Three Keys to Unlocking Board Participation in Fundraising


When it comes to involvement in fundraising there are a number of near constants: Nearly all board members want to be helpful, most staff members think their board members aren’t doing enough, and there is a general air of dissatisfaction surrounding the whole fundraising enterprise. What’s a leader to do?

There are a host of reasons that it’s challenging for board members to contribute in a meaningful way. And, in the end, getting board members engaged in fundraising boils down to three things: providing support to set them up for success, giving them options, and encouraging them to set clear expectations for fellow board members and hold each other accountable.

Support. Board members almost always need some level of coordination or handholding; this includes developing a plan, identifying leadership, assisting with orientation, help prioritizing donor lists, preparing materials to support an ask, and arranging donor meetings. Care and feeding almost always includes an element of training, regular progress reports, managing the donor recognition processes, and lots of cheerleading. (I always say: “Volunteers aren’t (typically) going to organize themselves.” Board members are no exception.) Start by asking the board what it needs and take it from there.

Options. It’s important to provide the board with options so that everyone has choices; there are lots of ways to generate options that range from low-intensity to high-intensity involvement in fundraising. One great model for this is the AAA approach to board fundraising success from Kay Sprinkel Grace. Grace offers three levels of involvement for board members: Ambassadors (every board member should play this role), Advocates (know the case and can make a pitch strategically), and Askers (who have made a stretch gift and can enthusiastically ask others to invest). Whatever model of board engagement you choose, make sure it’s one that gives board members a range of ways to support fundraising. Start by asking board members how they’d like to be involved. If no one says they want to be involved in asking for support (rare, I know, but it happens) consider recruiting new board members strategically to bring courageous Askers onto your board.

Expectations. And, speaking of recruitment … in many cases current board members joined the board at a time when there wasn’t an expectation to “give or get or both.” Most boards I work with are in the process of strengthening their expectations through some type of board contract, agreement, or position description. So, if this is you, don’t feel bad, you’re in good company. In the best-case scenario boards have an agreement, signed annually, that specifies requirements for giving (100% must give and the agreement, ideally, will say how much), encouraging others to give, and working with staff to cultivate donors and ask for support. Begin by presenting the board with the idea of a “board lifecycle” that poses the question: Is this the ideal board composition for sustaining our organization and increasing our impact? If you remove the “shame” factor of looking backward to past performance and simply pose a question that addresses the future and what’s possible, the answer will almost always surprise you!

No matter how much we want every board member to be all-in on fundraising, some of us have to live and work on planet Earth. It may be that what you need to build to actually get money in the door is a fundraising Dream Team. Watch for next week’s post on how to assemble and unleash your Dream Team to drive fundraising success.

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