How Well Does Your Nonprofit Board Understand Its Fundraising Responsibilities?

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For many nonprofit organizations, “Give, Get or Get Off” has been the prevailing philosophy regarding board member fundraising responsibilities. Based on my decades of experience as a development professional, fundraising consultant and nonprofit board member, I would argue it’s smart to adopt a more multifaceted mindset.

There’s no question that fundraising is one of the fundamental responsibilities of a nonprofit board. But too often there’s confusion or lack of clarity surrounding these responsibilities. Investing time and energy in defining them – and the expectations that go hand-in-hand – can yield major dividends in increased engagement, effectiveness and fundraising success.

Here are four practical strategies you can use to help ensure your organization and board have a shared vision and clear understanding regarding fundraising responsibilities:

1. Talk about fundraising early and often.

There’s really no such thing as too much conversation about fundraising. Start by incorporating it into your discussion of overall responsibilities during the initial recruiting process for board members. You don’t necessarily need to delve deeply into details with prospective candidates, but you do need to explain upfront that supporting fundraising is an expectation of board service. Use a formal job description for your board, and definitely spell out fundraising responsibilities along with other expectations.

Once individuals join the board, a comprehensive discussion of specific fundraising responsibilities and expectations should be part of onboarding and ongoing training. Begin with the board’s fiduciary responsibilities to ensure your organization has sufficient resources to advance its mission and build from there.

Your organization’s specific fundraising expectations relate to a number of factors, including your mission, vision and strategic direction; the size and budget of your organization; and the demographic and economic profile of your board members. Nearly all organizations believe each board member should make a personal financial commitment. Does yours set a minimum amount or do you leave that to each member’s discretion? Are board members expected to solicit donations themselves or primarily work to support development staff? What are your expectations regarding introductions to prospective donors in your board members’ networks? To educating the wider community?

It is important to continually refresh board members’ awareness of their fundraising responsibilities, especially when boards meet relatively infrequently. Keep fundraising responsibilities top of mind by discussing them at regular meetings, annual planning retreats and other opportunities, as well as including fundraising in your board assessment process.

2. Educate board members about the why and what of your fundraising priorities.

Empower board members to effectively support your fundraising efforts by educating them about the role fundraising plays in your organization. How dependent is your organization on gifts versus other revenue sources? What are your organization’s fundraising goals, and what are the benefits of meeting them? What are the consequences of falling short?

Understanding your mission, vision and strategic direction is also crucial. Board members’ ability to clearly articulate and enthusiastically embrace each of these is a prerequisite to their personal support, as well as their effectiveness in asking others to support your organization.

In addition, make sure board members are well-prepared to discuss the impact of gifts on your constituents and the community you serve, so they can be effective when reaching out to prospective donors. More than ever, donors today want to know how their contribution will be used and how it will make a difference.

Last but most definitely not least, educate board members about the codes of ethics that guide all your fundraising activities.

3. Engage board members in establishing fundraising priorities and creating action plans.

People like to support what they create, so make sure to involve board members in setting fundraising priorities for your organization. Think in terms of year-to-year requirements for operations, and longer-term special projects and capital needs.

Also consider involving board members in developing a strategic fundraising plan to help expand and grow your fundraising initiatives. Have you primarily depended on events to raise needed funds? Would you like to build a major gift program, and/or perhaps integrate a more intensive person-to-person approach?

Engaging board members in creating a concrete action plan helps ensure their willingness to invest adequate time, money and staff in achieving these goals – as well as continuing to support ongoing fundraising efforts essential to long-term financial stability.

4. Encourage board members to set fundraising metrics and track performance.

Just as board members should set specific fundraising metrics for CEOs that they hire, they should establish performance metrics for themselves – and hold themselves accountable. These metrics should relate both to personal giving and to engagement activities such as identifying and introducing prospective donors to development staff. Although qualitative relationship-building metrics can be more challenging to measure than financial commitments, the board should craft specific goals and periodically evaluate progress toward meeting them.

In addition, as part of the broader framework of fundraising responsibility, board members should regularly examine the performance of specific fundraising programs against established benchmarks. This enables your organization to gain valuable insight into what is working well – and where there is room for improvement – so that everyone can work together to maximize fundraising success.

Interested in learning more about how to get your board members on board with fundraising expectations and responsibilities? Drop us a line here and we’ll connect you with one of our fundraising experts.

Marilyn Foster Kirk, CFRE, is Executive Vice President at Ter Molen Watkins & Brandt.

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