Over the past five years I’ve traveled the country talking with top-performing nonprofit leaders about the key to their growth, the results of which will be featured in my forthcoming book, Social Startup Success. One answer that came up time and time again was the importance of a strong board of directors. More than strategy or guidance, the most successful organizations relied on their boards to raise money for them.
The research also showed that many nonprofit leaders are frustrated with their boards’ failure to generate more contributions. For example, in my survey of over 250 nonprofit social entrepreneurs around the country, only 15 percent reported their boards were involved in fundraising, with 66 percent saying they wished their board would help more on fundraising. This is a huge disconnect.
Here’s a step-by-step guide for how to get your nonprofit board to step up its fundraising:
1.Set the priorities early. During the recruitment process, nonprofit leaders often shy away from emphasizing the fundraising aspect of the board role for fear of scaring away potential candidates. As a result, they end up with a group of board members who may not even realize that fundraising is part of a job. If you want your board to fundraise, it’s important that you include this in the job description. Have a conversation with potential board members about how much money you expect to raise annually and make sure they are on board with that plan.
2.Make sure that your board policy is explicit. Once board members sign on, you should require them to sign a board policy that spells out clearly each board member’s annual fundraising obligation. How much will they be required to personally give? How much will they be required to raise? Engage your board members in developing these requirements so that you ensure that you have their buy-in and support.
3.Support board members in their fundraising efforts. Even if board members realize that there is an expectation to fundraise, they may not have the tools they need to do so. Hosting an annual “how to make an ask” training with your development director is one way to get board members up to speed. You can even provide a “cut and paste” email for board members to send to potential donors to make their job as easy as possible.
4.Create a variety of entry points. Everyone likes to get involved in different ways, so it is also important that you provide board members with a buffet of opportunities to fundraise and get their friends involved – events where they can invite potential donors, regular updates by email and an open door policy to take potential donors out to lunch to tell them more about the organization.
5.Hold board members accountable. One of the biggest deterrents to creating a strong culture of fundraising on your board is a lack of follow through. If even just one or two people don’t meet their fundraising goals, it can bring down the enthusiasm of the entire board. It’s important that nonprofit leaders keep tabs on their board members throughout the year so that they can support those who aren’t meeting expectations, and be prepared to have the hard conversation to let board members go when they don’t follow through.
Importantly, following these steps improves the situation for everyone. Executive directors will be less frustrated, relieving the 66% of those who wished their board stepped up more in fundraising, the board of directors will have clearer, more impactful goals, and it will also result in a boost in funding for nonprofits, which ultimately increases social impact.