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Build a Board Culture of Fundraising

It can be frustrating when you want your board to fundraise but you can't quite figure out what it will take for them to do it.

There are three reasons your board isn’t fundraising:

  1. The expectation that they fundraise for the organization hasn’t been expressed to them.

  2. They haven’t been held accountable for meeting the expectation of fundraising.

  3. They haven’t been given the tools to successfully fundraise for your organization.

Maybe your board members understand their obligation and they’re at the table ready to go.

But your board still isn’t fundraising. What’s going wrong?

It’s one thing to know you are expected to do something, and quite another to follow through on it.

I can attest to this: My past is littered with good intentions and poor follow through. Even on boards I’ve sat on. Even when I care deeply about the organization’s success. Even when I know better.

Sometimes life gets in the way of my best intentions. Board members are volunteers, after all. Life happens.

Mostly, I’ve slipped through the cracks of board obligations because no one held me accountable. Not even my own guilt brings me back on track every time.

And when no one else seems to care… why should I?

For boards to follow through on their core responsibilities, members and the whole of the body need to be held accountable.

And board leadership need to be the ones to do it.

Board leadership—the Chair, Vice Chair, Secretary, and Treasurer, often known as the Executive Committee—set the tone and culture for your board. How they choose to treat board obligations is how the rest of the board follows.

The first board I ever joined I joined after almost a decade in the nonprofit sector. I knew what a board was supposed to do and the role it needed to play.

At my very first board meeting, I asked about the schedule of the Executive Director’s performance review, only to find that the Executive Director didn’t like to be reviewed.

And the chair thought that was just fine. No review was scheduled.

I knew the board I had just joined was obligated to manage the Executive Director, and therefore review her, and I knew the policy of not reviewing the Executive Director meant the board was not ensuring the ongoing health of the organization.

But as a new board member with no clout and no social capital, there was nothing I could do to fight against the culture a weak board chair had created.

That experience stayed with me as a cautionary tale as I have worked with other boards.

No matter how much board members understand their responsibilities to the organization, it’s virtually impossible to overcome weak board leadership.

The same holds true for board fundraising. If your board chair is just fine with your board not fundraising, then your board won’t fundraise. At least, not at the level they could, and not at the level you’d like them to.

For many board members, fundraising is the least enjoyable task for which they are responsible. If board leadership lets them, board members will fade into the background when fundraising conversations come up.

Then how do you build culture of accountability?

  • Board leadership consistently reiterate expectations for all board members.

  • For fundraising accountability, you have structures and systems in place that make it easy for board leadership to regularly check in on fundraising progress.

  • Board leadership do the checking in.

  • Board leadership are willing to let board members go if they aren’t fulfilling their responsibilities.

As a board member, I desperately don’t want to let my organization down. What my organization does is near and dear to my heart and I want it to succeed.

And when I am caught dropping the ball by colleagues I respect, who I want to respect me, I clean up my act quick.

Because if I don’t, I should expect to be very kindly asked to leave.

Now, you might be asking why I’m not talking about the Executive Director in this article. Or the development staff, who are responsible for the organization’s fundraising efforts.

Board members and staff members have an unequal power dynamic. The best case scenario is that they work together well, with respect, and with trust.

But that doesn’t mean that someone the board manages, or a staff person managed by the Executive Director managed by the board, is someone board members will feel accountable to.

But a peer in a leadership role is someone board members should feel and be accountable to. Ensuring that members of your board leadership are able to play this role will set your organization up for success, and not just in fundraising.


Megan Amundson is a nonprofit consultant who trains and coaches leaders of small and medium-sized nonprofits to raise more money from individuals.

This article was originally published on LinkedIn.

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