Helping Your Board Help You

Have you ever struggled to engage your board in fundraising? If yours is like most of the groups I’ve worked with, your answer to that was probably something like “you mean there are organizations who don’t struggle with that?”

There are two sides to this issue. First is the need of the organization – money is needed, and, in the field, we generally agree that fundraising is one of the core responsibilities of the board.

On the other side are our board members. They have (typically) not studied fundraising. It is an unknown. While they are experts in their own fields, fundraising can be intimidating. And too often, we don’t define what we mean and what exactly we’re asking when we say we want board members to become involved in fundraising. It continues to be this vague unknown.

The 2011 Cygnus Donor Survey confirms our generally accepted idea that donors will give more when asked by volunteer leadership. In addition:

  • Board Giving: 52% of board members serving organizations with fundraising staff said it was required. This dropped to 27% for those on boards of organization with no staff fundraisers.
  • Board participation in fundraising: One in three board members surveyed said participation in fundraising activities was required.
  • Board fundraising evaluated: 18% of Boards represented in this survey evaluate their performance in fundraising.
  • Board orientation: 40% of respondents indicated that had an orientation program when they joined the board.
  • Training in fundraising: 49% reported having access to training in fundraising.

What difference would it make in your organization if you offered a road map for your board members by clearly defined expectations (giving, participation in fundraising efforts and define what ‘participation’ means), and then provided training and guidance?

Try it. And let me know how it goes!


Helping Your Board Help You — 4 Comments

  1. Kirsten,
    I’m such a contrarian on this issue. I’m one of the first and now growing number of individuals making a case that fundraising is not necessarily a board job.
    First, I make a big distinction between giving and getting. I don’t consider board member giving fundraising and I do think all board members should make a donation to the organization.

    As to getting however, I say: it depends. It is clearly the full board’s job to develop a revenue strategy that supports program objectives. And to ensure that someone is tasked with raising those funds, which, in professionally staffed organizations is usually the CEO. That’s what board’s do. Right? They wouldn’t be expected to run the programs in lieu of the CEO, so why is fundraising so different?

    Once the revenue strategy is clear, then the board can assess whether the participation of leadership volunteers is critical to that strategy’s success. If you’ve got an essential revenue stream that depends on peer to peer connections –like individual or family foundation giving, then it’s likely that board members can be very strategic in advancing that strategy.
    But many organizations nave built very successful revenue streams that aren’t dependent on board fundraising (e.g. government grants and contracts, earned revenues, or direct marketing).
    I’ve written more about this in my article:
    Banishing your expectation of board fundraising, or why does it feel so good when I stop?
    I’m a fanatic about this largely because I’ve seen way too many staff needlessly banging their heads against the wall and because I’ve seen too many board members vilified. I also think we need a much better analysis of class influences on this whole field of fundraising.

    • Thanks for your thoughts. We’re all certainly entitled to our own opinions. And I love to see a good discussion start.

      It sounds like the organizations you work with are quite different than those I tend to work with. Often it’s the board members who are advocating that they become appropriately involved. They typically have a very small staff (20 or much much less) and a need for a strong individual giving program.

      I agree that defining appropriate involvement is essential. And I agree that the board should not cross management boundaries by running the fundraising program.

      But I also have to say that there’s nothing like the look of satisfaction on a board member’s face when they have successfully asked for a major gift. And the contagious enthusiasm that spreads across the rest of the board (or committee) when they hear about the success. Those are the moments that keep me going.

      Thanks again for your comments!

  2. Pingback: Kirsten’s Fundraising Headlines – June 7, 2011 | Growing Your Donors

  3. I love that there is a discussion about the board’s role in fundraising. What I have seen is boards that didn’t know in advance what the expectations would be.

    So to your question, Kirsten, yes the fundraising world would be a better place if organizations offered a road map for board members by clearly defined expectations and provided training.

    I think Gayle is correct that the roles are going to vary in each organization.