There is much evidence to demonstrate that when board members are engaged in fundraising, organizations raise more money.  Despite this, such board involvement remains a challenge for many non-profits.

So how do we inspire our boards to become more engaged when it comes to fundraising? And when we do, how can we help them to be good at it? By focusing on a few factors, you can increase your chances of creating a dynamic board that recognises the importance of their role in driving your fundraising success.

To illustrate what these factors are, I’m going to start with a story.

I recently worked with an organization where not one Board member was willing to get involved in fundraising. We quickly realised that there were a few things that was standing in their way:

  • They all felt that they are asking for a favour to satisfy their own needs (usually, to meet their obligations as board members).
  • They didn’t feel it was their job to fundraise.
  • They did not feel that they had anything to offer.
  • They just didn’t know what to do.

We knew we had to change this mentality, so we decided to take them on a journey.

Recognising that their sense of connection to the cause was an issue, we arranged for them to meet some of the organization’s beneficiaries. These were all people whose lives had been completely turned around by the work that the organization was doing. Board members had the opportunity to hear their stories, the difficulties that they had faced, and how important the organization was in terms of being there when they needed them most. From the staff, they also heard about the magnitude of the problem that the organization was tackling, on a daily basis. We even showed them the long list of people who were still waiting to access services, and told stories about people on this list – their experiences, needs, and hopes for a change in their situation.

We also talked to them about a fundraising strategy, and how long it can take for funding to be raised from different sources, and the level of resource required to do this.  Through this process, we were able to make it clear that a significant amount of funding had to be raised within a relatively short period of time, and how important their role as Board members was to ensure that this happened.

The impact on the Board was significant. At the beginning of this process, they all felt some general concern about the organization’s finances. By the end of it, the need for money had become something that was far more personal. By now they were emotionally invested. They had come to truly understand what the impact would be if the organization was not there anymore. More importantly, they realised that they needed to fundraise, and not for themselves, but for something far, far more significant. With this change of mindset, they understood that they had a responsibility to do something. They got over their fear of fundraising because they knew they had to. They felt a compulsion to act, they understood that fundraising was the answer to the need the organization was facing, and that as Board members, they had an important role to play in finding a way to address it.

Board members also developed a much stronger understanding of why THEY chose to support the organization in the first place, and as a result they had a much better sense of who within their own networks were also likely to care about this organization. Because they were now experiencing the organization differently, rather than seeing their ask as a burden, they recognised that they wanted to involve others in doing something that had the potential to transform lives.

Need some help creating your Case for Support? Download my template here
So how can you take this learning and apply it with your own boards? Here are a few suggestions.

Take your Board on a journey.

In major gift fundraising, we often talk about the journey towards the ask, including ensuring that we ask donors at the right time, in the right way, for the right amount and for the right project. Yet with our Boards, we often talk more in terms of obligation, even complaining at times how our boards don’t do more, without really questioning if we have done the work to help them feel more engaged. By properly engaging your board with the reason why you exist in the first place and helping them to understand why fundraising is the answer to the ability to have a greater impact, you can significantly increase their level of engagement, as well as their vision in terms of how they can help you.

Understand their motivations.

Most people join boards to make a contribution towards a cause that they care passionately about. For fundraising, this is the motivation that you absolutely have to find a way to tap into. So dig a little deeper with each of your board members. Meet them individually, and have a conversation about what brought them to your door. What is it that they care most about, and how do they want to make a difference?  How can you ensure that they feel motivated by their involvement?

Help them realise they aren’t asking for themselves.

This is one of the greatest barriers when it comes to people feeling motivated to ask for support.  People are often reluctant to fundraise when they feel that it’s an ask that is to support their own personal goals. They also feel reluctant when they feel that fundraising is about money. Fundraising isn’t really about money at all.  It’s about having an impact and giving people the opportunity to play a part in making this impact happen. When people truly understand that they are asking for something really important, for a greater good, a good that the person that they are asking also cares about, then the ask becomes much easier.

Help them to understand the urgency.  

When your focus as an organization is about “hitting budget” and “paying salaries”, people’s emotional connection to your need to raise funds wains.  But when you talk to your Board about what the money will do, and what will happen to your beneficiaries if it is not there, then there is no doubt that they will feel a much greater sense of urgency. When doing this, where possible, don’t be afraid to use storytelling to talk about the people or communities that are NOT going to get support as a result of you not being there. By doing this, the sense of loss to society will be far greater.

Be clear about roles and expectations.

One of the most significant reasons why Boards do not get involved in fundraising is the fear of rejection and failure. This can be overcome by being really clear on roles and expectations, and being conscious of people’s comfort level.  For some people, an engagement in donor stewardship, where they get to talk with donors about their support, might be a great starting point since it provides the opportunity to understand that people give because they want to, not because they are pressured into it.  For others, they might already be ready to go and ask, but just need to be pointed in the right direction. By understanding where your board members are and how they feel, over time you can build your Board’s confidence and ability to fundraise.

Make it easy for them.

Like with any role, people need the right support and training to be effective.  So find out what your Board needs to fulfil their fundraising role.  Whether they need a Case for Support to be able to talk confidently about the organization or scripts to make calls, make sure they have all that they need. It’s also important to create non-threatening opportunities to which their contacts can be invited, such as a cultivation event or a tour of your facilities/work.  This way they can make the introduction between their contact and the charity in a gentle way, and if the contact isn’t interested, then the choice not to attend is easy.  If they are enthusiastic, there is the opportunity for the organization to take up the reins in terms of moving the relationship forward.  Either way, the Board member is unlikely to feel the discomfort of a rejection or the pressure to make a heavier ask if they are not ready to.

Related articles: 

Who’s job is it anyway? Roles and Responsibilities in your fundraising program, part one

What problem is your organization trying to solve

Building a culture of philanthropy: Five signs that your fundraising could be in trouble!

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