#099 May/Jun 1998

The Board and Fundraising

The broad purpose of a board of directors is to run an organization effectively. Board members are bound to ensure that their particular organization is operating within state and federal […]

The broad purpose of a board of directors is to run an organization effectively. Board members are bound to ensure that their particular organization is operating within state and federal laws, earning its money honestly and spending it responsibly, and adopting programs and procedures most conducive to its mission. Among the responsibilities board members must assume is a responsibility for the organization’s continued funding and financial health. In this respect, board members have two tasks: to give money and raise money. More often than not, however, board members hesitate to embrace these two activities.

The reluctance of board members to take responsibility for fundraising can usually be traced to two sources: 1) board members don’t understand the importance of taking a leadership role in fundraising, and 2) they are afraid of asking for money. Board members cannot give themselves wholeheartedly to the process of fundraising unless these two problems are resolved.

The reason board members must take a leadership role in fundraising is simple: they own the organization. They are responsible for the organization’s well-being and its successes. Furthermore, their supporters and potential supporters see board members as the people most committed and dedicated to the organization. If they, who care the most about the group, will not take a lead role in fundraising, why should anyone else? When the board does take the lead, its members and the staff can go to individuals, corporations, and foundations and say, “We have 100 percent commitment from our board. All board members give money and raise money.” This position strengthens their fundraising case a great deal. More and more, sophisticated individuals and foundations are asking organizations about the role of the board in fundraising and taking a more positive look at groups whose board plays an active part.

Not Everyone Has to Ask for Money All the Time

Board members often fear they will be required to ask people for money. It’s true that many fundraising strategies require board members to make face-to-face solicitations. This is a skill that can be learned, and all board members should have the opportunity to attend a training session on asking for money. In a diversified fundraising plan, however, some board members can participate in fundraising strategies that do not require directly asking for money.

All board members’ interest and skills can be used. While some can solicit large gifts, others can plan special events, write mail appeals, market products for sale, write thank-you notes, stuff envelopes, enter information into a database, etc. Board members inexperienced in fundraising can start with an easy assignment (“Sell 20 raffle tickets”) and then move on to more difficult assignments (“Ask this person for $1,000”). Some fundraising strategies will use all board members (selling tickets to the dance), whereas others will require only one or two people (speaking to service clubs or writing mail appeals).

Often, people who join a board bring two myths with them that hamper their participation in fundraising. First, they feel that since they give time they should not be called on to give money. “Time is money,” they will argue. Second, if an organization has paid staff, board members may feel that it is the staff’s job to fundraise. Let us quickly dispel both of these myths.

Time Is Not Money

Board members must understand that contributions of time and money are very different, although equally important, parts of their role.

While a person’s time is valuable, it is not the same as money. You cannot go to the telephone company and offer to run their switchboard in order to pay your phone bill. You cannot pay staff or buy office supplies with your time. Further, everyone has the same amount of time in a day, but people have vastly unequal amounts of money. Finally, people are rarely nervous to ask someone for their time, but are often very reluctant to ask someone for their money, even though time is a non-renewable resource, whereas money is not.

I have conducted thousands of trainings in how to ask for money, but I have never been asked to lead a training on how to ask for time. In training, I often use this example: “If a board member is assigned to call three people and tell them about a meeting on Wednesday night, he or she will most likely do it. If two people can come to the meeting and one can’t, the board member does not take this personally and feel like a failure. However, if this same board member is assigned to ask these same three people for $100 each, he or she will probably be very uncomfortable without training in how to ask for money.”

Paid Staff Cannot Do It All

Just as it is foolish for an organization to depend on one or two sources of funding, it is equally unwise for it to depend on one or two people to do fundraising.

Paid staff do have specific roles in fundraising. These are to help plan fundraising strategies and coordinate fundraising activities; keep records and take care of routine fundraising tasks such as renewal appeals; and assist board members by writing letters for them, forming fundraising plans with them, and accompanying them to solicitation meetings. Fundraising staff provide all the backup needed for effective fundraising. It is clearly impossible, however, for one person or even several people to do all the work necessary in a diversified fundraising plan.

Sharing the Work and the Power

The final reason for board members to participate in fundraising is to ensure that work is evenly shared. Fundraising is rarely anyone’s favorite task, so it is important that each board member knows that other members are doing their share. If some members do all the fundraising while others make policy, resentment is bound to arise. The same resentment will surface if some board members give money and others don’t. Those who give may feel that their donation “buys” them out of some work or their money entitles them to more power. Those who do not give money may feel that they do all the work or that those who give money have more power. When board members know that everyone is giving their best effort to fundraising according to their abilities, the board will function most smoothly and members will be more willing to take on fundraising tasks.


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