The Board Dilemma

The board is responsible for fundraising/  Or so you are told. They will identify, cultivate, and–yes!–solicit donors.

Only yours do not.

You ask them to bring 5 names of people who could support your organization.Despair

They bring not a one.

You ask them to call their friend and set up a meeting.

You wait, and wait, in vain.

Your board doesn’t get. Heck, they don’t give. Beside throwing up your hands in surrender, what can you do?

To begin, get real.  No one joined your board so they could fundraise for you.  Nor did they join in the hopes that they would get to give you a substantial gift each and every year.  They joined because they have a passion or a need for the work you do.  Or because their best friend Tony asked them to join, swearing it was just a matter of coming to a monthly, bi-monthly or (best yet!) quarterly meeting.

Once you recognize that, now you can start thinking about what they can do, and how—over time—you can get them to be supporters for your organization in more than just words

Let’s start with the easy stuff:

  • Ask them to write thank you letters to recent donors.
  • At the same time, ask them to thank donors who gave gifts 5-6 months ago.

This is both truly stress-free and important for your organization.  At every board meeting, bring in a list of donors who made gifts since the last meeting.  Either you divide it up or ask them to indicate who they want to write to.  Then hand out post cards or notecards and ask them write a thank you note.  This note is not the acknowledgement that you send (you do, don’t you?) within 48 work hours of any gift.  It is a way to tell your donors how important they are to you.

The second note is again a way to make your donors feel a part of you.  Bring in a list of those who made a gift some months ago.  Have your board write another note saying something like “I just wanted to thank you again for the gift you gave back in (month).  It has meant so much.  With your support we have been able to—“ That what can be as simple as “continue providing our clients with the best possible services” to something more specific.  Your job is to tell them what to do.

Collect all those notes before your board member leaves the room.   No, they cannot take it home with them.  Sometimes, like at end of year, you may have many more gifts than you can reasonably ask your board members to do in a meeting.  Pull out those who are regular donors, larger donors, and any formerly lapsed donors.  Have your board write to them. And then ask who would be willing to stay for a bit to write letters to the rest.  You’ll probably get a few, and you can all work really hard for an hour or less and clean up the rest.

If your board are not giving, they will never get for you.  So the first of the harder things, is to be brave and put this responsibility out there.  If you can afford it, hire a consultant like me to tell them that a big part of their job is ensuring that the organization has the financial ability to fulfill its mission.  If you can’t afford, either bring in a colleague from another nonprofit to talk about the importance of board giving or tell them you’ve just been a to meeting with other nonprofits and this what all the successful nonprofits say is the key to their success. It is also a key to getting grants, larger gifts, and having a board that is truly engaged, involved and committed.

What you are doing is creating a culture of philanthropy at your organization.  That means that

  • Fundraising sits at the center of the organization
  • Everyone can talk about why and what the organization needs to fulfill its mission
  • Everyone sees him or herself as an organizational ambassador
  • The Board understands its fiduciary responsibilities
  • The ED is provided the time to be involved with fundraising

As you build this kind of a culture, you will be ready to take the next steps in turning your board from a dilemma you suffer with to a (fundraising) dynamo



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