Effective fundraising and donor relationships are the lifeblood of a nonprofit.

But many agencies tend to overlook one of the most critical — and yet often most effective — tools for improving fundraising for nonprofits — the board. It’s no secret that best practices of successful nonprofit boards include fundraising.

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. 

In worst cases, 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. While the reasons often vary, many of them have told me they 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. Remember, not every director has to excel at all phases of fundraising for nonprofits, but all of them can do something to help.

Think about 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.

Steer away from asking them to do any fundraising activity they clearly are not comfortable or able to do. Instead train them and give them responsibilities they are comfortable performing.

Here are 5 ways to put your directors in a position to succeed:

  • Have them write and sign thank you cards to donors during the year — this makes them more comfortable with interacting with donors, and helps them feel engaged in the process.
  • Create learning opportunities for your board by inviting friends of your 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, or to ask for donations.

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

The most important elements for effective board fundraising are to create clear expectations up front (and communicate those expectations to directors on a regular basis). Coach apprehensive directors to help overcome their reluctance by providing support, encouragement, experience and education.

If you can start out a director slowly, doing things they are comfortable doing, you may be able to gradually increase their involvement and turn them into a major asset in fund-raising and friend-raising for your agency.


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