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.