Why Won’t My Nonprofit Board Fundraise?

Is your board reluctant to fundraise?

It's a common complaint I hear from nonprofit leaders I work with: Their board won’t fundraise, and staff are frustrated.

We’ve all heard about the nonprofits that have fundraising boards who bring in new donors and high rollers. We’ve heard about organizations with development committees that bring in a steady stream of new donors to introduce the Executive Director to.

And we've all wondered why that can’t that be our organization. What’s holding our board back?

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 you see the trend: it's not entirely your board members' fault if fundraising isn't happening. Board members are volunteers, and they need to be in the right headspace with the right support to do the fundraising you need them to do.

Nonprofit boards have 4 main responsibilities:

  1. Upholding the Mission: It’s the board’s responsibility to make sure the organization is staying on mission. Or, it’s the board’s job to change the mission when it’s clear a new one is needed.

  2. Fiduciary Responsibility: All board members are legally obligated to ensure the financial health of the organization and appropriate use of funds. Board members are personally liable for the financial health of the nonprofits on whose boards they sit.

  3. Hiring, Managing, and Firing the Executive Director: The board is the boss of the Executive Director and therefore has a responsibility to manage and review her or him annually and invest in professional development where needed. And, worst case scenario, fire the Executive Director.

  4. Fundraising: Hand in hand with the board fiduciary responsibility, every board member has a responsibility to both donate to your organization and support fundraising activities.

In order for board members to do their jobs, they have to have joined your board with the understanding that this is their job.

Of course, having a board that follows through in its core responsibilities speaks to so much more than just whether your board fundraises or not.

Organizations that are innovative, creative, bold, and impactful are that way in part because they have strong boards who understand and take seriously their responsibilities. They work well with the Executive Director, trusting and supporting them, while keeping an eye to the organization’s mission and health.

A board that doesn’t uphold these responsibilities will make your organization weak.

And we’ve all seen how a weak board can play out. Insolvency. High levels of leadership turnover. Programs that don’t innovate. Or programs that don’t have impact they can point to or the impact they promised.

I have heard often throughout my career that board leaders fear requiring board members to fulfill the fundraising responsibility. It gets expressed something like this: “If you make them do it, we’ll scare them away.”