What Board Members Sign On For

Most my work is helping organizations increase their ability to fundraise.  This means that I do a lot of talking with boards and board members about their fundraising responsibilities. Reactions vary but, typically, there is a fair amount of hostility.  Interestingly, the more active the board is in the organization’s day to day activities, the more resistant to fundraising they seem to be. Recently, I met with a board who fit that description to a “t.  Their reaction to the “F” word –fundraising—was extreme.  Typical was the comment by one of the members, “I didn’t sign on for that,” she said.  And then she packed her bag and walked out.

While that was extreme, what was most troublesome to me was the fact that they do not seem to have clarity on the distinct differences between volunteering writ large and the more specific board responsibilities.  And the fact that they are not unique.

Volunteers are often considered “unpaid staff” as they do many of the day-to-day activities that are so necessary to running a nonprofit.  They tend to help by performing tasks that are assigned to them and are not—typically—involved in any decision-making.  The exception to this is when a volunteer is on the board.

The board could be viewed as the highest level of volunteer—quite literally.   A very simplified org chart would like this:


org chart


So the Board has basically two jobs:

  1. Oversight of the organization, ensuring that it is run effectively, efficiently, ethically and legally.
  2. Fiduciary, ensuring that the organization has the financial wherewithal to have the resources to manage the mission of the organization effectively, efficiently, ethically and legally.

Frankly, many boards fail, especially when it comes to #2.

One sign of failure is when all fundraising/grantwriting responsibilities are put squarely on the shoulders of the executive director, without providing the other necessary resources.  Indeed, I get leery when I am told, “We have the best executive director.  She keeps the organization moving, raises whatever funds are needed….and never bothers us with that stuff.” But “that stuff” is precisely what the board should be “bothered” with.

Because they sit at the top, they should—they must—have the big picture.  Where volunteers may see only the piece on which they are working, the board sees (or should be seeing) it all.  And all includes ensuring that the organization has the resources to effectively and efficiently meet its commitments and serve its mission.

To get those resources, fundraising is often necessary.  A good board understands that fundraising IS what they signed on to do, and it IS their responsibility, not the job of someone else.


Janet Levine works with nonprofits, helping them to increase fundraising capacity.  Learn how she can help you and your organization at http://janetlevineconsulting.com.  Contact her at janet@janetlevineconsulting.com and ask for a free 30-minute consultation.