Involving Your Board and Board Members in Fund Development

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And so we return to an old topic. I’ve written about this topic before in previous columns. There are always some new angles; there are always old angles that must be repeated.

Here goes:

Sometimes, it’s a struggle to get the board to carry out its fund development role. Often, it’s even harder to get individual board members to participate. Even if they understand their roles, they don’t want to do “that fundraising stuff.”

Where do you start? First, let’s examine a few basic questions. Get your head straight about these, and then it’s easier to move forward. For example:

  • Why do you want board members involved?

Do you really want them involved? If you had enough money to hire lots of development staff, would you forgo board member involvement?

I would not hire more staff and forego board member involvement. Philanthropy is defined as voluntary action for the common good—so I want volunteers involved.

  • How does shared understanding and ownership add value?

I want my board members to understand the role that philanthropy and fund development play in the organization. I want board members to recognize the legal and moral accountability of the board itself. I expect individual board members to care enough to overcome their own discomfort and convenience and help.

If this isn’t the way your board and board members function, then you have a problem. And it isn’t a fundraising problem—it’s a board screening and recruitment problem. You have to identify and fix the right problem. You must be more than a fundraising technician. You have to be an organizational development specialist. I’ve written about that in this column and in my book Strategic Fund Development. And there’s an article in the Free Download Library on my website, too.

  • Do you hope to make this work fun for your board members?

I don’t. My goal is to make it “a bit easier” or at least “less worse.”

The job of the executive director or development officer is to help board members do fund development. Staff guides and facilitates the fund development process.

I call this “enabling,” a process of empowering others. Effective enablers clarify roles and relationships, identify and remove barriers, communicate to build learning, provide direction and resources, and coach and mentor people to succeed. By enabling board members, you help them do this work. Check out my previous column about enabling

Some Strategies that Work

So, now what is there to do? Try these practical ideas. I’ve used them all to great success.

  1. Articulate the fund development roles of the board and the board member. Always remember that the board is different than the board member; the terms are not interchangeable!
    1. Develop a written job description for the board, adopted as a policy and enforced.

      This job description outlines the scope of authority and functions of corporate governance. Of course, part of the description talks about the board’s role in fund development. To ensure adequate financial structure, for example, the board—at its meetings—does things like adopt a budget, adopt a fund development plan, define the parameters of board member performance in fund development, and set fund development policies.

      See the job descriptions and role descriptions in the Free Download Library on my website.

    2. Now, turn your attention to the individual board members.

      Adopt clear performance expectations common to all board members. Part of this policy delineates specific expectations in relationship building and fund development.

      Board member performance expectations also include things like supporting the values, mission and vision of the organization; regularly attending board meetings and participating in strategic questioning and conversation; supporting decisions once made; and maintaining confidentiality and avoiding conflict of interest.

      Here comes the hard part…

    3. Hold your board members accountable to the performance expectations. Before you nominate anyone to serve on the board, conduct a screening interview and secure commitment to these expectations. Also, evaluate board member performance annually and provide feedback to the weak performers.
  2. Establish a Board-level Fund Development Committee.
    1. A Board member chairs the committee. Board members and non-Board members serve on the committee. Your chief development officer serves as staff to the committee. Together, the committee chair and development officer design meeting agendas and facilitate the committee process.
    2. The committee is not responsible for raising the money. The committee, in partnership with the development officer, helps institutionalize the process of fund development within the board. The committee helps develop the fundraising plan and helps engage all board members in doing some of the work.
  3. Conduct an assessment of your development operation.
  4. Borrow a development audit tool from a colleague, or find one on the Internet. The Fund Development Committee, in partnership with the development officer, can conduct the audit. Share the results with the Board and outline how to make changes.

    Okay—this one is one of my favorites!

  5. Host a complain-and-whine session.
      1. At a board meeting (or retreat), ask board members to share all that they dislike about fundraising. Ask them to share all their negative experiences and everything that makes them uncomfortable.
      2. Guess what? A lot of this, they should dislike. Too much that’s done in fundraising is actually not good practice. It’s often quick-fix, transactional, and disrespectful. Validate their concerns. Confirm that you won’t do the bad stuff. And then explain why some of what they don’t like is good to do, and how you’ll help them do it.
  6. Okay. That’s the end of today’s ideas. Check out my next column for more ways to involve your board members in fund development. And your board as a group, too.

  • Stephen Slade

    And while you are trying to do all this, you are not doing things that actually raise money. Time is money and in my experience the time spent trying to get the Board to do what it doesn’t want to or isn’t able to do is one of the least productive things I can do. I’m sure this stuff has worked somewhere, but never, once, in the dozens of small non-profits I’ve worked for and been involved with. I’ve stopped beating this dead horse and, instead, do the many things I know work to raise money.

  • Terry Fernsler

    Sustainable fundraising is hard work, but very rewarding.

