3 ways to transform your board into a fundraising powerhouse

A few years ago, I was having a chat with one of the board members at the small, grassroots organization where I was working at the time.

I had asked him what we can do better as a staff team to engage the board in fundraising.

Did they need more training? Better tools?

He cleared his throat, and shifted uncomfortably in his seat.

“Well, to tell you the truth – no one ever told me fundraising would be an expectation of me when I joined the board…”

Boards and fundraising. It’s an oft cited challenge of fundraising professionals, and one of the questions I’m asked most frequently in my travels.

How can you get your board more engaged in supporting fundraising and philanthropy?

Set expectations early, and discuss them often

One of the biggest issues I’ve seen over the years is a lack of clarity when it comes to our expectations of board members.

We don’t talk about fundraising during the recruitment process (or we skim over it for fear of scaring off candidates!), we don’t include it our board director position descriptions, and it’s not a part of the process to assess board effectiveness.

Organizations that are most successful at engaging their board members in fundraising set their expectations early, discuss them openly during the recruitment process, and revisit those expectations regularly during board meetings, so that board members hold themselves and one another accountable.

Give them choices that tap into their strengths

The reluctant board fundraiser I describe above ended up being a champ at making thank you calls to donors.

He was good at it, enjoyed it, and helped share our gratitude with hundreds of happy donors during his time on the board.

It’s good to remember that every board member doesn’t need to participate in every fundraising activity.

While some participation is non-negotiable – for example, 100% of your board members should be making a personally significant philanthropic gift – do think about offering a range of various options to your board, and ones that play to their strengths.

Here are a few different options you can offer your board – they can help by:

  • Thanking donors with phone calls and handwritten cards

  • Representing the organization in the community by speaking at/attending third party events

  • Joining staff as a volunteer partner on major donor visits

  • Acting as hosts/greeters at events

  • Getting like-minded folks in their network involved as donors and leadership volunteers

Some board members really found their niche, and excelled at doing one thing. Other board members helped out in a couple of different ways, and some – the real superstars – did it all!

And yes, this was also at a small social service organization that included service users on the board (and board members who had used our services were some of the best volunteer fundraisers I’ve ever had the honour of working with).

Make it easy

There was a big reason that thank you calls were such a popular way to participate in fundraising at this particular organization – board members were provided with everything they could possibly need to make their calls a success.

They received a kit that included:

  • A thank you call script

  • Tips on making an effective thank you call

  • FAQs so they’d be prepared for common questions

  • A brief report sheet to return the office, detailing any requests, contact changes, follow up, etc.

Of course, putting this together did take some initial work – but over the years, it helped mobilize countless volunteers who helped personally thank donors, not to mention giving us the chance to meaningfully engage our board in fundraising.

The moral of the story? Do everything you can to make board participation in fundraising as easy (and fun!) as possible.

How have you had success in engaging your board members in fundraising? Are you facing some of the same challenges? Have some of the strategies I've mentioned worked for you?

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