that wasn’t always repeatable. Financial author and consultant Richard Linzer actually talks about this strategy in his book, Cash Flow Strategies. He recommends forecasting revenue based on three different types of income that are categorized by how dependable they are. This way you can forecast several scenarios depending on what type of income renews.

Another kindred spirit on the forecasting topic is consultant and author Julia Ingraham Walker. Her book, A Fundraising Guide for Nonprofit Board Members, gets a lot of attention in our summary store and for good reason. Walker has accomplished the behemoth task of aggregating everything you need to know about orchestrating a coordinated fundraising effort at the board and staff levels.

How one small independent school got it right

In addition to publishing several more books on this topic, Ingraham Walker is also an accomplished fundraiser in her own right, continuing to consult with high-impact nonprofits and universities. One of the many passages in the book that naturally caught my eye was called “Setting Goals.” Here’s how the vignette reads:

One small independent school thought that it would set a capital campaign goal based on what its peer institutions were raising. The headmaster polled several bigger, successful schools in its market and decided that his school needed to raise $100 million to be just like them. When he told the board they were going to raise $100 million, they balked. The largest campaign they had ever completed was for $25 million. Where were they going to find four times that amount?

The school brought in a consultant to conduct a feasibility study. Discussions with potential donors and board members took over six months, but the final result was a recommendation to develop a $75 million campaign in three phases. The first phase was for $25 million to build a new science center, the second phase of $25 million would be for faculty salaries and program needs, and the third phase was for $25 million for scholarships and endowment. In this way the board agreed to most of the aims of the headmaster but focused on a realistic set of needs and a timeline that could be met.

A “table of needs” is feasibility’s best friend

This small independent school is not unlike many other organizations that have aspirations to be more and do more but they require taking a realistic look at what’s feasible. Ingraham Walker introduces a great exercise to facilitate this feasibility discussion called a “table of needs.” A table of needs is the list of goals your organization wants to raise money to accomplish. These needs should stem directly from your strategic plan and be the basis of your fundraising efforts. The table should result in a three- to five-year list of needs over and above annual operating funds. “The list should be prioritized so that as potential donors are identified, the projects that are most important to the organization get funded first,” says the author.

Let your table of needs increase fundraising solidarity and focus

In the picture above [Image 3.2 on page 55], I’ve shown Ingraham Walker’s example from her book. She points out that this plan relieves the annual fund of picking up the additional annual cost of a new staff member, an all too common method for funding new staff, which creates more pressure on fundraising for operations. Notice how the table covers capital, endowment, program and staffing goals over the next five years. And if this organization is fortunate enough to find a “high impact” gift of $2 to $3 million in addition to the priorities it has identified, it has some big ideas to explore for expanding its services.

For small nonprofits with no history of major gifts, there are major financial and staffing implications to plan a comprehensive fundraising campaign to meet the needs outlined in this exhibit. A board must be willing to help seek additional resources to reach the fundraising levels required by a plan like this.

Why I like it

I like this table-of-needs method because it also puts everyone on the same page if you have multiple staff members working toward funding objectives. For larger teams, it facilitates cohesion toward shared funding goals. And for smaller one-staff-member development efforts, it keeps the board tied to the objectives and keeps the type of prospects needed top-of-mind. Above all, it divides the needs among the different kinds of fundraising strategies as well so there aren’t any surprises in annual giving versus major gifts, for example.

After looking at what transpired at the small independent school, it’s easy to see how a table of needs might have helped it break down the goal into the three agreed phases and areas of programming focus. The table could have also helped the board compartmentalize how each phase would come from different kinds of gifts and how to target specific objectives.

If you’re running your development effort solo or with a department, ask yourself if you have a table of needs or something similar in your plan. It’s a small but mighty tool that will yield clarity and commitment toward goal-setting and organizational growth.

See also:

Fundraising Series–Volume One: Selling Impact, Storytelling, Planned Gift Marketing and Legacy Gifts

The Influential Fundraiser

Fundraising When Money Is Tight

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Table 3.2 on page 55: A Fundraising Guide for Nonprofit Board Members by Julia Ingraham Walker



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Key points from “A Fundraising Guide for Nonprofit Board Members”

In my work as a nonprofit consultant, one of the most frequent challenges I encounter is finding ways to get board members more engaged in an organization’s work, especially in fund development. A Fundraising Guide for Nonprofit Board Members by Julia Ingraham Walker is a great resource for executive directors, fund development directors and board members themselves who are seeking a better way to confront this challenge.

One of Walker’s most important points is that the fundraising culture of a nonprofit board cannot change overnight but can change over time, often resulting in significant gains in fund development success and board engagement. Some of Walker’s key tips include:

Fund development is a significant challenge for nonprofits of all sizes and mission focus areas. Because of the inherent challenges associated with fund development, a nonprofit organization needs all hands on deck and full participation from board members to maintain momentum and achieve success overtime.

