Board Member Philanthropic Involvement

Image by Howard Lake on Flickr

It is not uncommon to find that there are board members who do not feel it is their responsibility or capability to participate in the fundraising activities of your nonprofit. Many may say they do not enjoy it or they find the prospect unsavory. They may not have personal wealth or they may not have connections.

However, they must also consider that the people who wanted to start the nonprofit did not do so because of their love of fundraising. They started the nonprofit because they had a goal. They had a mission to solve something that may not otherwise be solved. They wanted to provide a solution or an opportunity. While creating this nonprofit, the concept of fundraising was likely an afterthought. Very rare few people actually enjoy fundraising. In fact, nonprofits are typically run by those who deem themselves no interested in money and only eager to do social good. This is not a realistic standpoint from which to solve any problem or provide any social good. As uncomfortable as it may be, fundraising is a necessary component to success of your mission and goals as well as to the survival of the organization itself. Without fundraising, grants will remain forever out of reach. Foundations require demonstration of local and active fundraising efforts by their grantees.

It is essential that all members of the organization, including the board members, are actively engaged in all fundraising activities. To do so not only solidifies their purpose on the board, it also asserts their determination to see the nonprofit thrive. Disinterest relating to fundraising has to go beyond personal comfort and become something bigger than the individual. Charitable giving is currently rising above $400 billion in the United States. As thrilling as that may sound, it does not come by easily. Those dollars are in heavy competition with many others who feel that their organization deserves the funding more than yours. Personal donations, government grants, corporate gifts, private foundations, and other fundraising platforms are continuously expanding. Smaller nonprofits are not finding themselves on the positive end of the receiving stick.

Donors are shifting as well. Changing demographics and shifting priorities have placed much of the traditional check writing donors with no other involvement into a position where they want to be strategic with their contributions. Many are becoming more and more involved with the recipients of their contributions. They may even want reports on how their funds were used or they may want to remain in contact with board members or organizational staff. Some are almost aligning themselves in the same capacity as grant makers, without the oversight that private and corporate grant-maker foundation boards require. It may even be possible to include them in the governing board. Their vested interest and demonstration of intent to support can be a favorable asset.

These changes demonstrate a need for a different type of fundraising approach than many nonprofits have faced in the past. Holding fast to the organization’s core identity and mission must be a shared responsibility, and board members are just as accountable to this facet as the staff and founders are.

Setting the Tone

A systematic approach is essential to strategic fundraising efforts. Starting with the CEO or executive director, other leadership and board chair members, the launching of any soliciting donations campaign must be comprehensive with clear goals and strategy in order to be successful. A written strategic plan is essential. This plan must also include the precise messaging that all members will utilize to generate a cohesive and consistent effort.

The organizational culture itself must embrace fundraising. Passion for the work is not enough. Assuming that foundations will clamor to support you is misguided. Ensure your mission is clear in all efforts: meetings, materials, decision making, and fundraising strategies. The leadership must set forth a culture of purposeful fundraising that is rewarding and easy to support. It should be presented in a fashion that invokes the passion of the entire organization to feel honored and privileged to partake in this endeavor (fundraising and the organization’s mission). If fundraising is seen as a chore, the results will be lackluster at best.

How to Get the Board to Participate

Selecting your board should include understanding that fundraising is part of the expectation. Not only should it be an expectation, but personal donations to the organization should also be expected. Set the tone from the onset that they are buying in to the financial responsibility of keeping the organization stable and growing. This should also include contribution of their time and effort. One factor that every nonprofit must be aware of is that grant-making agencies will require 100% board donation participation. Without this, they do not feel that your organization has a firm platform from which they can ensure continuous success and growth. Stability is a key factor in grant funding decisions.

If you did not begin your board selection with this expectation, it will be key to implement this change as soon as you possibly can. If certain board members find it insulting, then look to replace them. This is an easy way to determine who is truly invested in the success of your nonprofit. It should not only fall on the shoulders of the CEO or Executive Director. Nor can it fall on the hands of a fundraising consultant. Consultants advise strategy, they do not carry your nonprofit’s fundraising for you. In order to make this level of change, the governance committee will need to create and ratify a document for board expectation that stipulates the financial expectations of each and every board member. This document can be reviewed and revised as necessary, but it is essential in setting precedence on expectations without generating at whim behavior by individual board members who aren’t truly invested in the organization. This is a strong means by which to measure the board members’ participation, meeting attendance, and organizational support. Once established, it will be a handbook provided to any new board members in the future as well. All parties will be aware that their duties and responsibilities include financial contributions and fundraising involvement.

Every board member must participate in the solicitation of funding. Some may need mentoring or guidance on how to accomplish this goal. If the leadership have no experience in fundraising, it would be in the organization’s best interest to hold a special meeting that includes an adviser or consultant who can come in and train everyone on the process. It may also benefit your organization to include someone with such a background or experience as a staff member or as a board member. Some board members are going to be more effective than others, so it is also critical to know how to use their various strengths appropriately in the efforts. Board self-assessment inventories are available to help you to identify these strengths in your individual members. This will also help you to identify areas that need fortification. A development committee can be established to assist in designating specific roles in the fundraising strategy to individual members. This also helps to ensure that philanthropy is in the forefront of every board meeting. No organization should ever avoid talking about fundraising. It is the lifeblood of your organization’s existence.

Board Meeting Strategy

Board meetings are the most critical time to address fundraising efforts, opportunities, and momentum.

  1. Every meeting should include some form of narrative that reminds all members of their organization’s purpose and why fundraising is essential. Remind them why they are there.
  2. Development discussions should not fall to the end of the meeting. In order to obtain sufficient attention and priority, it should be placed in the first half of the meeting time-frame.
  3. Development director or board chair provide fundraising updates or reports in order to validate the gravity and reinforce the authority of the issue.
  4. If motivational activities are part of your board meetings, include one that shares success stories relating to fundraising challenges.

In summary, all board members must know that it is their obligation, duty, and privilege to not only serve as advisers for your nonprofit, but that their active contributions and engagement in the fundraising process are essential to the very life and survival of the organization itself. Grant funding depends upon it.