Your Board Is Not a Fundraising Squad

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Simone P. Joyaux, ACFRE is recognized internationally as an expert in fund development, board and organizational development, strategic planning, and management. She is the founder and director of Joyaux Associates. Visit her website here.


Stop thinking that the principal focus of your board is fundraising. Please. Stop it right now!

Over and over, I hear staff talking about their boards and fundraising. Staff want the board to give more. To help identify and solicit major donors. To participate in fundraising events. To use their connections to get money. In summary, staff expect the board to focus a lot on fundraising. And that typically means that staff want board members with the capacity to give (and give significantly). And staff want board members with good connections.

But wait. There’s some confusion here.

The board is accountable for corporate governance. Corporate governance is the process whereby a group of individuals (e.g., the board) ensures the health and effectiveness of the organization. Corporate governance is a collective act and only happens when the board members come together for their meetings. Read the Role of the Board, posted in the Free Download Library on my website.

To fulfill its “due diligence obligation” for ensuring corporate health and effectiveness, the board needs people with specific skills and behaviors. Skills like financial expertise and governance expertise, legal and accounting expertise, and more. See the Inventory of Skills for the Board as well as the Composition Policy, both posted in my Free Download Library.

To ensure that the due diligence obligation is observed, the board needs to be composed of diverse individuals. Diversity comes from experiencing life differently. Experiencing life differently results from such particulars as gender, generation, class, socioeconomic status, sexual orientation, and more. That diversity of life experience causes people to think differently, to ask different questions, and to challenge assumptions. And that’s what makes a good board.

Stop focusing on fundraising for your board. Your board focuses on corporate governance. Only one part of corporate governance focuses on financing, i.e., ensuring the financial integrity and sustainability of the institution.

How does the board ensure the institution’s financial integrity and sustainability as articulated in its job description? The board adopts a budget and fund development plan. The board reviews the audit. The board talks about fund development results, trends, and implications. The board adopts policies that define the role of board members in fund development. See this outlined in the Due Diligence Plan, posted in my Free Download Library.

And board members—not “the board”—participate in the fund development process. Yes, board members. There’s a big difference between the board and the board member. Please do not confuse the two. See the Board Member Performance Expectations, posted in my Free Download Library.

Every single board member can help with fund development—but only if you, the staff, enable them well. Every single board member can be successful in fund development—but only if you, the staff, understand that fund development is not about money. Rather, fund development focuses on helping donors and prospects fulfill their aspirations.

Create a menu of choices for your board members. Effectively enable your board members. See my bookStrategic Fund Development: Building Profitable Relationships That Last(Third Edition, 2011) for details and for examples of how to enable them.

And stop thinking that your board and/or your board members exist to help fundraise. Stop that right now!

  • KCook

    I am afraid I only marginally agree with you. In this sense, you are technically correct, but the approach feels off base. The third to last paragraph that speaks to staff members enabling board members is where I think the crux of the matter lies. My concern with your post is that the tone seems to scold nonprofit leaders for having the expectation that a board will raise money. What I think, in fact, is needed is better skills, tools, and knowledge that ease the dynamics between staff and board to turn fundraising into a part of nonprofit business that feels successful and manageable. Those of us who participate in the nonprofit sector know that subsidy funds are required to further our mission – and boards are an essential ingredient in making that possible. So, yes, turn to your boards, do expect them to universally participate in generating resources (financial and otherwise), and do so with a great awareness that structure, strategy, positive energy, and support are all necessary in order for those board members to be effective.

  • Paul Lawler

    Simone, great article. I’ve linked to it on wilmingtongivesback.org You are right on target that groups often misuse boards (as much the board members fault as anyone’s.) Someone needs to be examining the group’s purpose and its response to changing conditions, and that duty is the board’s.

  • Karen Bassler

    This argument *may* be appropriate for organizations with full-time professional fundraising staff. However, for those organizations with limited staff or no staff at all, it is misleading. Many smaller organizations do not have the staff capacity to “enable” the Board to fundraise. In these cases, the Board should see as one of its main roles to be the fundraising body for the organization.

