The Board’s Role in Fundraising: Part 1

Ellen Bristol

August 23, 2010

About the Author

Ellen Bristol

Ellen Bristol, President of Bristol Strategy Group, is a nonprofit thought leader in fundraising effectiveness and nonprofit management optimization. She has a passion for helping small to medium sized nonprofit organizations, NGO’s, and social enterprises build and grow fundraising capacity, adapting classic principles of the process-management discipline to this all-important strategic function.

“Should my board help me raise funds?”  The obvious answer is yes, of course they should!  Now comes the hard part.  Getting the board to actually raise money is a lot tougher than simply saying they should.   Many nonprofits, of all sizes and types of mission, overlook the basic steps necessary to engage the board in effective fundraising.    The following nine tips will put your board on the right track.  And there’s a bonus attached.  Once the board masters these eight steps, they will be participating, they’ll be engaged, and they will truly make a difference!

Tip #1:  Make sure the agency is worth raising funds for. The board’s primary responsibility is to govern the agency and ensure that it delivers on its promise.  That means the board sets direction, defines the vision, mission, goals and objectives, and holds the CEO or Executive Director accountable for achieving results.  It is not, emphatically not, the board’s job to act as volunteers, stuff envelopes, provide free legal or accounting services, although they may do such things if the board as a whole decides they should.   It is the board’s job to represent the constituents your agency serves, and to demand excellence from agency performance.  Once the board has clearly defined its leadership role, then and only then is it ready to start raising money.

Tip #2:   Engage their hearts – and their wallets.  If you serve on a nonprofit board, then it stands to reason that you believe in that organization.  Therefore, the agency should be one of the prime recipients of your personal giving.  The board’s second step toward fundraising is the instituting of a “give or get” policy, whereby board members either write a check or find others to write checks on their behalf.   If the board member can’t afford to give the required amount, then they can raise the money from others.   Board members that are not willing to invest in the financial future of the agency may not be the best candidates for board service.  Give-or-get policies need not be overtaxing; giving can start as low as you wish.

Tip #3: Write a strong Case Statement for giving.  It’s not fair to sit back and assume that board members know how – or why – to raise money for your agency; give them the right support.  Provide an effective Case Statement, a document that ‘makes the case’ for supporting the agency. The Case Statement starts with the agency’s mission statement and then goes beyond it.  It should cover the “economic” as well as the “emotional” appeal.  The emotional appeal tells prospective donors about the good works that the charity performs and engages their hearts.  The economic appeal tells donors why the charity’s work contributes to the economy, why it is “donation-worthy,” and engages their wallets.  Your Case Statement may include a description of funding levels or even specific purposes for which you need funding.  Make sure each board member has copies of this document, and be sure to review and revise it every year.