Make fund development expectations very clear during the recruitment process for new board members and then provide the tools that board members need to be engaged as successful fundraisers for an organization. Seeking small successes and then building on those successes can help build board member confidence with fund development and help change a board’s culture overtime.

Board leadership in fund development is critical. Many successful fund development programs are based upon the division of responsibility that primarily relies on staff for planning, structure, and coordination, with the board providing leadership in making contacts, cultivating prospects, asking for money, and thanking donors.

This partnership between the board and the staff is essential for creating a sustainable and thriving fund development program, rather than the strapped, over-capacity and burned-out culture that often exists when staff members are solely or mostly responsible for fund development.

Board members should serve as role models for other donors by making leadership-level gifts without constant prodding from the board president or executive director. “The board is there to lead, and it is their leadership that will inspire others to give.” Provide a variety of ways for board members to be involved in fund development.

Not all board members will be comfortable directly asking for money but can be involved in the equally important roles of identifying prospects, cultivating donors and thanking donors over time. Providing options will help get board members in the activities that are most comfortable for them, thus increasing an organization’s prospects for success.

Combining these strategies, along with the many others Walker discusses in her book, can help nonprofit organizations move from frustration around fund development to a higher level of success and sustainability, thus creating more resources for achieving an organization’s mission over time.

See also:

A Fundraising Guide for Nonprofit Board Members.

The Ultimate Board Member’s Book

The Board Game

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In the board room with Walker and Grace

Since we’ve been talking about effective boards so much recently, I thought it would be helpful to compile some advice from two of our Page to Practice™ expert authors on boards. They complement each other well, reinforcing the main points and going deeper in different areas. With two lifetimes of experience, Julia Ingraham Walker in A Fundraising Guide for Nonprofit Board Members and Kay Sprinkel Grace in The Ultimate Board Member’s Book give it to us straight.

Primary function

Walker insists the board members are leaders and role models who carry the mission forward through communication, giving, fundraising, advocating.

Grace calls board members “keepers of the mission,” like Walker. She emphasizes board members should not be managing daily operations, but ensure all resources are used effectively. She also asserts, “Development, or relationship building, is the most important role for a board member…If all board members were committed to developing relationships, fundraising would not be a challenge.”

Role of board members vs. staff

Walker states, “Boards are reflective of their leadership. The best boards have active, involved leaders who encourage board engagement in the nonprofit’s fundraising activities but stop short of micro-managing the development operation. Open communication, sharing of goals and mutual respect between the board and staff are also big factors in forming strong board relationships.”

Walker gives a clear distinction between the board and staff:

The board members are the leaders who represent and communicate the mission and vision of the organization.
The staff supports the board’s directives and implements the programs.
The board with its fiduciary responsibility needs to ensure all activities feed into the mission and vision, are transparent and accountable, and have no conflicts of interest.

Grace focuses on a positive relationship between the board and staff as well:

Communication between the CEO and board is critical to set clear expectations. The CEO runs everything but has to report to the board, so an honest relationship is critical.
The board should not get involved with the staff too intimately or there will be a feeling of “too many bosses” and it will strain the relationship with the CEO.

Watch for next week’s blog when we’ll compare and contrast the two authors’ views on recruitment, fundraising and donor motivation. You can download either of these book summaries at the Summary Store or subscribe to CausePlanet for access to the entire library of titles and live author interviews. For Grace’s book, visit and for Walker’s book, visit


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Every board member has a place at the fundraising table

Raising more money in an extremely competitive environment means tapping every resource you have, beginning with your board members.

A Fundraising Guide for Nonprofit Board Members is the most comprehensive guide for best practices in fundraising and the involvement of board members we’ve recommended to date. Author Julia Walker covers all levels of fundraising, real world examples, tips and techniques for the browser and the engagement of board members throughout the giving cycle.

Walker takes the “give or get” mantra and replaces it with a description of a more active and productive role board members can play in achieving modest or lofty development goals. This book aims to help you transform your passive board into a lively cadre of volunteers who’re ready to cultivate and close all kinds of gifts.

Four compelling reasons why a board must take an active leadership role in fundraising include:

The board holds fiduciary responsibility for resources to fuel the mission, which involves transparency, accountability and no conflicts of interest.

The board oversees all fundraising programs and opportunities. It approves all projects and assures all fundraising is ethical and money goes toward the mission.

The board sets the pace through its own giving.

The board sets the tone for the community’s view of the nonprofit.

Even with advancement staff to provide structure, expertise and support, the board needs to lead and inspire with fundraising. To achieve maximum fundraising performance and avoid burnout, every board member must be involved in some capacity.

The leadership in the organization needs to implement the following to ensure all board members will be involved:

Recruit diverse members with fundraising experience or connections to donors.

Write a job description that includes fundraising for new board members.

Recruit in a manner where expectations are clear and not perceived as orders.

Provide fundraising training for board members.

For an in-depth look at Walker’s book and an author interview, download the full Page to Practice™ summary by visiting our store or subscribing to the library. You can purchase the book at and view Walker’s other books on fundraising.


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