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Should a board of directors do fundraising?

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Should your board of directors be doing fundraising? If you are a non-profit ministry with 501 (c) 3 status, you have a board of directors. What role, if any, should they play in raising the money you need? The question has multiple answers, all of which are important.

The Board of Directors has many important responsibilities in a non-profit. They legally possess  ultimate authority and responsibility for accomplishing the mission of the ministry. They can hire and fire the executive director and hold them accountable. In some cases, they direct the efforts of the staff. Most importantly they support the non-profit with their wealth, wisdom, and relationships.

In the early years of a non-profit ministry, it’s likely that the board will have a much more hands-on role in the regular operations of a ministry. For instance, a lawyer might provide free legal counsel or a professional fundraiser provide fundraising strategy. At this stage the board is typically made up of passionate volunteers who are committed to seeing a the ministry’s vision coming to fulfillment.

As a ministry matures, the board members will change and so should their roles. A more established ministry is more likely to have paid staff, so board members will become more focused on governance and fundraising.

Board fundraising can have either an inward and an outward orientation.

Look inside yourself.

The inward orientation focuses on raising money from the board itself. Many established organizations operate with the understanding that the price of admission to the board is a major gift. The definition of what constitutes a major gift differs from place to place, but the concept remains the same. If you do not have the capacity to make a major gift to an organization, you do not belong on their board. Come volunteer somewhere else! All are welcome, but board seats are for givers.

If this sounds a little harsh, stop and think about the logic behind it. Someone who is making a significant annual gift to an organization is invested in its success. They are more likely to attend meetings, participate actively on committees, and use their clout in the community to build up the organization. If they have the capacity to make a major gift, their lives demonstrate some level of financial or business competence that will be valuable to the organization. They are also more likely to have friends who are able to make major gifts. Birds fly with their own kind.

Having this requirement also provides strong medicine to “bump on a log” board member syndrome. Do-nothing board members are toxic to an organization. You want members of the board who are engaged in your mission and are willing to do what they need to do to contribute to your success. Do nothing board members will balk at the major giving requirement and refuse the invitation to participate. This will open up a board slot for someone else who will be a better fit for your organization. Think of it as a filtration system.

Look out to the community.

Board fundraising that looks outward can come in a couple of different forms. Some organizations use a give/get model for their board. In this situation, a board member must make a gift of a pre-determined amount or reach out to their network of friends for gifts that make up that pre-determined amount. This is good for setting a base level of giving, but you want them to do more.

A board member can really shine is through doing volunteer fundraising alongside development officers. What does this look like? In the board fundraising committee, the development officer will present a list of potential major donors. Board members will look through the list with two questions in mind. “Who do I know on this list that can make a major gift?” and “Who do I have a good enough relationship with that they will sit down for an informal meeting to discuss my organization?”

In this scenario, the board member opens doors for the development team to meet with potential donors. They are able to leverage their long standing relationships in order to get the meeting, which is often the most difficult step. Depending on their level of comfort and training (you can control the second factor but not the first), they might also be willing to participate in making the ask. The volunteer lead major gift ask is one of the strongest approaches to fundraising out there, because it relies on long standing relationships and respect. (Read more about volunteer lead solicitation here)

Another way that a board member might participate in fundraising is through being an event host. (Read more about hosted dinners here) By opening their homes to friends who have the ability to make major gifts, they can help to raise a lot of money.

Yet another way that they can help is by assisting with major events. They might host a table or donate a weekend at their vacation home as a silent auction prize. They can participate in the planning of the event or be a public sponsor. (Read more about Gala Dinners here)

Three keys to board fundraising involvement.

As you can see, there are many different ways that board members can get involved in fundraising for your organization. You might be asking yourself, “then why aren’t they?” It comes down to expectations, infrastructure, and training.

  • If you don’t set the expectation that they will be involved in fundraising, then they won’t be. It’s just easier to do nothing than it is to do something.
  • If you don’t have the right systems and processes in place, the right fundraising infrastructure and organization, board members will quickly get frustrated and will needlessly spin their wheels. Eventually, they will leave the board or (worse) become bumps on a log. Give them manageable tasks that they can accomplish in a limited amount of time.
  • Finally, you are going to have to teach them how to fundraise. Do some workshops where you do some role playing. Help them to see that it’s not quite as scary as they have thought. If you have a board member who has done fundraising before, have them share a testimony of their successes. Time training helps them to build camaraderie with other board members, trust in the development staff, and confidence in their own ability to make a successful ask.

Boards in a church setting.

In a Catholic Church, the Pastoral and Finance Councils perform some of the duties of a board of directors, but lack the authority and responsibility of a non-profit’s Board. They advise the pastor, but he does not serve at their pleasure and has sole power over what happens in the parish. Can these councils serve in some of the same ways that that a board does in fundraising? Absolutely!

First, you have to set the expectation that these councils are going to be involved with fundraising. Many people will prefer to drop off the council than get involved with resource development, which is fine. Don’t try to force people to do something that they don’t want to do. Move on and find people who are willing to take the risk.

Secondly, you have to create the systems and processes for them to effectively be a part of fundraising. While it’s not bad for them to be involved with putting on a spaghetti supper, we have a different kind of fundraising in mind: major gifts. (Read more about major gifts here) Most parishes that I know of are not operating a major gift type of fundraising program. Not because they don’t work, but because they don’t know how to do it. (Read more about starting a major gifts program here)

The biggest challenge in a parish setting is helping parishioners to get out of the bake sale mentality. You have to present a bigger vision of parish life that justifies asking for bigger gifts. You need to inspire them and get them excited about fulfilling your mission. Once you get the right people on board and start having some successes, the council lead major gifts program will start to get some momentum.


Looking for more articles on key fundraising concepts and tools? Try these:

Check out The Fundraiser’s Playbook for a full list of fundraising articles.


Would you like to learn more about raising money for Church and Ministry? Check out Letters From The Almoner, now available on Amazon.com. Image courtesy of Pixabay.com, via Creative Commons License, no rights reserved.