Board Members and Fundraising

Board members are not good fundraisers, a survey from Board Source says. Well, duh. Most of my clients—staff and board members alike—would agree. Much of my work, in fact, is about helping board members to become better at fundraising. And helping staff get better at helping board members. From where I stand, it’s no surprise that board members are less than successful at raising funds. How successful would any of us be, walking into a new job where our roles, responsibilities and duties have not been clarified, where there is no training and where we do not get clear instructions on what to do? How would you fare if the only feedback you received was overhearing your manager telling others that you weren’t doing what you were supposed to be doing? And wouldn’t your first response be—then help me, guide me, teach me?

When I speak with boards, I get two basic responses about fundraising: 1. I didn’t sign on for this

  1. I don’t know how to do it

Both tell me that professionals are not doing a good job from the get-go.

Recruiting board members is not about getting a breathing body at the table. It is about carefully analyzing what type of person brings value to the group that already sits at the table, and then recruiting them through a series of interactions that carefully and completely explains what a board member does and what expectations there are.

I would another thing to the board member selection process—only recruit members who are already connected to and supportive of your organization. If Joe or Jane seems like a good fit, first make sure they are already supporters of the organization. If they are not, spend the time to cultivate them and then, at the appropriate moment, invite them to invest with the organization. Once they do that, make sure they see the impact of their generosity and have a good experience before you even broach the subject of the board.

The Board Source study talks about how only 85% (on average) of board members give money to their organizations. This is quite simply unacceptable. If you only recruit existing donors, this will not be an issue. Board membership should be a benefit of involvement, not a step toward it.

Getting board members to fundraise takes a lot of work. It means constant education and careful training. It requires staff to develop clarity about what they actually want board members to do (it’s just simply not enough to tell them to “raise money” or “bring in high wealth individuals”) and then to create programs and procedures that will help them to do those things.

Above all, professionals must understand that their board members are not fundraisers. If that was the career path desired, they would have jobs as development directors—probably at different organizations where they would be raising money for them and not for you. Fundraising is your job—and since it works best peer to peer, your job is to ensure that those who are a member of the peer group are well trained and supported so that you can help them to be successful—and they can help you.


Janet Levine works with nonprofits, helping them to increase fundraising capacity and create stronger, more committed boards. Learn more at While there, sign up for the newsletter.