Four Ways to Get Board Giving Right, From the Start

October 5, 2016

To borrow a bit from Tolstoy:

“All effective boards are alike; each dysfunctional board is dysfunctional in its own way.”

There are many ways that boards can be effective, and one of those is through fundraising. But many members of nonprofit boards -- particularly at new and expanding organizations that are growing their volunteer leadership – aren’t given clear guidelines about fundraising before they join the group, and the result is often unclear expectations and a great deal of frustration.

So, below are four suggestions to keep in mind for your first discussions with prospective board members and in their first year as a trustee. Remember, you’re laying the foundation for what will hopefully be a long-term relationship; the way you describe the board member “job description” and the initial guidance you offer will leave a lasting impression.

  1. Think through how each potential board member can help with fundraising before you ask them to join. Don’t wait to have the first conversation about fundraising after a new board member is voted to their first term. Instead, think about your organization’s needs and how each prospective board member can help. During an initial meeting about the organization and how they can support your mission and programs, discuss fundraising ideas to see if they resonate. Is the prospective board member willing to support your efforts and play a role in fundraising? 
  2. Avoid describing board dues in terms of a “meaningful personal donation.” Could there be a more ambiguous phrase in the nonprofit lexicon? While we all want board members to make meaningful donations, the term is just far too vague to serve as a guide for giving. If the board doesn’t have a goal amount for members, consider raising the topic to set one. A defined amount may mean that some prospective board members won’t agree to join, but if someone can’t agree to make a contribution to your mission at the outset, how will they convince others to give? Remember, there are many ways for individuals to support your mission without taking on a governance role! 
  3. Develop a comprehensive fundraising “on-boarding” process so everyone starts with the same information. A senior-level staff person should meet with each new trustee to share details on revenue earned from each contributed income channel in recent years, top development challenges and successes, provide suggestions on how s/he can help, and listen to ideas on how they can support your work.
  4. Provide fundraising training at least 1-2 times per year. In many ways fundraising seems so intuitive, doesn’t it? Well, not for many board members! Help clarify the process by breaking down giving channels and detailing how strategic outreach and follow up can make a difference; the role of staff in development; and plan to share examples of board effectiveness and bring role playing exercises to help your board get comfortable with raising funds.

These recommendations are just a start. Having a clear understanding of how your board can help your organization succeed in fundraising and communicating that to potential board members will give you a head start in what is a never-ending process to identify-cultivate-solicit-and-steward your donors.

If you’ve got other suggestions to improve board effectiveness that have worked for you, please share!

-Nadine

 

 

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