Building a fundraising board

Keith Curtis
Keith Curtis

Keith Curtis

Will the board members of your nonprofit do anything but ask for money? When asked to make a donation themselves, do they point to their time as their gift?

For most nonprofits, the board of directors has two roles: governance, which involves making policy and stewarding finances; and support.

The support role is where boards sometimes fall short because, frankly, it’s harder. Providing support, especially in this time of reduced government funding, requires that a board member be a participant, donor, and fundraiser.

Your board is your link to the community, so it must lead your fundraising.

Here’s a compelling reason why. A 2009 survey by Cygnus Applied Research found that 42 percent of respondents would give to a nonprofit they had not supported in the past if someone they knew asked them for a gift.

More than 80 percent of all U.S. charitable giving comes from individuals.

That’s why the most successful boards are involved in planning, executing, and evaluating their nonprofit’s development efforts.

They understand their organization’s case for support and know how to make “the ask.”

They identify, cultivate, and recruit potential donors and new board members.

They would never assume fundraising is a staff function.

And they give not only time but money. How can board members justify asking others to give if they haven’t yet made a gift?

But effective boards don’t just happen. Building them begins with the recruitment process, which must be strategic.

It’s not just filling open positions. Being asked to serve on a nonprofit board should be considered an honor by the prospective member.

Once that’s established, present the prospective member with a job description that spells out expectations. Be clear that every board member must support your events and make a gift.

If a prospective member isn’t willing to give, don’t ask her to serve.

Before a new member attends her first board meeting, orient her by reviewing your mission, programs, role of the board, role of the staff, financial picture, development program and fundraising plans. Offer a tour; introduce her to volunteers and staff leadership.

If a board member has little experience in fundraising, involve her slowly.

Arrange for board training and role-playing. Send a new member with an experienced one to make a gift call.

Untrained members making gift calls are likely to fail, and that’s a disservice to the board member, the prospective donor, and the people served by your organization.

A board member sharing his or her story with a potential donor is one of the most effective ways to raise money.

Another 2009 survey, this one by our colleagues at the Indiana University Center on Philanthropy and Campbell & Company, found that donors asked to give in person by someone they knew gave 19 percent more than if asked another way.

Board members also can identify people who might be interested in your cause, engage attendees at your organization’s events, make thank-you calls to donors and bring potential donors to cultivation events.

If your board members aren’t willing to do all of the above, it might be time for this question: Why are they on your board?

Keith Curtis is a board member of Giving USA, board member of the Giving Institute, and president of the Hampton Roads Gift Planning Council. He is also president and CEO of The Curtis Group, a fundraising consulting firm based in Virginia.

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