Fundraising is a top priority for nonprofit organizations. As such, it’s the activity that rightly gets the most time and attention. There’s no standard way for your board to approach fundraising. The only wrong way to approach it is not to have a plan at all.
It’s important for board directors to be on the same page in their approach to fundraising. Early board discussions should focus in on writing a board policy that reflects the board’s beliefs and approach to fundraising; sets expectations for personal giving by board directors; and identifies expectations for how the board expects its directors to participate in fundraising activities.
Clear guidance sets the stage for board directors to follow through on their actions for their fundraising duties and solidifies which board members are serving for all the right reasons.
Despite the best intentions, it’s not uncommon for nonprofit boards to struggle with fundraising. Two reasons point to the usual causes of ineffective fundraising efforts. Most boards fail to develop a specific fundraising policy and they fail to inform board directors during the recruiting process that personal giving is a requirement of board service.
Board Director Expectations Start with a Fundraising Policy
Boards that plan for fundraising are more likely to succeed in that regard. Startups and young boards can be as successful as established nonprofit organizations when they develop a solid policy and plan for fundraising.
The board’s annual cycle includes fundraising activities, which can form the basis for writing a board policy on fundraising.
One of the key elements of a fundraising policy pertains to personal giving for board directors. One of the first questions that funders and grant-makers ask is whether the 100% of the board members practice personal giving. Some boards set a policy for board directors to give a certain amount annually. Others word their policies to reflect that board directors should give according to their means.
Another important element of a fundraising policy is to list examples of how the board expects board directors to participate in fundraising efforts. The list of possibilities includes submitting names of potential donors, crafting fundraising letters, or offering to thank donors personally.
To demonstrate how important it is to offer a simple thank you to donors, share with board directors a survey cited in the book Donor-Centered Fundraising. Author Penelope Burk highlights a high rate of repeated giving for donors that received a sentiment of thanks from a charitable cause. About 93% of donors who received a thank you after giving said they’d definitely or probably give another donation in the future. About 83% said they’d give a larger gift next time and 74% would give indefinitely.
Fundraising efforts can take the form of mentoring and training. It’s often helpful for board directors to accompany the chief executive on donor and foundation visits or take a board director to networking events and train them how to solicit donations professional from people in their personal and professional networks.
Some organizations prefer to use a special pledge form. A pledge form guides board directors through the board’s annual cycle and encourages them to make an annual fundraising commitment for one or more of the organization’s fundraising activities.
For organizations that have a separate fundraising body such as a foundation or other supporting organization, boards should outline how board directors should relate to the entity and how the entity relates to them.
Setting Expectations for How Board Directors Should Participate in Fundraising
While fundraising is a well-known activity for chartable boards, sometimes board directors stray from the importance of philanthropy and the good that it can do to support a charitable organization’s programs. When the board is waning or procrastinating on setting up fundraising activities, often a rousing motivational session is in order.
Set up a time to do some coaching and training in the area of fundraising. Take time for a board talk or session on emphasizing the importance of philanthropy.
Set up a refresher fundraising meeting where the board can share a summary of the annual development plan including how goals and trends affect charitable giving. Point out areas where they can get involved and call out specific duties where the board or fundraising committee could use some help.
Once fundraising efforts get underway, give volunteers a goal to shoot for and provide progress reports so they’ll be motivated to meet or exceed their goals.
Take some of the mystery out of fundraising by offering a training. Include such topics as donor motivations, trends in fundraising, and best practices in creating and strengthening donor relationships.
At the beginning of each fiscal year, place fundraising on the board’s agenda and generate some discussions about how each board director will be involved in fundraising duties. Ask each board members to evaluate their unique talents and abilities and ask them to consider how they can be most helpful to the organization.
Some fundraising activities may be a joint effort between the board and staff. It may be helpful to set up a fundraising committee to make recommendations for how the board and staff can work together or invite staff to board meetings to discuss planning and responsibilities for everyone involved.
What Boards Should Not Do in Their Approach to Fundraising
It’s just as important to know what not to do as it is in learning the best approaches for fundraising. Boards should avoid being vague about what they expect board members to do. For example, avoid saying things like, “I hope you’ll play an active role in fundraising for the organization,” without any follow up with specific suggestions for how they can become involved.
Don’t set unrealistic goals. Take some baby steps by setting achievable goals. As fundraising plans prove successful, increase fundraising goals a bit every year and challenge the board to do their best to meet the higher levels.
Don’t berate a board director that can’t get into fundraising or isn’t good at it. Many people can be trained to be better at it. For others, it’s good to recognize when it’s just not their thing. When this is the case, boards need to evaluate whether a non-fundraising board director can be of valuable service in another area of if it’s just the right time to part ways.