Effective fundraising and donor relationships are the lifeblood of a nonprofit. But many nonprofits tend to overlook one of the most critical — and yet often most effective — tools for improving fundraising — the board. It’s no secret that best practices of successful nonprofit boards include fundraising. High-performance boards understand how successful fundraising is done and they know how to work with and train each director to develop those skills.

Often, board candidates are told during recruitment they will be expected to help with fundraising, but they are given no training, no guidance, and little support. They are just thrown to the wolves and expected to raise serious dollars.  Or worse yet, this expectation is never even communicated, and the board ends up with little to no involvement in raising funds.

Sometimes, directors step up to this responsibility but all too often, they don’t. Reasons vary, but I suspect those hesitant directors either don’t know how to help raise money or are afraid they’ll have to go to all their friends and pester them to give.

While I agree that some individuals definitely seem to have a pre-embedded sales gene, many do not, so I can understand how these challenges (lack of knowledge and fear of the sales process) often serve as powerful roadblocks. Nonetheless, they do not have to keep a director from doing his or her fair share of development work.

There are many ways a director—even a reluctant one—can help raise funds for the agency. Think of these ideas as steps of a ladder, allowing a director to start with a few simple and non-threatening actions that can eventually lead to full speed ahead fundraising!

In fairness however, not every director will grow at the same pace or to the same proficiency level as others so just take what you can get from each one. Some directors have connections to the donor community and some do not. Some are great public speakers but others are not. Some have the gift of networking and connecting and some do not. But that is all OK!

Not every director has to excel at all phases of fundraising. Just know you did your best at helping them develop in this area and realize this will have a significant impact on upgrading your board as a whole.

One way to think about this is to remember how baseball managers handle their players. They don’t ask the player to do anything on the playing field he is not comfortable and proficient at doing. Instead, the manager works to put the player in a position to succeed. The same thing applies to coaching directors to fundraise.

Here are 10 ways to put your directors in a position to succeed:

Have them write and sign thank you cards to donors during the year

Have them write and sign cards sent out at year end, during the holiday season or following a year-end campaign

Involve the board when you place calls to donors and thank them for their donations

Create learning opportunities for your board by inviting friends of the agency who are in the estate-planning business, including local foundation officials, to present to your board on how to introduce and discuss planned giving and major gifts to their friends in an informal way that directors can feel comfortable and confident in using.

Have them attend a privately-hosted reception where major donors and would-be donors are personally thanked or introduced to the agency

Ask them to arrange to have their social club, golf club, etc host a special reception

Have them accompany the executive director or development director on personal visits to thank donors or special agency strategic partners

Have them accompany the executive director or development director on personal visits to ask for donations

Have them host an in-home reception for their friends to hear about the agency from one of its leaders

For agencies with international operations, invite the director on a trip to see first hand how the agency operates “in the field”.

Through these activities, most reluctant directors will become comfortable in fundraising and gain the courage to step out and take on a more active role in fundraising.

The most important elements for effective board fundraising are to create clear expectations up front (and communicate those expectations to directors) and to help apprehensive directors overcome their reluctance through coaching.

If you can start out a director slowly, doing things he is comfortable doing, you may be able to walk them up the development ladder and turn them into a major asset in fund and friend-raising for your agency.

What do you think? I’m interested to know how you get your own board more involved in fundraising. Do you use any other tricks to help them become more comfortable?