Fundraising Q&A: Helping your board to fundraise

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Our board is very new to fundraising. What would you recommend to support their efforts?

The board’s role in fundraising is one of my favourite topics, albeit an evolving one. Times are changing as the development profession matures but many experts still say that the most persuasive requests come from well-trained and informed volunteers rather than staff alone.Ideally there's a team approach where the chief executive or other senior employee can be the subject matter expert while the board member conveys what inspires them to give their time, talent and treasure.

Clarify and communicate expectations

I completely understand why many board members are uncomfortable fundraising. I’ve witnessed a lot of “false advertising” over the years. Charities seem so desperate to recruit people to join the board that many fail to communicate any expectations including how people can help increase revenues. Considering the majority of the population doesn't like discussing money, let alone asking for it, it's not surprising people are reluctant.

It's great your board has agreed to support the organization's fundraising efforts and hopefully that means more than shallow promises to sell tickets for a gala dinner. Special events fall within people's comfort zones but they aren't the most effective way to raise funds. I would ask your board members what they need in order to build their confidence and then use every opportunity possible to strengthen their skills and celebrate their accomplishments.

Ways to engage

Make sure that you provide a variety of options for involvement both in front and behind the scenes. Acknowledge individuals abilities and allay their fears. Find out who is interested in helping, what they'd like to do, where they're willing to learn more and offer them training. Areas they can support include:

  • Planning for fundraising: implicitly tied to the organizational plan; involve the strategists and build understanding of readiness for success
  • Prospect research: appeals to the sleuths on your team but involve all the board in rating candidates to identify major gift potential, according to relationships and donor history to your charity and others
  • Making the case: invite the story tellers to write compellingly about the organization's priorities
  • Face-to-face (usually major gift) solicitation: for the bolder team-members who like pitching and closing deals; offer role-playing training
  • Identifying contacts on foundation or corporate boards and including a personal message (written or in person) with the request for support
  • Follow up: find board members who like tidying up loose ends and reinforcing a request that's already been made
  • Thanking donors: a great way to strengthen stewardship and renewal while providing a simple and satisfying task
  • Being ambassadors at an event: talking to donors and other attendees about the good work of your charity and how participants can make a difference - be sure members have a formal mechanism for reporting information they learn from discussions back to your organization
  • Hosting a "friend raiser" in their home or office to develop new connections and/or strengthen existing ones.

Who are your champions?

Find the individuals who understand what it takes to identify, solicit and secure donations. Understandably, that’s easier said than done but be sure to set yourself up for success by clarifying and communicating your expectations at the outset. Champions are motivated individuals and every community has them in their population. They are the movers and shakers that love getting things done. Those who possess the qualities of a champion usually surround themselves with like-minded people. Use their time wisely or they will find a charity that does.

Qualities of a board champion

  • Participates in the co-creation and communication of an inspiring vision
  • Employs and encourages strategic thinking
  • Models integrity and ethical behavior
  • Wants fundraising to succeed and helps volunteers and staff make that happen
  • Has a personal and/or corporate donation history and makes an annual “stretch” gift (meaning it’s within their budget but requires thoughtful consideration and sets a strong example)
  • Excited about the cause and is motivated to share and convey passion with donors, prospects and "qualified" contacts (those with Linkage-Ability-Interest)
  • Respects people based on ability not status which includes taking staff seriously and listening to their professional expertise
  • Balances volunteer, professional and personal careers, practicing sound principles of time management and follow through

Finding and keeping champions

Leaders like those described above are in demand. There is no shortage of opportunities available to them and they are probably equally popular professionally and socially. The key to attracting and keeping them is to demonstrate that your charity is strategic in its vision and actions with a strong team of board members, volunteers and staff who implement at appropriate macro- to micro-levels. Roles and responsibilities are clearly defined, communicated and honoured. The board understands its governance job while staff and volunteers run the day-to-day operations.

Identify people you want to recruit and find the most appropriate person to ask them. Similar to requesting a major gift, there is a cultivation process to discover suitable candidates with similar interests and values to your organization. Some of the best canvassers are those who've volunteered on hospital, university or another major community capital campaign or United Way. Understandably, they may also want a rest between "jobs" which must be respected but if you've done your research and found a good fit then be polite yet persistent. Foster the relationship and be patient; build their commitment gradually and keep the lines of communication honest and open.

Finally, all volunteers (and staff for that matter) need to feel appreciated. Don't limit that gesture to an annual event. Build in ways to reinforce their affiliation. Be inclusive; they are members of the organization's family. State your goals, monitor your progress, brainstorm solutions and celebrate your achievements...together, in order to build a highly invested team!

Other Resources

Kim Klein's "The Board and Fundraising" (a classic)

Simone Joyaux's "Involving Your Board Members in Fund Development"

Five Fundraising Mistakes we Make with our Boards

Cynthia Armour is a freelance specialist in fundraising and governance. A Certified FundRaising Executive (CFRE) since 1995, she volunteers as a subject matter expert with CFRE International. She works with boards and senior staff to ensure that strong leadership will enhance organizational capacity to govern and fundraise effectively. Contact Cynthia directly at 705-799-0636, e-mail, follow her on Twitter at @CynthiaJArmour, or visit for more information about her services.

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