Building Your Fundraising Board

They weren’t going to hit their fundraising goal.  That was bad.  They would have to make cuts.  Okay I said, let’s evaluate what happened this year—and how we can make next year better.  Me, ever the optimist. “it was the board’s fault,” said the development director.  “They didn’t fundraise.”

OK, tell me about that.

“What’s to tell?” she shrugged.  “They didn’t ask their contacts for gifts.”

Oh.  But you know, I don’t actually think it is the board’s job to do the fundraising.  At least not by themselves.  Staff is responsible for coordinating, facilitating, and yes, managing the development process, both those things that don’t involve board as well as those that do.  And by coordinating, facilitating, and managing I don’t mean asking the board to bring in three names and then to solicit those people for a gift.

Fundraising, of course, is a process—and what we really want from our board is that they are involved with the process that not just raises funds but also creates long and positive relationships.  It is in the relationship piece that your board members are the most useful.

As the development director (or the ED who also has development on your plate), you are responsible for ensuring that the board members understand their role and are supported appropriately.  You may be lucky and have one or two board members who not only understand fundraising but like it and are actually quite good at raising money for the organization.  Even those miraculous few, however, will need your guidance and support.  The rest of your board will need quite a bit more.

First off, you must be very clear about your expectations for board fundraising.  Not just how much but—much more vitally—how.  How do you expect the board to join with you in raising support for your organization?

Based on that, it is your job to ensure that each and every board member is successful.  That will mean brainstorming with them, helping them to create strategies for prospects, nudging them to take the steps you’ve helped them to outline, and debriefing with them whenever they have made a move.

Fundraising may be all about relationships, but those relationships must be documented if they are to become institutionalized and ongoing.  Who writes that call report?  If you are waiting for your board member, chances are you will have a very long wait.  On the other hand, think of the value to you and the organization if you follow up with the board member and make sure the actions and results get written down.

Help each and every board member find his or her fundraising strength. Few people are truly comfortable asking others for money.  Many, however, are great at showing how the money received really made a difference, and how important the donor is.  I once had a board member who was a fountain of really good information, but couldn't bring himself to make a call, go on a visit, ask for a blessed thing.  That didn’t matter.  What he brought to the table helped us in so many ways.

What can your board members do to help you reach your fundraising goals? And how can you help them to help you?


Janet Levine works with nonprofits and educational organizations, helping them to increase their fundraising capacity,  build stronger boards and increase staff effectiveness.  Learn more at  While there, sign up for the monthly newsletter.