Ask most nonprofit executives what they would love their board to be more passionate about and they’ll say “Fundraising”. Ask a nonprofit board member what they least enjoy about serving, and they’ll probably say “Fundraising”. Successful nonprofits (NFP) have found a way to have an open dialog between staff and board regarding fundraising and have found that clear expectations and planning drives the conversation to a win/win.
It’s hard to talk about money. Growing up we’ve learned that it is impolite to talk about money, sex and religion. When a nonprofit staff member starts talking about engaging the board in fundraising, regardless of the words they use, most board members hear “you need to call your friends and hit them up for money”. Let’s reframe the conversation.
NFP’s need a plan for raising the revenue needed to support their mission. Board members have a duty to support the organization’s mission. It is the responsibility of the Board to assure that there is an achievable revenue plan. In most cases, the staff executes against the plan, with assistance from the board. However responsibilities are divided up – roles must be explicit.
Revenue can come from individual or corporate donations, earned income, grants, merchandise sales, planned gifting, events and other programs unique to the NFP. Board members can assist in driving all of these revenue sources by connecting the NFP to others who might be passionate about the mission. Asking a board member to call their friends and ask for money is short-sighted – board members add significantly more value making warm introductions and then queuing up the staff and the rest of the board to begin to develop a relationship with the potential donor. Asking for money just because you know someone who has access to money is, well, poor form. It reflects poorly on everyone, including your organization!
My advice to the NFP looking to engage their Board in fundraising, in a win-win scenario, is to start with developing a written plan. Yes, write it down. Add milestones, deliverables, goals and names to each task. Make it a living document that includes what tools are available to deliver on this plan. Then, execute the heck out of it. Provide regular feedback to the board including how you are doing by revenue source. This document forms the basis for a dialogue between the staff and Board. Please note: fundraising training on how to ask for money is NOT a revenue plan that will motivate your Board to take action. Again, it’s not real if you don’t write it down. Seriously, write it down.
A final thought:
Board members are volunteers and want to add value. Most of them are not naturally comfortable with fundraising. Lead with a written plan. Clarify roles. Lead by example. Celebrate successes. Communicate challenges. And most importantly, be clear on expectations.