Board members may resist fundraising. They may see raising money as solely management’s responsibility, not knowing their proper role. Or they get caught up in all operational details involved in planning and executing fundraising activities and don’t understand why the development director resists their unrealistic ideas. What you end up with is board members who don’t raise much money, frustrated that the agency is not moving forward financially, and are dissatisfied with their board experience.
Governance and Fundraising
To avoid these outcomes, when you recruit them, teach board members how fundraising and governance intersect. Illustrate how setting policy for and determining the organization’s strategic direction and assuring its design, creation, and accountability affects financial growth and is part of raising money. Let board members know from the start they will be involved in fundraising.
To get them excited about it, define board fundraising in terms of the governance job they are signing up for instead of the fundraising activities staff carry out on the front lines. Instead of wordsmithing an appeal letter or discussing how to get most attendees to attend the gala, board members need to focus their efforts on determining the effectiveness of their fundraising strategies in advancing the mission. To do their job effectively, they need to be asking and answering questions like:
- Are we fulfilling our duties to provide resources to implement and grow our mission?
- What strategies are we going to allocate resources toward to meet our mission?
- Do we have a written updated strategic plan that we regularly review and update?
- Are we constantly promoting mission in all we do, even in our fundraising strategy?
- Have we provided a favorable environment for the executive director and staff to succeed in raising money? For example, do we have written board giving and gift acceptance policies in place that we enforce?
- Where will we realize the most financial and mission return on our investment in fundraising?
- How do we want the community to interact with us? How do we as a board influence them to respond the way we want them to?
- Are we making progress in meeting our mission and financial goals?
The board’s job is not to direct agency fundraising activities. Rather, the board’s job is to provide an environment that supports the executive director and staff in executing the fundraising strategies they have deemed most effective. It is the executive director’s and staff’s jobs to abide by the policies the board has set and implement the activities that fulfill the board’s objectives.
Strategy versus Operations
Focus on revenue strategy rather than operations. Engage them in creating transformations rather than making transactions possible. Let them set policy and strategy. Let you and the staff worry about implementing the tasks that make their goals happen.
For example, a board approves a strategic plan, of which fundraising is part. The staff, through the executive director, implement the plan and report on their progress in meeting their goals. The board approves a gift acceptance policy. Staff develop and implement procedures in line with that policy. The board approves the annual budget, which includes fundraising revenue goals and cost allocations. Staff are responsible for implementing those fundraising activities and keeping costs down.
Of course, you still need to provide board members with the tools they need to be successful at fundraising, as we talked about in Getting Board Members to Fundraise. And they will not be totally removed from operations as staff and board work together as a team. They may still wish to participate in development activities. And they have the opportunity to do so, best done through a board-led development committee. The development committee includes board, staff and volunteer members and focuses on fundraising operations. At the board level though, a board member’s job is governing—setting policy for and determining the organization’s strategic direction and assuring its design, creation, and accountability.
When you meet as a board, talk about fundraising as a strategy to meet goals you have set together instead of money transactions that need to happen. Have your board set strategy and your staff build and implement workplans. Strategy falls under governance duties. Work plans fall under staff duties. When the board governs and the staff manages, your agency is better equipped to raise more money and get ahead financially. And board members find their board experience more satisfying.
Let’s talk about how your board participates in fundraising, any resistance you face, and see what your next steps are. Just schedule a complimentary, thirty-minute strategy session. During our time together, we’ll clarify the issues you want to overcome and explore possible solutions.
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