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December 20, 2012
6 Tips for Getting Board Members Involved in Fundraising

Board member investment

Essential #6: Board Members as Investors: the boards role in giving and fundraising

What would it mean to your organization if your Board of Directors worked hard to ensure the financial sustainability of your nonprofit? How would your clients or community benefit from the board being fully engaged in the fundraising efforts of your organization? Imagine, if the financial pressure were taken off of the Executive Director and shifted to the BOD; would the effectiveness of the organization increase as the Executive Director became able to focus efforts moving the organization towards its vision and mission?

As we’ve been discussing, an active and engaged Board of Directors is primary in the success of a nonprofit. Fundraising or ensuring the organization has adequate financial resources to achieve its mission is one of the primary functions of ALL boards. This means good board members both give personally and influence others to give.


Board giving is the #1 Indicator of fundraising success for nonprofit organizations. Research indicates that the most effective fundraising campaigns involve board members. This is because board members are the primary investors in the organization; they are the bedrock to supporting and ensuring the success of a nonprofit. As such, they should support the nonprofit, not only through a personal investment of time, but also by investing their financial resources into the organization. This personal investment sets the tone for the organization’s overall fundraising success. June Bradham, author of What Boards Really Want, found that the single most powerful predictor of overall fundraising success is Board Giving! This alone should encourage our board members to get involved.

Board giving should be standard in nonprofits but unfortunately this isn’t the case with all organizations. Without board members adequately securing financial sustainability and leading the organization as an example in individual giving the organization may find it difficult to raise funds from individuals or foundations. If the closest people to the organization, ie: the board members, are not giving, then why would any one else want to give?

Board giving sets a leadership example for staff, volunteers and other funders to follow. As Timothy Seller noted in an article, Roadmap to Fundraising Success, “Historically, and still today, the most effective gift solicitation is that of a peer volunteer asking for gifts in a face-to-face solicitation.”

Board members are uniquely positioned to invite peers to join them in their support of your organization and can open the door to a wealth of resources in the form of volunteers and finances. In the corporate world of products and services, word-of-mouth marketing is gaining momentum as the biggest trust builder between a brand and a new customer. What this means is if a friend tells you about a product or service that they love you are more likely to try and then buy into the brand. The same can be said of individual giving to a nonprofit, and the Board of Directors can play a huge part in building the trust and effectively fundraising for their nonprofit.

Board giving increases engagement. Through giving, members become much more engaged and passionate about the organization. Members have increased credibility when asking others to “join” their support for organization. By not only verbally supporting the organization, but also giving to it, board members can authentically encourage and inspire others to give.

If your board of directors does not have a Board Giving policy in place this should be the first step to better board involvement in fundraising. Support for the organization should start in the boardroom. This process may take time and may require a change in organizational culture. Start small and take little steps with the goal that eventually your entire board is on board and actively supporting your organization through giving.


1. Create a Board Giving policy and ensure that accountability is built into the policy. Without accountability it is easy for members to disregard the policy and not follow through on the commitment.

I work with many organizations that have policies that state something like, “I will financially support the organization at a level that is personally significant to me.” While this sounds nice it is not measurable and there is no way to determine if the member has met their responsibility. On the other hand, I work with other organizations that require board members to give a certain amount each year – for example, “As a board member I will give a minimum of $5,000 this year.” This is obviously easier to track but this requirement makes many leaders uncomfortable.

One idea is to include language that allows accountability but does not set a minimum giving requirement. As an example, “Each year, but no later than Thanksgiving and without having to be asked, I will make a personal financial contribution at a level that is meaningful to me and will put XYZ organization in the top 3 charitable organizations I support. This year I pledge to give: _________.”

2. Put into writing the fundraising roles and goals of board members. Share this information with potential members during the recruiting stage. Though it may scare some people off, it is better to be honest and recruit board members who understand and accept the duties you are asking of them. Luring people in under false pretenses almost always results in frustrations and headaches for everyone.

3. Model and reinforce success by providing annual training. Fundraising does not come naturally to many people. These are skills that should be taught and reinforced on a regular basis. Help board members understand that you aren’t asking them to “shake down” friends and family. Fundraising can be as natural as sharing stories and expressing a contagious excitement about all that’s happening at your organization.

4. Clearly explain the options for giving/getting to board members. Most board members I’ve talked to find it easier to fundraise for projects, or something tangible, than the broad mission. That means we have to make fundraising as simple as possible for them.

For example, I was working with a domestic abuse shelter and we were transitioning the board to a more active fundraising role. We explained the funding need and then helped each board member make a plan for raising funds. The options provided to members included things like: 1) sponsor a room night for $95, 2) sponsor a day in the life of the shelter $4,250, 3) become a premier sponsor for an event $5,000, 4) provide education/training to a woman $75/month.

Providing these options equipped board members to confidently go out and make specific requests for funds. It simplified the process and increased the comfort level with the process.

5. Provide written materials that allow board members to easily share more information about the organization. Our board members don’t always remember the stories and statistics that we share in meetings. They aren’t living and breathing the mission of the organization on a daily basis so it’s easy to forget the talking points when meeting with potential funders. Develop materials, perhaps even a simple impact card that members can keep with them to help them when sharing about the organization.

6. Reward successes by ensuring your members are continually recognized for their efforts. When a board member has successfully solicited funds for the organization, share and celebrate this with the other members. It’s great if the board member is also willing to share how they overcame any fear or objections. This will allow members to learn from one another and grow in fundraising together.

Jim Collins, in Good to Great and the Social Sectors notes, “To make the greatest impact on society requires first and foremost a great organization, not a single great program. To truly be a great organization, board members MUST embrace their role and responsibility as fundraisers for the organization.

If you would like help with this process, please contact me at tiffany@applegateconsultinginc.com or 417-894-4640.

Posted by Tiffany Applegate on December 20, 2012 at 1:32 PM
Categories: Board Governance | Fundraising
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I could hardly disagree more. I was Treasurer, then Chair of a medium sized non-profit for six years. The first thing I did was remove the bylaw that stated "Board members must support the organization financially at every opportunity" as it was vague and onerous. Sometimes people who are not financially well off can support a cause by getting involved - passion matters more than wallet size. I would have loved to have been able to donate $30,000 to my organization over those six years - instead I spend it on a divorce lawyer. What I did give was my time, roughly 100 hours a year, which if we value those hours the same as my "day job" hours, was worth around $75,000 over the six years. Anyone can give money. Recruit board members who are leaders and thinkers. BOD involvement in fundraising campaigns - absolutely. Expectation of high levels of personal giving - inappropriate.

Posted by: Hal|January 3, 2013 10:48 AM

Hal - thank you for your comment and I appreciate your perspective. I agree 100% that passion is the most important factor is selecting board members. I often see nonprofit organizations recruit board members with big wallets and no passion. The result is often an unengaged wealthy board member who provides little to no support to the organization. On the other hand, I've seen numerous passionate people with limited resources make an enormous impact on the mission of the organization they serve. I agree that an expectation of HIGH levels of giving from ALL board members is not always appropriate. There are some members - like yourself - that invest an abundance of time and expertise (an ED's dream come true) but are not able to give a substantial financial gift. There are also organizations that have client representation on the board, and some of these members do not have much disposable income. However, I do feel that everyone has the ability to invest at some level to the organizations they serve. That level may be $1 or it may be $1,000,000. This investment allows the organization to tout 100% board giving (required by many funders) and equips all board members to ask others to join them in their support. I applaud your service nonprofit organization and hope to find more members that share your passion.

Posted by: Tiffany Applegate|January 3, 2013 10:48 AM

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