5 Steps to Make Your Board More Involved and Effective at Fundraising

This blog post originally appeared on the National Executive Service Corps (NESC) blog on nonprofit board fundraising. NESC and ESC are affiliates of ESC-US

Great nonprofit boards don’t just focus on governance and strategy.  They recognize the connection between financial resources and program delivery, and therefore play a key role in fundraising.

You are not alone if you wish your board were more engaged with – and more effective at – fundraising.  According to multiple surveys, fundraising tops the list of challenges that nonprofits and their boards face:

In a BoardSource survey, fundraising topped the list of nonprofit board challenges and received the lowest performance grades from both Board Chairs and Executive Directors.

In an NPCC Needs Assessment Survey, the top two challenges identified were fundraising-related: Nurturing donor relationships (60%) and Board fundraising (58%).

There are several steps you can take to help make your board more involved in – and effective at – fundraising:

  • Create a culture of fundraising within your organization.
    Make sure that board members understand what’s expected of them and that fundraising is a key part of their role.
  • Train and coach your board on how to do fundraising.
    Make sure that the importance of fundraising is reinforced during orientation of new board members, and provide guidance for all board members about the various ways in which they may be able to contribute.  Help them identify how they can contribute to the effort in ways in which they feel comfortable.  For example, some may be good at generating names or making introductions or thanking donors, while others may be better at making the pitch for money.
  • Focus first on making connections and networking.
    Successful fundraising starts with building a pipeline of prospective donors and cultivating those relationships.  Not everyone is good at asking for money, but everyone knows people.  Be sure your board members know the elevator speech for your organization and can communicate it with enthusiasm.  This is where board members can make their most important contribution.
  • Think of fundraising as a sales process.
    The process starts with identifying prospects, and then feeding them into the funnel where some are encouraged to become first-time givers and then cultivated to ultimately, hopefully, become major donors.  This process needs to be explicitly managed, with the board and staff working together to use their time and talents to best advantage.
  • Commit appropriate resources to fundraising.
    Depending on the size of your organization, having one or more full-time staff members focused on fundraising and development can pay for itself many times over.  The board should review this as part of its governance role and make sure the organization has adequate staff resources focused on fundraising.

There is good news on the fundraising front.  Charitable giving rose 4% in 2015.  Although individual giving still accounts for 71% of total donations, nonprofits are continuing to explore strategies to revise their mix of sources to include foundations, bequests, and corporations, while also seeking to reach nontraditional audiences using online and social media.

And further good news: boards are improving at establishing explicit fundraising expectations and increasing member giving – 86% of board members give, up from 60% in 1994.

But “give or get” is not good enough.  To fundraise successfully, your organization needs to follow the 6 R’s of fundraising: research, romance, request, recognize, retain, and renew donors.  What more could your board be doing to help the effort?  Consider having a board offsite meeting to focus on fundraising.

Try this 6-minute video to help stimulate your planning.