Teaching Board Members to Fundraise

The board member was contrite, but she couldn’t—just could not—ask her friends for a contribution.  Across the table, another board member nodded his head.  “It’s too embarrassing,” he told me.  Another said that he got irritated when friends asked him for support, so he was not going to ask them. Valid reasons all.  And your board members (or you, if you are a board member) could add other valid reasons to the list.  It’s hard asking someone to give you money.

And that is the point.

You aren’t asking anyone to give YOU anything.  You are providing an opportunity for someone to get involved with an organization, a cause, a mission, that is meaningful to you and, you hope, may be meaningful to him or her.

As professional fundraisers we know that.  We regularly ask people to support our organization.  We don’t get confused asking our friends to support us.  We are clear that it is the organization that needs the funding.

We need to ensure that our board members understand it also.  We have to help them put on their organizational hat when they approach friends and colleagues—and clearly announce, “I’m calling you with my board hat on.”

Don’t mix your friendship with your philanthropic passion.  Be clear that this meeting, this phone call is about the cause—at a later date you can share stories about the kids, the dogs, what is going on at work.

Above all, explain to your board members that they are not alone.  You want them to introduce their friends and colleagues to the organization and to others involved in the hopes that they, too, will become interested.  They—your board members—don’t even have to ask;  they merely need to connect and open that door.  Someone else (probably you) will be happy to move things forward.

You actually want to do that.  You want a supporter of your organization, not just the friend of a board member.  When that board member moves on, you want that supporter to say right there with you.

Finding a comfort zone where you can easily talk about the organization, share your passion with others takes time.  Help your board members find the words that resonate to them.  Don’t have them memorize stories or facts—ask them to share what moves them about what you do.  Give them information (not just numbers!) that will stick with them.

Over time, they will create their own stories and those will be the ones they’ll love to tell.  Make sure you are involving them in more than just board meetings—they, too, need to be cultivated and brought further into your organization.

Don’t ask your board to bring in five names—ask them for coffee and talk with them about the types of people who support your organization.  Help them to identify people they know who might care about what you do.  Then work with them to create a strategy to get that person involved.

Above all, remember that fundraising is a skill to be learned, not an obligation to be shirked.


Janet Levine works with nonprofits and educational organizations, helping them to increase their fundraising capacity and build stronger, more committed boards.  Learn more at http://janetlevineconsulting.com.  While there, sign up for the free monthly newsletter