Six Simple Steps for Board Involvement in Fundraising

Nonprofits that engage their board members in fundraising are more likely to reach their goals than those that don’t. In fact, 60 percent of organizations in which board members have helped with fundraising met their 2011 fundraising goals, according to a study from the Nonprofit Research Collaborative. That compares to just 53 percent of organizations without board involvement.

The university foundation where I serve on the board of directors is becoming more involved in supporting our fundraising staff. We’re mindfully building on our commitment to 100 percent giving (by itself an important goal and hallmark of an effective board). This past weekend, we voted to incorporate Six Simple Steps for Board Involvement in Fundraising into our new strategic plan.

How did we do it?

As chair of the development committee, I borrowed a story from a fellow consultant. My friend Chuck recalls being asked to lead his church facilities committee. Oh, Chuck thought he knew the headaches that could be involved: the ailing furnace would need repair, the roof would spring a leak, or he would be called to plow a heavy snowfall from the parking lot in time for Sunday services. Each possibility filled him with dread. With a growing family and a busy business travel schedule, this job just wasn’t attractive. Chuck turned it down several times. However, when the job was whittled down to a request to have the Sunday School rooms painted, Chuck said yes.

This was a job with a start and an end, a clear goal and an easy fix. He recruited several other parents, set aside a Saturday and ordered pizzas for lunch. Together, the small group got the rooms painted in a single day and the crew even had fun. Chuck’s moral is that today’s volunteers want simple action steps that they can successfully complete on a limited schedule.

Armed with Chuck’s story, we brainstormed our own list of Six Simple Steps to Success:

  1. Tell a consistent story about our Foundation and why it’s important to us. We won’t be memorizing a speech to deliver by rote, but we’ll use consistent talking points and personalize them with our own stories about the university and its students.
  2. Thank donors. We know the staff does this. We want to add a personal note to selected donors, demonstrating that they are important to us as board members and to the students our university serves.
  3. Call classmates. Updating them about the Foundation’s work and rekindling their passion for the university can help pave the way for staff to follow up with information and requests.
  4. Connect with donors at scholarship ceremonies. Previously, we’ve assigned ourselves to sit with scholarship recipients. Now we want to start a similar tradition so that every donor has a personal connection with the board.
  5. Make introductions. Not just to friends who can give, but to companies we’re associated with.
  6. Explain options for giving back. Although annual giving is important to us, we also have opportunities for people to review scholarship applications, serve on advisory boards, or make planned gifts. As a board, we want to increase our understanding of the options so we can talk knowledgably about them.

Each board member will be asked to choose from among this list, so that the task best suits our individual talents and timelines.

Making the Connection:
Our full board accepted the development committee’s recommended Six Simple Steps to Success. What action steps are on your board’s list? Going back to Chuck’s story: is your board willing to paint a room?

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4 thoughts on “Six Simple Steps for Board Involvement in Fundraising

  1. How funny that I would read this blog post today, the day after our biggest fundraising event of the year! The event was a success ONLY because of the involvement of our board of directors. I agree that board members can be most successful in fundraising when they are given a wide range of opportunities to participate. Not everyone is great at making a direct ask, but everyone CAN find a meaningful way to assist in taking care of donors throughout the giving cycle. Super post!

    • Thanks, Jeff. Love your point of view that board members can help “take care of donors throughout the giving cycle.” Glad to hear your fundraising event was a hit!

  2. Great wisdom here for anything a board needs to get done! In my board experiences, I can’t count the number of times a “volunteer request” without defined action steps has languished in the dust.

    • Shelley, you raise an excellent point. Both board members and staff should feel comfortable asking a few questions about volunteer opportunities. My starter list includes:
      - What would that look like?
      - Is there an example I could follow?
      - How much time should it take?
      - Who is best suited to do that?
      Feel free to chime in with your own probing questions.

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