  • ambler stephenson

    I’m developing a website that would put donors in direct contact with members of organizations. I was hoping that board members would occasionally participate in such interactions, but this article – and above comments – has me wondering a) would they be willing and b) how freely are board members able to discuss their orgs? Thanks for the interesting article Simone.

  • Simone Joyaux

    Indeed, enabling volunteers to do things — whether it is help fundraise or do governance well — requires time and effort and respect and a genuine belief that volunteer participation matters. And, sometimes, the fundraiser just has to do it herself or himself. Sometimes, the fundraiser cannot spend the time enabling volunteers.

    But ultimately, this is not just about raising money. This is about philanthropy – voluntary action for the common good. That is donors of time and money. And boards – and those individual board members – add incomparable value when enabled effectively.

    I find that the best fundraisers and best executive directors – no matter the size of the organization – take the time to engage board members and to engage the board. And the best fundraisers and executive directors understand the value of stakeholders and understand that fundraising is not merely about money for mission. Fund development – and philanthropy – are bigger than that.

    Sustainable organizations and sustainable companies don’t depend upon a small core of people. Leadership is about engaging others, enabling others to succeed. Over and over, the most successful and sustainable nonprofits and for-profits find that success and sustainability depended on lots of people.

  • betty

    so true – always enjoy your articles and the way you tell it – donors tell us they want volunteers involved and not just staff. it has to be a team effort to gather funds for a nonprofit – thanks b

  • Mary Connors

    Repetition, I am learning from all arenas of life, is good. Some people learn quickly, and some not so quickly. Many people come and go or are in a different position and can use this same info. It is appreciated.

  • Andrea

    No question Stephen, engaging a board to raise funds can be frustrating, especially when you “adopt” board members who may not have been properly vetted when placed.

    What works for you? As a development professional, I am always eager to learn what is successful for others. Do you engage your board for any type of fundraising efforts?


  • Mark Coren

    One of the biggest problems I’ve seen with boards that I’ve worked with or served on is tunnel-vision about how fundraising needs to happen. Especially when dealing with boards for smaller organizations, I’ve found the leadership tends to be comfortable with one or two models of fundraising. As the organization grows and economies change, these once reliable means often become less reliable, or are just tapped out.

    The smart leaders I’ve seen start cultivating board members’ fundraising strengths from day one. Some people flourish in one on one/networking approaches. Others are great at larger community events where masses are the key. Others yet are grant-writing machines. Learn to recognize quickly on where a board member can create the most value, and your fundraising will increase dramatically. If you absolutely have to follow a particular model for part of your fundraising, then figure out how to support it internally or recruit specifically with that in mind.

    Of course, there are always some practical and regulatory boundaries that have to be observed. In the long run though, the boards that best support fundraising are the ones who play to their members’ strengths.

  • Simone Joyaux

    Sometimes I think we fundraisers (and executive directors) are just so mad at our board members that we can’t see straight. I remember being mad. And even as a consultant, I sometimes get mad at board members. But “come on,” I say to myself and to the rest of us. Find their strengths, yes indeed. Help them do this. Give them tips. Support them. Joke with them. Stop being so darn serious all the time. Respect them. Teach them. Partner with them.

    And start right at the beginning, yes indeed. Engage them in talking about why they care and why they give time and money and why they choose to serve on the board. Help them respect their own stories and tell their own stories and invite stories from others.

    Relationship building and mission impact and governance and management and fundraising are all team sports. Let’s play well together.

  • Susan Langer

    If you’re looking for immediate results, it rarely happens. But, as they say, anything of value doesn’t come easy. When we properly recruit, train and engage board members, they realize it’s their fiduciary responsibility to introduce its development team to others — companies, foundations and individuals — in order to make them (the board) successful. By employing the “Give-or-Get” philosophy, you are in a position to leverage the unique and varying assets of each board member ($$, knowledge, networks, etc.). Board members are a non-profits’ #1 donor. With that said, they deserve to be seen as more than a wallet/purse. It’s in the process of developing authentic relationships with board members where we discover that which both drew them to the mission of the non-profit, as well as their personal emotional triggers that drives their personal sacrifice of time … the most valuable asset one can give. Moreover, you’ll learn how to affirm/reward their generosity in ways that will move them to give and get even more.

  • Regina Snyder

    thank you for the practical information you offer. I can use much of what your papers offere. I am new to the area of development and appreciate all the help I can secure.

  • herman

    Simply said.
    Strongly believed.
    Straight Shooting

  • Sydney Roberts Rockefeller

    I loved this and look forward to your next article.

  • Sydney Roberts Rockefeller

    How I agree with you! Thanks for taking the time to write!

  • linda

    Simone, I just saw this — terrific reminder. It’s easy to get weary and irritable. And you’re right, it is always about understanding and making the human connection, first.