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

  2. 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.”

Board members not willing to fulfil their responsibilities should no longer be members of your board. Why would you want someone at the table who isn’t doing their core duties for your organization? Why would you choose to keep people who are making your organization weaker?

And, really, how real is this fear? We often fear things we don’t know or don’t understand. And we don’t know if your board will fundraise if no one has ever had the conversation with them.

What if your board simply doesn’t know what its job is? And what if, by sharing with them their responsibilities, they are relieved to understand their jobs better?

What if, instead of scaring board members away, this is exactly what they need to feel buy in and ownership of the organization’s success?

And what if it does scare away board members unprepared to meet their responsibilities? Is your organization worse off?

Either way, whether you scare off a board member or not, a board that doesn't do its duty is a board that needs to be rebuilt.

Of course, you bring board members on for a whole host of purposes for a variety of backgrounds and skillsets. If you are only building a board to be a fundraising board, I promise you that you are missing key components that should make up a board.

And not every board member who fulfills their fundraising role is a board member who brings wealth and high-capacity friends to your organization. There are a variety of ways board members can significantly strengthen your fundraising program without having deep networks or deep pockets themselves.

If you’re wondering how you achieve this magical board, I won’t sugar coat it: It takes time and it takes effort to find people who might be a good fit for what your board is looking for.

But in order to find them, you have to be clear about the expectations of the role and its responsibilities from the outset. No one should be joining your board without clearly understanding all of their core responsibilities and what will be asked of them.

It can take years to rebuild your board. But to have a board that knows and fulfills it's duty--isn't that worth it?

Your organization is doing great work. Set yourself up for success by being clear with your board what their responsibilities are and holding out for those board members who will work to make you a success.

Your organization and the mission you serve deserve that.


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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