Helping Your Boards to Fundraise

This year, perhaps your Board will really get it.  Maybe this year, they will actually understand their fundraising role.  Or maybe you will actually understand what you can and cannot expect—what your role is in making your Board more fundraising friendly. For starters, they need to understand what fundraising is—not just asking someone for money, but creating a bond between donor and organization. Help them to understand the process that is fundraising.

That process starts with knowing who (persons and organizations) have an interest in what you do, have the ability to make a financial commitment, and have some connection with your organization and/or people who are involved with your organization.

This is a perfect place for board members to start their fundraising journey.  Who do they know that they can connect with the organization?  That doesn’t mean that they should give you five names of people they can ask for a gift.  It does mean that that they should identify people and organizations who they believe would like to learn more about your organization.  In other ways, they can fundraise simply by identifying prospects who might someday become donors.

Helping you to discover how to best connect with these prospects is the second step on your board members’ fundraising journey.

Knowing who you might someday ask is important; knowing how is critical. So any information at all that your board member can tell you about this prospect is worth gold.  And it doesn’t have to be a big thing.  A board member once mentioned—in passing—that a prospect we were having a hard time connecting with had a favorite granddaughter who happened to be in the same grade at the same school with the same miserable teacher as my daughter.  Suddenly, we had a bond.

Cultivation—getting prospects interested and involved with your organization--is a journey all by itself.  It can be long or short, but it must always be captivating, and that means that you must know how to first gain someone’s attention.  When my board member told me that Joe really likes to be considered an expert on everything, I had a way in.  I asked Joe if he would help me create an orientation program for volunteers.  Mary, on the other hand, cares only that others see her as the most philanthropic.  Talking about naming opportunities right at the start helped there.  Of course, these names are made up, but the situations aren’t, and the point is that I found these things out because my board members—friends and colleagues of these prospects—told me what I needed to know.

But remember, cultivation is a journey, so the other thing you need your board members to do is to walk with you at least part of the way.

It would have been wonderful if my board members had been willing to set up the first meetings with Joe and Mary and the grandmother of my daughter’s classmate.   They weren’t however, and so I had to open the door myself.  Using my board members’ names made it easier as did the promise that they would be in attendance at our first meet.

I’ve had great success in asking board members to “host” someone at their table at our annual event; be the guide for a tour of our facility; send a note.

Sending a note is another ways I’ve used my board members as fundraisers—particularly once a gift has been made.  Never lose sight of the fact that the best prospect is an existing donor—especially if you’ve treated that donor well.  So I ask my board members to write personal thank you letters to donors; notes telling them about something that happened as a result of their generosity or something that we just think they may be interested in knowing.

While I’ve had some success with some board members soliciting their friends and colleagues for gifts, I’ve had much better luck asking them to ask their friends and colleagues who else they know who might be interested in the work our organization does.  And then in discovering how we might best connect these new prospects to us.

Use this new year to think of new ways to engage your board as fundraising partners.  Learn about their fundraising comfort level, and what is particularly uncomfortable for them to contemplate.  Work with them to ensure that you are only asking them to do that which they can and will accomplish.  Three really wonderful things will happen if you do this:

1.  You will be less frustrated

2.  They will be more relaxed about fundraising—and that will make them do more

3.  You will raise more money from both new and old friends.


Janet Levine works with nonprofits and educational organizations, helping them to increase their fundraising capacity and turn their Boards into real fundraising partners.  Learn more at  While there, sign up for the free monthly newsletter.