The Board’s Role in Fundraising

The Board’s Role in Fundraising

“Should my board help me raise funds?” The obvious answer is yes, of course they should! Now comes the hard part. Getting the board to actually raise money is a lot tougher than simply saying they should. Many nonprofits, of all sizes and types of mission, overlook the basic steps necessary to engage the board in effective fundraising. The following nine tips will put your board on the right track. And there’s a bonus attached. Once the board masters these eight steps, they will be participating, they’ll be engaged, and they will truly make a difference!

Tip #1: Make sure the agency is worth raising funds for. The board’s primary responsibility is to govern the agency and ensure that it delivers on its promise. That means the board sets direction, defines the vision, mission, goals and objectives, and holds the CEO or Executive Director accountable for achieving results. It is not, emphatically not, the board’s job to act as volunteers, stuff envelopes, provide free legal or accounting services, although they may do such things if the board as a whole decides they should. It is the board’s job to represent the constituents your agency serves, and to demand excellence from agency performance. Once the board has clearly defined its leadership role, then and only then is it ready to start raising money.

Tip #2: Engage their hearts – and their wallets. If you serve on a nonprofit board, then it stands to reason that you believe in that organization. Therefore, the agency should be one of the prime recipients of your personal giving. The board’s second step toward fundraising is the instituting of a “give or get” policy, whereby board members either write a check or find others to write checks on their behalf. If the board member can’t afford to give the required amount, then they can raise the money from others. Board members that are not willing to invest in the financial future of the agency may not be the best candidates for board service. Give-or-get policies need not be overtaxing; giving can start as low as you wish.

Tip #3: Write a strong Case Statement for giving. It’s not fair to sit back and assume that board members know how – or why – to raise money for your agency; give them the right support. Provide an effective Case Statement, a document that ‘makes the case’ for supporting the agency. The Case Statement starts with the agency’s mission statement and then goes beyond it. It should cover the “economic” as well as the “emotional” appeal. The emotional appeal tells prospective donors about the good works that the charity performs and engages their hearts. The economic appeal tells donors why the charity’s work contributes to the economy, why it is “donation-worthy,” and engages their wallets. Your Case Statement may include a description of funding levels or even specific purposes for which you need funding. Make sure each board member has copies of this document, and be sure to review and revise it every year.

Tip #4: Profile the types of donors you’d like to attract. Describe your ideal donor, including details about the demographics of donors most likely to give such as age, zip code, level of affluence, history of past giving, and so forth. Then include the interests, passions or convictions of your ideal donor. Document this profile as a benchmark or guideline for qualifying new donors. Once you have developed the ideal funder/donor profile, use it as a reason to exclude unqualified opportunities as well as to include the appropriate ones. This reduces the likelihood of board members wasting time on unqualified prospects.

Tip #5: Board members know people. Develop an initial list of prospective donors by asking board members to identify individuals whom they can contact on behalf of your agency. Pulling a name out of the newspaper is not the best place to start; the board member must use his or her personal influence to start the process. Provide the board members with your Ideal Donor Profile ahead of time and ask “who do you know that resembles this profile?” Board members can and should use their contacts and influence to schedule time for meetings and discussions with these individuals. This exercise may put some of your board members to the test. If no one on your board has influence or contacts in the community, it may be wise to find new board members that do.

Tip #6: The staff raises grants; the board raises philanthropy. Nonprofits raise money from four types of income: grants, fees for service (earned income), philanthropy and corporate partnerships. The staff is best suited to pursuing grant opportunities and earned income; let them do it. The board, on the other hand, is best suited for raising money from individual philanthropy (individual donations of any size) and from corporations. First, have the staff figure out how much they need to earn from each funding category, then describe and prioritize their specific funding needs. (By the way, “we just need more money” is not a need, it’s a complaint.) Once the staff has defined its funding needs, prioritized them, and determined which needs are better underwritten by philanthropy or corporate donations, the board can begin to plan their schedule of calls and visits. Make sure there is a useful Ideal Donor Profile for wealthy individuals, and another one specifically for corporate partnerships or sponsorships.

Tip #7: Encourage them to leverage their contacts. Board members know lots of people. Make sure they feel comfortable approaching their contacts on your behalf. Remind them that they may know wealthy individuals, people who like to volunteer, corporate executives looking for charities with which to align themselves, or folks who want to serve on boards. Make your board members feel comfortable in approaching their contacts and connections. This can be especially helpful if your board member is acquainted with the founder or director of a family-owned foundation.

Tip #8: Help them ask for money. Some board members may be uncomfortable with asking for donations. Give them a hand by providing your Case Statement, Ideal Donor Profile, and list of funding needs. Arrange for some training. Schedule participation in a class, bring in an outside expert, or devote time (in or out of board meetings) for board and staff members to practice, rehearse and coach one another until ‘making the ask’ feels natural. Revenue development is a professional skill, and it’s not fair to assume that all board members have equal skills or talents for the work.

Tip #9: Track performance. Set up specific performance targets for fundraising, using so-called “leading” indicators, that is indicators that take place before the money comes in the door. Consider such indicators as growth in size of prospect database and growth in numbers of proposals under discussion with wealthy individuals and corporate sponsor prospects. The Executive Director should collate such data on a regular basis and report on it at every board meeting. Constant attention to the realities of the fundraising process will institute an important discipline for all.

Fundraising is a critical, strategic function that needs and deserves strong leadership. It’s not “somebody else’s” job, it’s everyone’s. And it’s not enough to simply assume that board members will do the work without being asked, without tools, and without training. We encourage board members to take this message to heart and build on these simple tips to create effective fundraising disciplines.

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