The Board and Fundraising

The Executive Director was afraid that if he brought me to the board retreat to talk with the board about their fundraising responsibilities, they would feel dissed and he would seem ungrateful for the work they do do. Does any of that help you to increase your revenue, I asked? No, he said. Many of them don’t even make an annual gift. But, he hastened to add, they do so many other good things for us.

Like what? I won’t bore you with the erms and uhs and then the painful descriptions of basic board roles like coming to meetings, a finance person who serves as treasurer, the board president who presides over the meeting using the annotated agenda the Executive Director created. Or the secretary who signs the minutes that the development director takes and types.

This isn’t, mind you, a bad board. Just a board that has had no expectations and worse, no training on what it should be. And what it should be is so much more—and so much more fulfilling to the board members.

I go to a lot of board meetings. Mostly they are stultifying and I am overawed that anyone would volunteer to spend time in such deadening activity. And they I go to a board meeting of an organization where the board is engaged, committed, excited about the work that they do—and I see that beyond that, there is a CEO who has made it her business to train the board members in their roles and responsibilities, and to ensure that staff is coordinating and facilitating the important work of the board.

That work falls broadly into two categories: Governance and Fiduciary. Or, in words I prefer, oversight and supporting.

I honestly don’t think a board can do one without the other, despite the board members who tell me that they “didn’t sign on” for fundraising (supporting) activities. Well, yeah, you did.

The role of the board is simple: To ensure that the organization fulfills its mission. Inherent in that statement is the word “well” as in sound, satisfactory, healthy, ways.

That means that the organization must have the necessary resources to do its work. And that means that the board will either give the money or get the money to ensure that those resources exist. Preferably, the board will do both.

So being concerned that the board members will be insulted by hearing about their fundraising responsibilities seems to me insulting to them. If the head of the head of the nonprofit isn’t clear about board roles and responsibilities, how can they understand what those roles and responsibilities are? And how will they be able to be proud of the work they do, and feel that they have, truly, made a difference?


Janet Levine works with nonprofits, helping them to increase their fundraising capacity and build committed boards. Learn more at   While there, subscribe to the monthly newsletter.