May 10, 2016


Make no mistake: Your board is the single most powerful fundraising tool you have. Yet, the ability to be an eager and effective solicitor of gifts is not always a given. Your board members may need some guidance to live up to their potential as fundraisers.

Give Them What They Need
The first step is to set expectations. It’s tempting to gloss over the whole “give and get” conversation for fear of scaring off a good candidate. But board members need to know they are responsible for soliciting gifts in addition to supporting the organization with their own contributions. I often counsel prospective board members to realize that, over time, their passion should grow such that this new board becomes among their highest philanthropic priorities, and that they will be able to convey that passion to others.

Next, provide the tools and assistance board members need to overcome the natural reluctance to ask others for money. For example, send them to workshops, sign them up for webinars, and make fundraising a key topic at board retreats.

In the same vein, board members who understand the organization’s vision, mission and values can more easily “tell the story” and make a passionate case for support. Encourage visits to your facilities and invite board members to events where they can watch the organization at work and see how people are benefiting from its work.

At the very least, make sure they know the facts, figures and superlatives for your organization. Board members who don’t know their nonprofit well enough to answer detailed questions about it aren’t going to be confident or effective fundraisers.

Finally, partner new board members with a mentor who has been a successful fundraiser. By accompanying a mentor on a donor visit, a less-experienced fundraiser can see how it’s done.

One of my favorite lessons many years ago came from a community mentor of mine, who was often extolling that fundraising should often be considered a “marathon” and not a “sprint”. Other positive thoughts to keep in mind are:  friend-raising vs. fund-raising, development vs. solicitation and philanthropy vs. charity.

Not All Gifts Are Good
It is also critical for your board to understand that not all gifts are good. A well-thought-out acceptable gift policy will help weed out the rare gift that you would not want to accept — and ensure that the ones you do accept can be utilized in a way consistent with your mission.

Finally, remember that the “get” doesn’t always have to be about board members hitting up their networks for money. A board member who is plugged in to state or local government could bring value to the organization simply by networking for government contracts or grants. Likewise, he or she could recruit needed in-kind services from within the community.

In Closing
The key to being an effective advocate on behalf of your organization is to be comfortable enough with your development role that it is enjoyable, not a task. Like anything else in life, the more comfortable you are with your role, the more effective you will be.

About the Authors

Keith J. Libman
CPA
Partner, Assurance and Advisory

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