5 Strategies to Set Nonprofit Boards up for Fundraising Success | Fund Raising
In Part 2 of this three-part series on board giving and getting we reviewed four strategies to leverage board giving and getting. What we didn’t cover is how to deal with situations where pre-conditions to successful board fundraising are not in place. In other words, board members have not been explicitly told this is your expectation of them. Or if they were told, this expectation was never reinforced.
Let’s begin by taking a look at what you should have done, and should make a point to do moving forward. Then we’ll review how to backtrack when you didn’t do an effective job starting out, and what to do when you encounter resistance to change.
1. Establish the Key Pre-Condition to Successful Board Fundraising
Be up front with what you expect during the recruitment process.
You’re much less likely to run into problems with members refusing to fully participate in giving and getting if you clearly explain the fundraising responsibilities during the period where you’re exploring a board role for them. This is the number one area where nonprofits go wrong, and it’s really hard to back track when you don’t:
- Talk about the need to give and get.
- Explain the expected annual gift (see TOP Strategy You Need to Know about Nonprofit Board Fundraising).
- Explain other ways board are expected to help (e.g., buying a table at the Gala; introducing their networks to your organization; hosting events or tours; making thank you phone calls; writing personal notes; making face-to-face asks, etc.).
- Include these expectations in your board job description.
2. Reinforce the Key Pre-Condition to Successful Board Fundraising
Once new board members join your team, be sure to reinforce the fundraising expectations.
Often board members have a vague notion they’re expected to give and/or get, but they lack clarity. And they’re really counting on you for that clarification. Help them out by using one or more of the strategies outlined below.
- Conduct a formal orientation where board members are introduced to how your organization is funded. Provide them a binder with written materials and have them meet with key members of your team (e.g., executive director; finance and development directors; program directors). Mail materials to them in advance of the meeting so they can come prepared with questions.
- Set up one or more meetings with the executive director, development director, board president and/or development committee chair to develop the member’s individual fundraising plan for the year.
- Assign a board “buddy” as a mentor. Ask this individual to set up a lunch or coffee meeting to explain the lay of the land, welcome the new board member to the family and provide a resource for questions.
- Assign a staff member to check in periodically to address concerns that may have arisen and answer questions.
3. Develop a Back-Track, Re-Education Strategy
As noted above, when you fail to let board members know you want them to give and get during the board recruitment process, it can be challenging to change their minds once they’ve joined the board. This can be a particularly thorny problem with boards who’ve gone on for years this way, and where fundraising is simply not part of the culture.
Board leaders who fear fundraising spread that fear.
A scarcity mindset prevails where everyone whines about how difficult it is to raise money—to the point where it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. Cup-half-empty boards lead to cup-half-empty nonprofits. You won’t be able to grow. And in today’s competitive environment, if you don’t grow, you die.
Culture can be changed.
- Recruit a board champion (see TOP Strategy You Need to Know about Nonprofit Board Fundraising) who understands the board’s role in fundraising and is willing to set a positive example.
- Enlist the executive director to work closely with the board to help them understand why it’s time for a change and what is expected. It’s next-to-impossible to succeed without support from leadership.
- Work towards developing a culture of philanthropy where everyone understands it takes a village and fundraising is part of everyone’s job.
4. Establish a Formal Plan for Board Rotation
You need radiators, not drains.
It’s next-to-impossible to move towards a successful board fundraising culture when your board remains populated with folks who refuse to change.
- If you don’t currently have terms of office established in the by-laws, work towards this as a goal. Otherwise it’s hard to escape from the cycle of “that’s not how we do things here.”
- Create opportunities to move new folks onto your board as a “reward” for being a dedicated donor and/or volunteer. If you limit the ways new folks can get involved with your organization, you limit your ability to raise funds going forward.
Change won’t happen overnight, and it may take some natural attrition for the old guard to rotate off, but it’s well worth working towards the goal of having your board participate productively in fundraising. Be patient, but don’t lose resolve.
5. What to Do When Board Members Refuse to Share
Board slots are valuable, and there’s no room for members who want to shirk either of their fundamental board responsibilities.
- As governors, they collectively determine the vision and mission, develop and monitor the strategic business plan, set policy, advise on programs, hire/fire the executive director, set and monitor the budget and finances and agree on financing/fundraising goals and strategies.
- As financers, they individually assure the organization has needed resources to fulfill the governance mandates.
You need members who understand and fulfill their complimentary governance and financing roles.
- If people just want to volunteer or offer advice, but not give and get, they can be volunteers. But not board members.
- If people just want to give, and not ask others to step up and share in their passion, they can be donors. But not board members.
- If people just want to ask, but not give, they can be volunteer solicitors. But not board members.
Don’t make exceptions for board members who refuse to participate fully in their financing/fundraising role. As the “Triple A” model reveals, there are many ways board members can participate.
- Help your members find involvement opportunities that are most suitable for their personalities and skills at this point in time. If they refuse to find any strategies they’re willing to adopt, it’s time for a change.
- Gently counsel non-cooperative folks off of the board. Don’t think of this as “firing.” Sit down with your board member face-to-face and talk about what’s working and not working. For them. Suggest that perhaps being on the board right now is poor timing, as you’ve noticed they haven’t been attending board meetings… taking on committee assignments… following through on calls… because you know they’ve been really consumed and busy with [whatever life situation and/or changes they may be experiencing]. Then remind them you need to count on them being active participants and, gee, you’d like to suggest some alternatives that might be a better fit for them now.
Hold board members accountable for what they said they’d do and don’t ignore them when they don’t do it. Honestly, they don’t feel good about themselves when they’re merely warming a seat.