    Additionally, you leave out one key element in the process of ensuring “the institution

  • Judith Lindenau

    Simone, you are right on! I particularly need to underline one statement you make: “Effectively enable your board members. ” That’s a hard job in itself– sometimes it’s much easier to cast blame on the board members than it is to create an environment where they can effectively carry out their diverse responsibilities.

  • Simone Joyaux

    Thanks, all, for your comments. I agree with many of your comments. But I remain firm… CORPORATE GOVERNANCE is not merely about ensuring financial sustainability. There is more to corporate governance than that. And board members – the individuals that compose our boards – do not exist merely to make connections and use their networks to raise money.

    Absolutely yes, the board (as a group) should be involved in creating the fund development plan. This helps build understanding and ownership. My website has a handout that describes this process. And my book STRATEGIC FUND DEVELOPMENT describes how to do this at great length and with examples.

    I also agree it’s tough being a small organization without development staff. Many many many organizations do not have development staff. And so that makes the executive director the chief development officer, too.

    BUT… And here is my big BUT. Staff need to be good enablers. If staff are not good enablers, that’s a failing. Enabling is about leadership. Enabling is necessary to get the work done. Enabling is necessary to help board members do the work.

    To be an executive director means that you run a corporation. And to run a corporation, you need to know lots more stuff than doing program. The executive director is the CEO. The executive director is the leader. The executive director needs to be knowledgeable about governance and business management and and …

    Executive directors can learn this stuff. Development directors can, too. And if staff is unwilling to learn what needs to be learned… then don’t take the job. And if staff doesn’t have time to lean what needs to be learned… then how do you think the organization will survive? And if the board is unwilling to provide money for professional development… then how will the organization thrive?

    I understand feeling overwhelmed. I understand not understanding all that needs to be done. I respect the work that wonderful nonprofits do… supported by wonderful nonprofit workers and volunteers.

    But if we cannot do this work well enough… if we cannot learn what needs to be learned — and that includes enabling — then how can we expect to create sustainable organizations? If we cannot do the infrastructure work well, then close. Yes, close. Because it’s inappropriate to do good program but poor infrastructure. It’s inappropriate to do good program but overwhelm staff and have unreasonable expectations of board members.

    We can be stronger. We can do the right stuff. We can enable our board members well. Or not. I believe this is a choice.

    Yes, you’re right, I’m scolding. I’m scolding the staff because it’s the staff that can enable the board members to make a difference. Until I’m assured that the staff is enabling well – is helping others learn and do everything that you all have described in your responses to this column – until the staff is helping all that happen…. Then I will continue to scold.

    I’ve been there. I’ve done it (well or not so well) as an executive director and a development officer. And I’ve helped organizations examine and change (or not choose to change) all this for more than 20 years as a full-time consultant.

    It’s up to the staff to enable all this to happen. And if the staff has done all they can, then we can scold the board. But only then. And if the board and board members are unwilling to change – even with good enabling – then it may be time to move on. And I hope the staff is person is willing and able to move on. Because when you understand all this and do it well, you are a treasure, a treasure for any organization. And you deserve to be treasured.

  • Arlene Spencer

    Simone, All of your points are on but I’m not clear why you’ve created an ‘either or’ context for your points. I see, too, as you point out, that nonprofit directors, staff, etc. will often say that their board does not fundraise enough or the board is in a fundraising training, etc. I believe that the board’s job includes all of the tasks you highlight (and that there is no ‘either or’). I’ve worked for several nonprofits whose boards are expected to carry out the responsibilities expected of Sarbanes-Oxley but also conduct fundraising – in particular with the major donor and in meetings with foundations’ board members (say, in order to get a grant the org applied for). In those unique fundraising situations, it demonstrates to the potential donor that the nonprofit takes their time (and consideration) seriously enough to have them meet with the most elite representatives of the nonprofit: its board members. Peer to peer meetings, during face to face fundraising not only gives due respect – it allows the potential donor to know and also have a ‘direct line’ with the leadership of the organization(for either side to get questions answered, or to further develop the relationship in the future). This is, by definition ‘development’. The board (when fundraising in face to face meetings only, i.e. major donors, etc.) has the time, then, to brush up on accounting, law, etc. and be accountable for oversight, planning, implementation of new goals, etc. It is not a situation that requires ‘either or’ if (as Karen additionally points out) if the nonprofit has regularly reviewed, updated, and implemented an annual fundraising (or development) plan that it also ratifies annually.

