Securing the Board of Directors You Deserve
If a substantial portion of a nonprofit’s income comes from philanthropy, it is essential that the board — collectively and individually — is engaged in fundraising.
“Every board member should be involved in resource development,” said Kay Sprinkel Grace, principal at Transforming Philanthropy.
Creating and sustaining a stellar fundraising board takes a commitment. This begins with identifying their role and having processes to support this. An effective fundraising board starts vetting candidates and then relies on proper training, combined with consistent support.
“I am astonished at how many people serve on fundraising boards and do not grasp that they are expected to be a funder and introduce their network to the organization for fundraising,” shared Bob Smith, special advisor to the University of Tennessee president for talent and leadership development, as well as president emeritus of Slippery Rock University and chancellor emeritus of the University of Tennessee at Martin.
Consultant to nonprofits and associations, professional speaker Hardy Smith stressed while the role varies based on the organization, no matter what the role entails, it should be clearly spelled out in the recruiting process — especially when it requires asking for gifts.
Bob encourages organizations to be clear about expectations from the start.
“The vetting of good board members is one of the most important tasks, but too often, it is about who knows whom — and there is little discernment,” he said, stressing the importance of board giving and choosing the right people to be board members. “There is capacity and willingness [when it comes to giving]. Some people on boards have the capacity but no willingness,” Bob
Pamela Barden, principle at PJ Barden Inc., emphasized that board members must exercise their fiduciary responsibility and share information about an organization’s outcomes.
“A board member is intimate in the details of the organization in a way that no one else is,” she said.
“People are looking to leadership to tell them that this is an OK place. The same words mean more coming from a board member rather than a staff member,” Pamela said. “When a board member shares what he or she sees that excites them about an organization, it adds a level of credibility.”
It’s crucial that board members are educated about fundraising and know that they are expected to provide access to their networks,” Larry Johnson, fundraising trainer and author of “The Eight Principles of Sustainable Fundraising,” said.
“Boards need to be educated sufficiently in fundraising so that they can ask intelligent questions” he said. “It will raise the bar for development and help root out incompetent people.”
Proper fundraising training of board members is vital. “They are only trained if we do it for them,” Pamela said.
“The board needs to be donors, but also go on visits and endorse the organization,” she added. “It is essential that you make the board to feel comfortable with their fundraising role.”
“We have to keep our board members informed and let them know the outcome of a visit,” Pamela said. “We can’t expect a board member to be excited about fundraising unless we tell them about the difference they are making.”
Ongoing communication and consistent support are essential motivating factors when it comes to keeping board members engaged in fundraising.
“You can give them all the tools and training, but if they don’t have the passion, it won’t happen. Passion comes from regular engagement with the mission. Give the board members something to talk about, give them something to feel proud and excited about,” Kay encouraged.
In her new book, “Transform Your Board Into a Fundraising Force,” Kay outlines the “AAA” to motivate boards for fundraising. Every member must be:
- An ambassador
- An advocate
- An asker
“Askers are also ambassadors — and some may also be advocates,” Kay said. “But if you want those ambassadors and advocates to spread their wings, have them accompany an asker on a call.”
To maximize fundraising success with your board:
- Discern and articulate the board’s role in fundraising.
- Model best practices in their recruitment and asking for their gift.
- Ensure that board members make a leadership gift and define it. This will vary widely from board to board.
- Remember, board members are not fundraising professionals.
- Educate them on fundraising best practices and provide ongoing coaching.
- Share overviews of your fundraising plans.
- Make their role easier by providing time at board and committee meetings for them to take stewardship steps, like writing notes or making phone calls and videos.
- Keep them connected to your mission by providing mission moments at each board meeting and getting them on the front lines of your services.
- Provide board members with an elevator speech to share your mission and brief stories that they can learn, be passionate about and share.
- Make sure that they feel comfortable in their ambassador role and utilize them at their highest and best use — focused on the most important relationships possible.
- Outline and have a briefing (and debriefing) on each donor visit or relationship that you are asking them to be a part of.
- Continually thank them and provide feedback.
- If they feel comfortable asking, provide additional coaching.
- Have a staff member accompany a board member on any visit requesting what you would consider a major gift.
- Be sure that proper cultivation and conversations have taken place before you ask for a major gift — utilize best practices with volunteers.
- Be sure to show that your approach is donor-focused.
- Thank them, make it fun and show their impact. Make being on your board, being an ambassador and investing in your mission one of their top
How you invest in your board will determine the results. If fundraising is important to your mission, then the leadership of your board is essential.
Looking for Jeff? You'll find him either on the lake, laughing with good friends, or helping nonprofits develop to their full potential.
Jeff believes that successful fundraising is built on a bedrock of relevant, consistent messaging; sound practices; the nurturing of relationships; and impeccable stewardship. And that organizations that adhere to those standards serve as beacons to others that aspire to them. The Bedrocks & Beacons blog will provide strategic information to help nonprofits be both.
Jeff has more than 25 years of nonprofit leadership experience and is a member of the NonProfit PRO Editorial Advisory Board.