Your Board and Fund Raising: Helping Your Board Help You!

June 27, 2017

Over the years, I have had the pleasure of working with some great and diverse nonprofit Boards in a strategic planning process.  Part of our process is to conduct both and internal and external scan process.  The internal scan process includes interviews with each Board member to glean their viewpoint on the agency’s strengths, challenges, etc.  Often, we include a Board assessment survey as well to further grasp how the Board is functioning together and with the staff leadership.

One thing that always intrigues me though is how many Board members seem to misunderstand their role in fund development.  My experience leads me to suspect that many of them honestly don't realize they are an integral part of the plan and how they can help raise funds for the organization.  The lack of awareness often leads me to having a somewhat awkward conversation with them relating business practices in sales to "selling the nonprofit" to further their understanding of their role.

As an example, a client of mine was supported through a local United Way and when the local news reported that the United Way did not meet their fund-raising goal, I was surprised at the lack of concern from the Board.  The Executive Director was very concerned, as the program funded was truly reliant on the monies from United Way, but members of the Board seemed a bit lost as to their role.  One member said to me, "What should we have done?  Call the Executive Director and commiserate?"

That was not really the response I was hoping for but it furthered my belief that members of the Board were not fully engaged in the fund development efforts of the agency.  Or at the very least, unclear how lack of funding from United Way would negatively impact the agency’s work towards their mission.

My response to the Board was built around a business scenario to help them understand their role and how they can further support the mission. 

I related the United Way scenario to losing one of the top 5 revenue-generating sources of your business.  In your business, what would you do?  Would you leave it up to the President of the company to handle?  Or do the Board members convene and start devising strategies?  I asked them “what would happen in your company?” 

The room was silent moment and then there was an “a-ha moment.”  We briefly used the United Way scenario to talk about various strategies the Board could engage in such as attending the meeting between United Way and the agency to further their understanding of the funding cut decisions, reaching out to United Way Board leadership to advocate for the agency and its programs through their own business contacts, advocating with other funders in the community to help alleviate the cut impact, writing an op-ed about the impact the funding decision will have on the community, etc.

A strong fund development plan needs to include strategies and actions that engage the strengths of the staff AND the Board.  A fund development plan is often included within a strategic plan, even if the actions are developed annually.

As a nonprofit leader:

  • Continue to engage your Board in significant funding impacts, both good AND challenging from all revenue sources;
  • Report out about funding every meeting and at every executive committee meeting and/or fund development committee meeting (don’t have a committee, request one be created);
  • Prepare a forecast report on anticipated funding sources;
  • Communicate potential challenges you hear in the community regarding funding and be aware at changes at the federal, state and local level.

As a Board member:

  • Take some time at the next Board meeting to hear the anticipated funding forecast for the agency and whether there are potential challenges in the future;
  • If there are potential challenges, think about how can you use your network to start communicating about the positive impact the agency has?  Who do you know that can have influence over a funding decision?  Talk to them;
  • Write about why you are a volunteer for the agency, why you believe they have value.

For both nonprofit staff leaders and Board members;

  • Review your annual fund development plan and the full strategic plan regularly to know how you are doing towards the goals.

Fund development is everyone’s job and it takes everyone to succeed.  Help your Board help you.

Now you know!