When it comes to boards, there’s a fine line between governance and management that can be hard to navigate. For smaller nonprofits, board members can play a more hands-on role in the organization’s operation. But as an organization grows, moving to a role focused on governance can be a big change for board members.
Regardless of an organization’s size, it is important to remember that sustainable and effective nonprofits are ones in which everyone, and I mean, everyone, understands the importance of philanthropy and does everything they can to support it.
That leads us to boards and fundraising. It’s no secret that most board members rank fundraising as their least favorite activity. In a recent BoardSource study, CEOs graded their organizations’ board’s performance in the ten areas. Sixty-five percent of respondents gave their boards a C or D. Then, we have the well-read UnderDeveloped report that found 30% of development professionals who were planning to resign from their positions cited problems between them and their boards as the key reason for their departures.
So, how do nonprofits effectively involve their Boards in fundraising planning? I recommend taking the following four steps:
1. Have a candid discussion each year about your board’s role. Develop a menu of ways board members can engage, solicit, and thank donors and champion your organization. Then, ask them to commit to a few activities that they can complete that fiscal year. If nothing else, your board members play a critical role in retaining donors. According to the Donor-Centered Fundraising Study, if a donor received a thank you call from a board member within days of making a gift:
- 93% of respondents said that they would “definitely or probably give again the next time they were asked.”
- 84% said they would “make a larger gift.”
- 74% would “continue giving indefinitely.”
2. Present fundraising strategy to the board for feedback and approval. The key word here is strategy. You don’t need to share the full operational plan with all board members. In fact, you don’t want to do that because this blurs the line between operational and governance oversight. Share the highlights:
- What successes are you expecting?
- What changes or challenges do you anticipate?
- Are you piloting any new initiatives?
3. Ensure fundraising planning is staff driven. Your nonprofit’s staff know the current and anticipated expenses best and revenue plans. Map out your costs and anticipated revenue and make sure your plan is clear and doesn’t paint projections that will be impossible to meet. Then share the draft plan with your finance and development committees (or chairs) to get their feedback and buy in. Do they have a good sense of the full picture of what you resources (staff and funding) need to reach good outcomes? Is your Development Committee (if you have one) ready and able to roll up their sleeves and play an active role in donor engagement and stewardship?
4. Show board members that fundraising goes beyond revenue raised. Throughout the year, empower your development committee (if you have one) and board to take on activities that support a culture of giving within your organization. This goes beyond tracking revenue raised, which keeps everyone’s sights on the transactional part of giving and getting money. An organization with strong culture of giving understands the deeper sense of donor engagement. In your board reports, continue to track revenue, but also highlight metrics that:
- Show donor retention: Are you keeping the donors you have?
- Monitor donor behavior: What is the average gift? Are your donors giving more? If yes, how do you build on that increased interest? If not, why not? Which of your donors have lapsed or decreased their giving?
- Reflect the board’s own fundraising investment: Are they all giving? Are they setting examples to your other donors through their gifts? Are they harnessing their networks to identify potential donors?
In my experience, the more prepared staff are in their development planning, the less board members feel they need to get too in the weeds. Instead, they will feel confident that their work leading and building relationships with your donors will make a difference.