Rules Are Made to Be Broken - 3 Innovative Tips to Maximize Board Fundraising

If I had a nickel for every time I’ve heard a fundraiser say, “I can’t get my board to fundraise,” I would…well, you know the rest. Are you having this challenge, too? Here are 3 ways of working with your board that ignore “best practices” and may improve your results.

Ditch Your Development Committee

3 tips to maximize board fundraising

Conventional wisdom has it that nonprofit governing boards should have a robust committee structure whereby smaller groups of board and community members focus on specific areas of the organization’s operations – i.e. governance, strategic planning or finance. Fundraising or development is almost always included in the list of board committees.

A couple of chronic challenges with development committees can be solved by simply not having one! After all, the very existence of a development committee implies that only those individuals on this committee are responsible for fundraising. Non-committee board members take a “not my job” approach. The truth, of course, is that fundraising is a responsibility of the entire board (Check out BoardSource’s Ten Basic Responsibilities of Nonprofit Boards). So what are some alternatives?

  • Disband your development committee and, like magic, fundraising duties are again shared across your whole board, giving you more sources of creativity, contacts and different personalities to help build your organization’s profile in the community.
  • Create a major gifts task force instead. Strategically recruit the board members (or non-board advocates) who are most willing and able to work their rolodexes and vCards. The sole purpose of the task force is to make connections, introducing you, your CEO or other organizational stakeholders to new potential donors. Task force meetings will be focused, covering only the status of prospects the group is cultivating. That’s it.

Note that task forces work best when they are brought together for a time-limited campaign or initiative. They can be highly active for several months (or years, if it’s a major campaign) and then go dormant, or disband completely.

Let Go of the Highest Expectations

Don’t get me wrong, I am all in favor of educating board members on the expectations of their volunteer positions before and during the terms they serve. I love the one-page summary of board member expectations that many nonprofits have trustees sign before formal election to the board.

What I’m talking about here is shifting your perspective once a board member is elected. Instead of stewing over how to hold board members accountable for every item on the expectations list, let loose the reins a bit. Remember these two factors:

  • Board service is not a board member’s job.  Board members are unpaid volunteers and have likely joined your board to network, socialize and have fun. Don’t assume that metrics and accountability systems your organization applies to paid staff members will work to increase your board’s activity. 
  • Guilt is not a good motivator.  When have you seen an unpaid volunteer get inspired by the guilt trip you laid out when he did not complete tasks? Never. Accept that the ebbs and flows of accountability are different for volunteers than they are for paid staff. With your board, you are less lion tamer, more horse whisperer.

One Size Does Not Fit All

Take a cue from the personalization strategies you use with your donors and apply those to your board. While people often join boards to connect with other community leaders and be part of an institution larger than themselves, they are still individuals who share the universal human desire to be appreciated for their unique gifts and talents.

Get to know your board members as individuals; figure out what makes them tick. Then use this knowledge to get them working on the right projects, and to calibrate your expectations appropriately. For example:

  • Not everyone on your board will be comfortable joining you for face-to-face solicitations. Focus on the 2-3 board members who are willing to do this work and let the others off the hook.
  • Not everyone on your board has the capacity to buy a table or two to your next event. They could buy a ticket instead or contribute a silent auction item.

Focus your time and energy where you’ll get the biggest payout. I spent years spinning my wheels with board members who wouldn’t (or couldn’t) deliver on expectations that were, quite possibly, unrealistic for them. Don’t make the same mistake—not everyone on your board needs to fundraise in the same way!

What other “rules” have you rejected to improve board fundraising results?

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