  • Geri Stengel

    I agree that nonprofit boards are not just a fundraising squad. Boards are also more than a financial oversight committee. Yes, both fundraising and financial oversight are important but so, too, are program oversight; individual skills such as tech, law or HR; and creativity in looking for new and better ways to accomplish the mission. It takes a commitment of time and talent, not just money, to provide a nonprofit with good governance.

  • Gayle Gifford

    Simone,
    I am so with you on this one (but then again, I usually am). I took up the subject recently in a blog post “If fundraising is a profession, why are we so angry with our amateur board members?” http://tinyurl.com/3xg64wk
    It’s really difficult to raise money for an organization that doesn’t make an important and real difference for its community (and has some evidence to back that up), that isn

  • Caroline Whiddon

    Simone,

    I’ve used a “menu of fundraising options” with my Board and experienced some degree of success with this. Like others here, I strongly agree with your statement about staff members needing to effectively motivate Board members.

    I disagree with how strongly you’re speaking against fundraising as one of the principal responsibilities of board members. Part of me thinks you must be looking to shake things up with a controversial take on this topic, maybe to drive more readers to your article/website? (In this case, it worked; I rarely comment on articles like this but I felt motivated to do so by how far you went in taking the fundraising responsibilities off of Board members’ plates).

    More than anything, I find your tone to be scolding. You work in this industry so you know employees are usually maxed-out and over-worked. Why take a tone that makes them feel as though they are getting yelled at for accepting a commonly-held belief in the nonprofit sector? Maybe you are being sarcastic or just trying to capture attention, but I wouldn’t write “Stop it right now!” twice in one article unless someone is committing a crime. I’d suggest a more supportive approach in the future.

    All things said, thanks for putting yourself out there and sharing your thoughts.

  • Elizabeth Frisch

    The tone of this article definitely set me off and came across as scolding. I think this article has some valid points around using our board members comprehensively but too broadly discusses their roles and belittles their fiduiciary role for the organization. The fact that most small non-profits have little to no staff… how can they (the board) not be involved in the fund development and own it. Way to stir the pot with this article but too far off the deep end on the board’s role.

  • Patty Azar

    Confusing, misleading and full of semantics. Leadership, governance and fundraising are a board’s responsibilities. This view removes the business of sustaining and maintaining. Scary message and supports do-nothing board members in their excuse not to be fiscally responsible for long-term success.

  • Juliet

    I am amused by the recent overuse of phrases like this–helping donors fulfill their aspirations–with absolutely no supplemental explanation about what that MEANS or how to even begin to execute a plan built on this premise. I guess it sounds nice but to the average board member and staff member it sounds like the teacher-voice from Charlie Brown movies.

  • Nancy Bacon

    There is a lot here to agree and disagree with, but this sentence offers a key piece of advice for non-profits: “And board members

  • Simone Joyaux

    Thanks for all your comments. I’m pleased that both the column and the comments keep generating more comments. Yippee. A few clarifications:

    – YES, I definitely believe that each and every board member must participate in fund development for the nonprofit. And fund development includes both relationship building and solicitation. Some board members may never solicit but are great at relationship building. I clarify this during the recruitment process and the orientation process and the “daily life as a board member” process. Staff enables all of this to happen.
    – YES, I definitely believe that one obligation of corporate governance is financial health and organizational sustainability. Corporate governance is the board’s job, the unit that Nancy refers to her in her comments.

