Board Fundraising

Special to the Philanthropy Journal

By David Ko and Abdoul Yacouba

As a land-grant university, NC State is committed to providing students hands-on, highly-engaged learning opportunities AND to providing research that is of direct, practical use to the fields we work in. Philanthropy Journal proudly presents the latest in a series of evidence-based resource articles developed by Dr. Amanda J. Stewart‘s masters level Management of Nonprofit Organizations classes. These articles represent a perfect overlap of engaged learning and practical research.

Fundraising. Why is it so difficult? Who is responsible? A major issue many nonprofit organizations (NPOs) face is funding. Board members have general oversight and fiduciary responsibilities, which includes fundraising. To be effective, management and members at all levels of the organization need to participate but an issue arises when board members at the top of the organization are not engaged.

It is often assumed that new board members know what is expected of them. However, NPOs are often desperately seeking volunteer board members and many find it necessary to bring onboard those without adequate experience and knowledge. In addition, research indicates that many boards fail to appropriately communicate roles and expectations to new onboarding members[1]. Partly because every board is different and partly because each member is so busy doing their work, boards often feel they don’t have enough time to make sure everyone is on the same page. According to a Guidestar article, much of this is caused by NPOs[2]. Many board members join without knowing much about fundraising. Luckily, this can be resolved if organizations educate board members of their roles and provide them with strategies. NPOs should plan, inform, equip, and hold board members accountable. These often intermingle and create a good basis for fundraising efforts. Beth Briggs, a seasoned retired nonprofit executive and current board member of several NPOs, emphasizes the importance of educating board members of their responsibilities and ensuring that they understand, fundraising is an essential part of their role. 

Plan Ahead & Establish Expectations

First and foremost, NPOs need strategic planning. The organization needs to focus on its mission and vision, establish and align goals and strategies in terms of fundraising, and make sure they are understood at all levels of the organization. The more they understand and are enthusiastic about the overall mission and vision, the better they will be able to do their job. Additionally, having a succession plan and implementing orientation for new board members, as well as providing ongoing training will help clarify expectations and result in stronger fundraising capabilities, with competent and more successful board members.

Inform & Empower

The roles and responsibilities of board members should be defined explicitly. This allows board members to know exactly what is expected of them in terms of engagement, personal & financial commitment, along with their role in reaching out to others. The organization can then support board members with the necessary skills tools to help in doing their jobs effectively, such as communication skills, potential donor lists, and methods to engage interest. Guarantee board member success by educating board candidates as much as possible about your organization before they get onboard, even during the process of recruiting.

Hold Members Accountable for their Commitments

In addition, it is often expected for each board member to either contribute a certain established amount, or to contribute as much as they are able, according to their abilities[3]. Having a passion for the cause and understanding your role in it is important, due to the fact that it is not unusual for donors to expect of their askers, to already have given as well. A survey conducted by Stanford Graduate School of Business, in collaboration with BoardSource and GuideStar, agreed with Beth’s observations. According to the survey, fifty-three percent of respondents said their NPOs required their board members to donate to their organization each year. Ninety-two percent of respondents did so anyway, whether it was required or not[4]. On another note, Beth Briggs shared a scenario where a board member was not doing much work for the organization. However, after some discussion and planning, the board asked the member to help with work in a specific area. From that point on, the board member did such a wonderful job that they realized it wasn’t a lack of effort, it was a matter of understanding how to help, which stressed the importance of understanding roles and accountability.

After establishing roles, informing, and holding them accountable, NPOs need to equip the board members to do their jobs well.

Equip – Skills

Storytelling Skills – It is important that members are able to share stories of the work they do, the difference it’s making, and the impact of donations. Powerful stories and the ability to deliver them in the right way can aid in funding. New members may not be aware of events or stories that have unfolded over the history of the organization. Senior members can fill them in with the history and stories of previous events that have proven to be effective in touching the hearts of donors in the past.  Donors want to hear success stories, they want to hear that their contributions are changing people and impacting lives. Not only the stories themselves but also skills that allow them to present those stories well will aid in its effectiveness. Skills such as public speaking skills, including the tone of voice, volume, as well as knowing which of sympathetic or passionate tone to use with different stories, can all contribute to the overall effectiveness of the stories told. The ability to recognize the needs of the audience to know which stories to tell in order to relate it to the audience is also important. Being able to narrate the story of a woman that was cured from breast cancer or an unfortunate child that the organization provided an opportunity for, can touch the hearts of people who have experienced similar scenarios in the past. Stories can appeal to empathy and compassion, as one activist for education and nonprofits puts it, “Storytelling is fundraising fuel–make sure your board members’ tanks are full…”[5] Even more, sharing stories will build enthusiasm and provide a means to reach out to others.

Potential donors should then be identified, whose needs and interests would be satisfied, while at the same time align with the goals of the NPO. Once identified, it is important to use all factors of the external environment to the NPO’s advantage.

Equip – Networking Opportunities

Maximizing fundraising potential is about relationships. Guaranteeing board members have the opportunities to engage with potential donors is a crucial part of the process of raising money. The NPOs can provide networking opportunities by organizing specialized events such as Galas and provide board members with potential high-profile donor lists to target. Members can also help by cultivating potential donors or stewarding existing donors to create donor loyalty. The “ask” is only one part of the process, maintaining donor relationship with the organization is another[6].

NPOs with board members who are aware, equipped, and engaged will help keep funds flowing, and support sustainability of the organization.


[1] Renz, David O. “Leadership, Governance and the Work of the Board.” The Jossey-Bass Handbook of Nonprofit Leadership and Management, edited by David O. Renz, Hoboken, New Jersey: Jossey-Bass, A Wiley brand, 2016, p. 143.

[2] Pursuant. “5 Board Fundraising Myth-Busted: Why board members fail at fundraising before they even begin?’’ Guidestar, 8/17/15. Accessed April 6th, 2018.

[3] Ko, David, and Siddo Yacouba. “BOD roles of funding and related issues.” 23 Feb. 2018.

[4] Larcker, David F., et al. “2015 Survey on Board of Directors of Nonprofit Organizations.” Stanford Graduate School of Business, 22 Apr. 2015, https://www.gsb.stanford.edu/faculty-research/publications/2015-survey-board-directors-nonprofit-organizations

[5] Donahue, Megan. “ 5 ways to equip your board to be year end fundraising superstars.” CauseVox December 7, 2016. Accessed April 6th 2018. https://www.causevox.com/blog/board-fundraising-tips-year-end/

[6] Marc Koenig.”15 ways to transform your board of directors into fundraising champions”.  NonprofitHub,n.p,n.d. Retrieved from:   http://nonprofithub.org/fundraising/transform-your-board-of-directors-into-fundraising-champions/


Abdoul Siddo Yacouba studies international relations with a concentration in security and economic cooperation. Prior to starting the MIS program on a Fulbright scholarship at NC State University, he worked for Good Neighbors International Niger for five months as advocacy and public relations officer. He hopes to help create a nonprofit to expand educational opportunities for children in rural areas. In his free time, Abdoul loves going to museums, reading and amateur photography.

David Ko graduated from NC State University with a Masters in Accounting in May 2018. With a tax concentration he plans to pursue a career in Public Accounting.

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