Changing Your Board

It was a great question. One most nonprofit executive and development ask at some point: Should I just accept that my board is not going to fundraise and focus what staff can do without the board?

It’s tempting to say yes. The need to is raise money and while raising the consciousness of the board will add to your ability to do that, it can also side track you horribly.

I spend a great portion of my time training boards on their roles and responsibilities, and the thing I get the most push back on (all right, so it is the only thing I get push back on) is….fundraising.

I get told, “I didn’t sign up for that,” “I won’t do it,” “I’ll do anything BUT ask someone for money.” It’s frustrating, but I don’t think these board members are the enemy.

As Pogo said a long time ago, “We have met the enemy and he is us.”

Us because while we complain about our boards, try to train our boards, we aren’t willing to do the things we need to do to change our boards.

And much as I love training, by itself it will not create change.

Changing your board starts with accepting that change is hard. Very hard. Understand that this is not going to be the most fun you’ve ever had. In fact, you’ll probably hate the process, but love the results.

In 99% of the cases, the reason your board is so lousy is because you’ve done a crummy job in recruiting them (or let them do an even crummier job in recruiting each other).

How are you going to change that?

It starts, as most things do, with a clarity of vision. In this case, a vision of what your board means for your organization. What are the things you expect a board member to do?

Yes, yes. Your board members are responsible for certain aspects of governance. But what, specifically, within those roles do you need for them (or at least some of them) to do? That will help to identify the type of board members you want.

Our board members also have a financial responsibility to our organization. The first criteria, therefore, of an appropriate board member would be someone who is supporting us at a significant level. In addition to being a donor, this person should be involved in other, meaningful ways.

Once you know the type of person, make sure you have a rigorous process that carefully shows both of you—the potential board member and you—what their board membership will look like.

If you expect your board to fundraise, explain in detail what that entails:

“Each board member is expected to work closely with staff to identify, cultivate and ask 3 new individuals or organizations for a gift of at least $2,000 each year. In addition, every board member is expected to purchase a table for our gala as well as selling at least 8 additional tickets.” Or whatever your fundraising expectations are. No surprises, no disappointments.

Once on the board, make sure every member gets a full orientation that explains programs, procedures, processes. And regularly, meet one on one with each of your board members and let them know how they are doing. And then ask them how it feels.


Janet Levine works with nonprofits to help increase fundraising capacity. Learn more at While there, sign up for her monthly newsletter.