    Read the job description of the board (corporate governance) and the performance expectations of the individual board member posted in the free download library on my website. As Nancy notes, the board is a unit doing governance. And the board is a collection of individuals who bring skills and connections. Board members participate in governance at the board meetings. And board members provide volunteer leadership and support outside of the board meeting, and that includes fund development.
    – I do NOT support “do nothing” board members. Note the menu of choices for fund development. Check out my blogs on my homepage where I talk about removing board members for non performance. I’m a big promoter of enhancing attrition or thanking and releasing. I describe that as part of enabling.

    This is challenging work – work that we can talk about with each other as professionals and work we can talk about with our boards and board members. Are we having these conversations with our boards, to help the unit and the individuals understand? Are we enabling our boards – and individual board members – to clarify roles and performance expectations? Are we enabling our boards (with the leadership of the governance committee) to remove board members for non performance?

    This is all hard work. It is the work we’ve chosen by working in the nonprofit sector.

  • Richard Biery

    Simone: Wonderful discussion. Having served on >30 boards, being a user now of Policy Governance and trained in it, I would agree w/ Simone. The role of board governance, per se, is governance. However, Policy Governance also permits the board (as a collective entity) to take on any additional role and responsibility, including fund raising, provided it doesn’t jeopardize its governance quality, is clear about it, and doesn’t try to hold management dually accountable if the board truly has assumed the role. I’m not sure what board would do that as a board, but it could.
    But at the same time all board members individually, as you say, have a responsibility to support their organization financially as able and in all other ways that have been mentioned. In fact, most Policy Governance policies state that explicitly (but are usually not formulaic).

  • Loretta Prescott

    A. The reason people talk so much about it is because most Boards are not that good at it.
    B. Boards have a wide array of responsibilities, high on the list is fiduciary responsibility. That necessarily entails giving and getting.
    C. There are already too many books about this and not enough people who profess to be experts in it out in the trenches.

  • Professor Eric Atmore

    Yes, yes, yes at last someone agrees with me. It is not the Board’s responsibility nor role to fundraise. Why do people still write and think that it is? If the Board can help then great, but it is a staff responsibility.

  • Simone Joyaux

    July 2, 2014. Hi there. Just was checking back at some of the comments. I’m glad that the article caused responses.

    Yes, I am scolding. I am disappointed in how poorly done fundraising is in so many organizations. I am disappointed in how poorly so many boards fulfill their governance obligations. I am disappointed that fundraisers (including consultants) often act as if the only purpose of the board and its members is to raise money. And, I’m disappointed that all board members do not understand their role as a lead volunteer – outside the board meeting – to help nurture relationships and help secure gifts.

    If we – the big, middle-sized, and small organizations and laborers in the sector – don’t get better at all this work…. important organizations will go out of business. Those we serve will be even greater trouble.

    Governance and fundraising are linked – but are different. Being a board member does not exclude a person from helping to nurture relationships and secure gifts. And give a gift. Board members (and executive directors) have no right to ask anyone else for a financial contribution unless they give a personal financial contribution. And you don’t have to be wealthy to give. Some board members can only give $5 or $25. That’s okay. And those who can give $1,000 – ask them for that.

    If we don’t scold each other — who will scold us? Would you rather have a donor scold you for poor relationship building? Or would you rather have one of your colleagues (me, or someone else) scold you. Our sector (nonprofit sector) and our fundraisers need scolding.

    Of course small organizations don’t have an individual devoted to fundraising on staff. So that makes the executive director the lead fundraiser. You cannot be an executive director if all you’re interested in is the program. Executive directors are more than program leaders. Executive directors are responsible to ensure good governance and good fundraising. Executive directors need to be good managers and leaders. Executive directors need to enable effectively. That’s what being an executive director – the top boss – means.

    So those are my thoughts today. Simone