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The Fundraising Challenge: Bringing the Board on Board, Part 2

This article is a part of a July PA TIMES Online series titled “Nonprofit Management: Getting Volunteers and Donations in a Down Economy.” We are still accepting articles for this series and encourage potential authors to contact Editor Christine Jewett McCrehin at [email protected].


Gary Kelsey

Align Boards and Strategy
Board recruitment is another key factor in fundraising success. Too often, however, organizations select board members based on who is willing to join, not what skills are needed.

The composition of a board should align with a nonprofit organization’s strategic plan. If that plan has a significant fundraising component, an organization needs board members with experience and interest in fundraising. Sadly, many nonprofits don’t think about this until a financial crisis is pending.

Organizations should plan ahead by identifying appropriate people to join their boards when vacancies occur. In the meantime, they can assess the development skills of their existing board members and strengthen that capacity through training. They might also consider forming a development committee consisting of both existing board members and outside volunteers with development expertise. These volunteers could provide the additional benefit of creating a pool of potential future board members.

Tailor Involvement
Ultimately, board members are volunteers—and volunteers need to be comfortable in their roles. Fortunately, nonprofit organizations can tailor board members’ fundraising involvement to engage particular skills and interests.

Board members can participate in any of the five steps of development. Only one involves actually asking for money. The first—identification—determines who has the financial means to support the organization. Next, cultivation creates relationships through meetings, events and other mechanisms. Then, education focuses on the root cause of a problem and how the nonprofit organization addresses it. Only then does anyone engage in what people traditionally consider fundraising, or solicitation of a gift. The last, but certainly not least, important step involves appreciation of the donor making the gift.

Nonprofit organizations can ask board members to add a personal note to a fundraising letter, serve on a special-events committee or identify prospective donors. Or they might offer board members a menu of potential ways to participate in fundraising, and allow each board member to choose three activities they find comfortable and perhaps one more that’s a stretch.

Some board members are willing to make a personal gift—even a large gift—but not willing to ask their friends to do the same. In my experience, however, they’ll usually agree to attend a meeting with a prospective donor if they’re asked only to talk about why they support the organization and serve on its board.

I encourage staff leaders to have lunch or coffee with each board member at least once a year to talk about the member’s development role and what he or she needs to be successful in it. Boards should also evaluate themselves and discuss their training needs with organization staff.

I believe that all board members should be involved in fundraising in some way, even if it’s simply writing thank-you notes or documenting gifts. Nonprofit organizations need to match their engagement strategies with individual interests and strengths.

When board members are able to stop thinking about fundraising as begging and burdensome, the responsibility is transformed into a meaningful experience. With this mutually satisfying relationship, asking for a gift becomes involvement in something joyous.

To read part 1 of this article click this link: The Fundraising Challenge: Bringing the Board on Board, Part 1

Gary Kelsey is a core faculty member in the School of Public Policy and Administration at Walden University. He also has provided assistance and training to more than 250 nonprofit, philanthropic, education and government organizations. Email:  [email protected]

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