10 Practical Ways to Engage Board in Fundraising

A common complaint among staff and board leadership is that "our board won't 'do' fund raising!" And the complaint is usually well-founded, based on performance. However, it may be less the board members' fault than we like to believe.

Here are a few tips for engaging the board in development activities, with the ultimate result being more resources for your organization. (The tools that are mentioned are available through Third Sector Innovations at no cost.)

1. Begin with the End in Mind. A principle that has really stuck with me from "The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People," this is a biggie when it comes to board involvement in fund raising. We must learn to recruit and orient our board members with the clear expectation and communication that bringing resources into the organization is part of the job description. When we do not communicate this fact, or if we knowingly bring on board members who refuse to be involved in this part of nonprofit life, then we have set up the board for fund raising failure and frustration.

2. Treat Board Members as You Treat Your Other Volunteers. This tip comes from Michaelle Smith with Hilltop Community Resources in Grand Junction, CO. She reminds us: board members are volunteers, too, and require the same care and attention as all volunteers. Keep this in mind as you set up recruiting, orientation, training, supervision, retention, evaluation and acknowledgement systems for board members, particularly as these systems pertain to development duties. And, as my economics professor would say, "Make sure you get the incentives right!"

3. Provide Structure - Make sure that board members understand HOW they can be involved in the development efforts of your organization...WHAT do they actually need to do? Third Sector Innovations can provide you with a checklist that breaks fund raising activity down into "chewable bites." For instance, in developing individual donor contributions, the checklist allows board members to select (or not): "Brainstorm potential donor names," "Research service club funders," "Write letters to my personal contacts," "Call donors and personally thank them," "Host donor receptions," etc.

4. Create an Environment for Success - It is worth examining whether your organization has a "culture" that is conducive to development activities, and if you even are ready to seriously raise funds. Again, Third Sector Innovations can provide self-assessment tools for gauging these important elements. When the culture is right and your organization is ready, application of these "10 Practical Ways" - and a generous amount of fun - will create an environment where resource development can thrive!

5. No Unnecessary Meetings. Enough said!

6. Have and Clarify Expectations - Make sure that the development expectations include board engagement, involvement and success. Provide clear and simple written expectations and goals. And remember that when working with money, it's very easy to measure success!!

7. Determine the Jobs that Members can Comfortably Perform - As discussed in #3 above, it is helpful to break down the actual tasks involved in resource development so that board members can find an area in which they feel comfortable being involved. Most people who say they won't assist with fund raising really mean, "I don't feel comfortable with or know how to ask someone for money." There are MANY tasks - research, planning, relationship building, organizing, recruiting - involved in the development process. Don't let great assistance escape simply because a board member can't feature him or herself as a "sales closer."

8. Make Sure That Board Members Know the Product/Benefits - It will be very difficult to convince anyone to provide resources to your organization if your best agents - the board members - don't know what you actually do and how it benefits the community. Even further, do board members understand the product, benefits, etc. - the "marketing mix" - that meets DONOR needs? Ask about Third Sector's marketing assessment tool, which helps to identify the "offering" that makes sense for prospective donors.

9. Provide Effective Training - Resource development is not an inherent skill that most board members bring to your organization. Training in this area will be required, and likely some of your experienced members can help. And don't think of resource development training as a one-time need, but rather an on-going educational process.

10. Provide Effective Tools - This tip is listed last for a reason: Having the perfect brochure, the perfect case statement, the perfect DVD presentation are not going to bring money into your organization. And many groups will spend a hugely inordinate amount of time and money preparing these materials. So make sure you have some effective tools for the use of your board - an up-to-date business/strategic plan and a history of board financial support to the organization being top of the list - but don't focus too much effort here. While materials are important to the fund development process, people are far more important.