How to Prepare Your Board to Fundraise

Is your board excited about fundraising? Probably not. They may think that fundraising and governance don’t have anything to do with one another. They may see fundraising as management’s responsibility, with their role only holding staff accountable for financial results. Or they may get bogged down in the details of event planning or wordsmithing the annual appeal.

The good news is that you can change things. You can get your board excited about fundraising. The trick is in onboarding new members properly, focusing on fundraising strategy instead of monetary transactions, and giving them the tools that make fundraising a transformational experience for both them and those they are approaching.

Recruit Them Correctly

An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. The number one thing you can do to avoid poor engagement in fundraising is to fully explain the role of a board members before they say yes. Discuss a board member’s fiduciary responsibilities as trustees of the organization – that board members are legal stewards of the public trust. And then talk about what that means in practical terms. Set crystal clear expectations.

For example, as part of their fiduciary duties, board members must provide financial oversight of the nonprofit. Understanding fundraising strategy and monitoring its implementation is an important part of overseeing financial success. Board members must also ensure there are adequate resources to carry out the purpose of the agency, in other words, to fulfill its mission. Fundraising is all about garnering resources. In addition, board members are entrusted with the responsibility to strengthen programs and services, expanding mission in the community. It is fundraising growth funds that funds such expansion.

Let your board members know what they are getting upfront. Link their legal and fiduciary roles as trustees directly to the fundraising responsibilities they must fulfill. And tell them why what you are asking them to do is important. It’s lives you’re changing.

Focus on Strategy

Board members may not think of fundraising as part of strategic governance, therefore not worth their time. Or they see fundraising as solely operational and fully delegate it to staff. Or they may get caught up in all the fundraising details, not knowing the difference between governance and management. In all these cases, teach them what governance is:  setting policy for and determining the strategic direction of the organization and assuring the design, creation, and accountability of strategy.

For example, a board approves a strategic plan, of which fundraising is a part. The staff, through the executive director, implements the plan and reports on their progress in meeting its 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. As civic leaders, the board primes the community for staff to be successful. As organizational leaders, the board also teaches the community how to interact with the nonprofit they serve, in terms of programs, services, advocacy, and fundraising.   

Then talk strategy, not implementation. Talk about fundraising as a strategy to meet goals you have set together instead of money transactions that need to happen. Let your board set your fundraising strategy and let the staff build and implement the work plans. Strategy falls under governance duties. Work plans fall under staff duties.

Engage Them in Creating Transformations

To really excite your board about fundraising, focus on a transformational fundraising strategy rather than a transactional one. If your board is reluctant to fundraise, you may be giving board members transactional fundraising tasks to oversee. Instead, show them the transformational power of fundraising. Don’t worry about them overseeing specific fundraising activities. Show them how they are contributing to the progress of changing lives, on the part of both your clients and donors, and organizational growth.

Think work versus progress. Work is the tasks you complete to get a job done. There may or may not be anything exciting about them. Just completing tasks is not very motivational. And completing tasks in and of themselves does not lead to feeling a part of a larger purpose. Seeing progress toward meeting goals, on the other hand, is motivating, shows people how what they do fits into the big picture, and gives them a sense of purpose. If you’re asking your board to give because they signed on the dotted line, oversee fundraising activities that make money, or ask their network to give because your nonprofit needs money, you are asking them to perform work. If, on the other hand, you are showing them how their giving will enhance community giving, to oversee the financial and mission growth of the organization, and to give their network an opportunity to provide life-changing experiences, then you are asking them to contribute to progress. The trick is reporting back to them the success of their efforts. Let them see how they are contributing to progress. Give them purpose. Excite them about what they can and have accomplished.

The same is true when it comes to your donors. Asking them to write a check to meet financial obligations is mundane work. Asking them to change a life is transformational. You must, however, report back on the results of what you asked them to do. That way, they can see progress, how their actions fit into the big picture, and gain a sense of purpose.

Wrapping It Up

With proper recruitment, focus on strategy, and engagement in progress, you will see your board get and stay excited about fundraising and looking forward to moving ahead. You will have board members who understand their roles in fundraising, embrace it, and actively do their part to garner resources to meet the mission they care about.

Next Steps

Exciting your board about fundraising is just one step toward fundraising success. It is also important to identify your nonprofit’s fundraising strengths and gaps, mobilize your staff, and excite your community.

To learn what your agency can do to move ahead, schedule a complementary 30-minute strategy session with me. During our time together, we will clarify the fundraising issues your nonprofit is facing, explore possible solutions, and develop a plan of action.

When you make your appointment, you will be asked a few brief questions about your situation so that I am best prepared to help you. I look forward to our conversation!  

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