After recently facilitating a board training (read more about that here), I’ve spent some time reflecting on what it really takes to engage board members in fundraising. In my experiences as a fundraiser, board member and board chair, the theme I see over and over again is that boards rarely go from zero to one hundred when it comes to fundraising. It can take many months of consistent, smaller steps for board members to gain confidence and momentum in fundraising.
When I stepped down from a board last Fall (after having been a member for six years), the board was a really great place in terms of supporting fundraising. But that didn’t happen overnight. In fact, when I first joined, the board chair at the time told me that the organization was “not a fundraising organization.” I knew this wasn’t true because the staff were doing a lot of fundraising, and by the time I left so was the board.
So, how did that transformation happen? Here are some of the key ingredients that helped catalyze the board’s fundraising transformation and could help your board, too.
Identifying a Long-Term Goal
Most non-profits have strategic or long-term goals that they are working towards. If one of the goals includes increasing fundraising (or something to that extent), this is a goal that board members must take ownership of. As board members, part of their fiduciary responsibility means ensuring the financial stability of the organization. Now, the organization’s fundraising goal might seem daunting for board members with limited fundraising experience. In this case, it can be helpful to develop a separate long-term goal that the board can buy into.
Here are a few examples:
• Creating and maintain a working Fundraising Committee
• Commit to raising $__ as a board each year
• Participate in the organization’s peer-to-peer fundraising (like a charity run)
• Actively support the major gifts program at the organization
Having a clear long-term goal will give the board the focus it needs.
Having a Fundraising Champion on the Board
Having the right people around the board room table is the foundation of a board’s success. One of those people needs to be a fundraising champion. This could be a professional fundraiser or someone who has previous board experience where they actively supported fundraising. This person needs to be able to rally the group to action, even when the going gets tough.
When I think about my own board experience, having a professional background in fundraising allowed me to also be a knowledge philanthropist on the board and offer valuable advice. As a board member, this made me feel like I was positively contributing and was very motivating for me.
When I facilitate board retreats and trainings, I’ll often hear from board members that they want to support fundraising, but they just aren’t sure what to do. Whether you choose to hire an external trainer or work with internal staff, providing your board members with training is essential to their success. Work with your board members to identify their knowledge gaps and design a training that will help them step into a fundraising role.
Having one training is great and I encourage you to think about other ways your organization can support your board’s on-going professional development. This could include circulating useful articles or blog posts, signing up for free webinars, or reading books like The Ultimate Board Member’s Book: A 1-Hour Guide to Understanding and Fulfilling Your Role and Responsibilities by Kay Sprinkle Grace.
Accountability and Consistent Action
If your board truly wants to find momentum with fundraising, they need accountability and consistent action. For instance, having fundraising as a standing agenda item will allow board members to report back on what they’ve done since the previous meeting and plan their next steps. These don’t have to be big steps. A series of small actions over time will add up and have big rewards for your organization.
I’d love to hear from you in the comments below. What have you done to help your board step into a fundraising role? What do you think they need to succeed?