Balancing the Mission Checkbook

Nonprofit Mythbusters: Our board members are supposed to raise money – true, or false?

Kate Barr September 14, 2012

“What we need is for our board to do their job and raise money for the organization.”

“Our board members just won’t ask their contacts for contributions; how can we get them to do what we need?”

“We’ve had special training for the board about their responsibility to fundraise but they just won’t do it. Help!”

I hear these comments, statements, and pleas all the time. After all, “everyone” says that boards are responsible for raising money so it must be true, right? Maybe not, in fact, I think overwhelming evidence shows otherwise.

It’s not surprising that executive directors are looking to their boards for fundraising right now. Gaps in revenue budgets are more common and longer lasting in the wake of the recession, state budget cuts, and demographic changes. New sources of income are needed, but lecturing, glaring, and making your board members squirm probably isn’t getting you to your goal.

Gayle Gifford at Cause & Effect wrote two great short articles on this subject a few years ago, Banishing your expectations of board fundraising, or why does it feel so good when I stop? Gayle called the question of why we have bought in to the myth of the fundraising board despite the evidence:

“While it might sound heretical, it is not a law that board members must raise money in order for a nonprofit to successfully generate sufficient revenues. What if we (as nonprofit staff) had never learned that it was the role of the board to raise money? Would we act differently about fundraising and our responsibility to ensure that our organizations have sufficient resources?”

Can we hit the reset button on this topic and start over with a new job description for boards in fundraising that reflects some reality?

  1. Fundraising is a profession, requiring skills, training, experience, and adequate time available to do the job.
  2. The fundamental role of board members is to govern the nonprofit organization, which requires appropriate roles and responsibilities that are distinct from those of the executive and staff.
  3. Any level of board participation in the fundraising work of the organization requires planning, volunteer management, supervision, and substantial staff leadership and support.
  4. Not all members of the board are right for the job. Organizations need board members with a variety of capabilities, personal characteristics, and experiences.

Again, from Gayle Gifford: “If we didn’t assume that it was the responsibility of our board members to fundraise, I predict that we’d stop being resentful of them and instead figure out how best to mobilize the people that we have (and find more volunteers and resources to fill in the gaps).”

The revenue model for every nonprofit is a handcrafted strategy that is based on constituents and stakeholders, market opportunity, and economic environment and built on infrastructure and capacity. For some nonprofits, development staff and executives assume the full responsibility for fundraising. For others, board members may be a part of that capacity. Board fundraising is not mandatory and is not effortless. Build the right model for your organization on realistic expectations and let go of the myths.

 

Kate Barr believes that every nonprofit financial question relates to strategy, structure and mission impact. She enjoys interpreting financial information to find stories numbers can tell. She loves writing, teaching, and talking with interesting people.