“To Give or not to Give” is not THE Question: Boards and fundraising

As stewards responsible for an organization’s financial sustainability, the board’s contribution to fundraising is a critical conversation. The board has a variety of roles to play in relation to fundraising, and we pose fiduciary, strategic and generative questions (to learn more about these, see our first post in the CRITICAL CONVERSATIONS series) to stimulate the board’s understanding of this responsibility.

moneybagsHistorically many non-profit organizations recruited board members for their ability to “give or get” money. As organizations matured and their funding sources stabilized, organizations started to recruit board members for their talent, time and diverse perspectives, including service users who may not be in a position to give substantial amounts. Expectations that board members make a personal contribution diminished for government funded organizations. Some board members believe they contribute their time and talent in lieu of a financial gift.

Today, when government funding doesn’t cover program and operational costs, the expectation that board members contribute financially has been revived. Foundations and major donors look at board giving rates as an indication that the organization’s leadership is confident and fully invested in the work being done.

According to a recent US survey by BoardSource, approximately 68% of non-profit organizations have articulated a “board giving” policy. Board giving policies often include an expectation that each member contributes an amount they consider generous or personally meaningful – i.e. each according to their means. Many boards aim for 100% participation rates and report their participation rates to funders. A survey conducted by the Nonprofit Research Collaborative in 2013 found that board giving had increased in 47% of the organizations surveyed.

In addition to making personal contributions, boards have other roles to play in supporting organizational fundraising efforts – e.g. events, direct mail and capital campaigns, major gifts and bequests, and corporate sponsorships. Roles include attending fundraising events and meeting with key funders. Board members can more easily set aside time to lend their support at one or more events during the year if staff maintain a calendar of events. When it comes to gifts and bequests, with appropriate tools and support, board members can promote these options in their communities.

Donor_callPenelope Burk of Cygnus Applied Research has investigated why donors give. One practice she recommends to boards is a “1-minute thank-you call”. Board members follow up on recent donations with a very brief phone call to thank the donor on behalf of the organization. Although no additional request for donations is made, donors who receive a simple thank-you from a senior volunteer tend to make another gift sooner than they might otherwise have done, and the size of their subsequent gifts tends to increase.

Board members’ personal and professional networks are a vital resource in an organization’s fundraising efforts. Inviting members of their networks to fundraising events has long been an expectation of board members. Today, board members’ networks can also be helpful for an organization that is seeking to establish corporate sponsorships and partnerships. When an organization embarks on this kind of fundraising strategy, sharing who you know expands the opportunity pool.

Board members with skills in fundraising and communications can be key assets on a board. Not only can they provide an outside perspective to staff, they can educate fellow board members about fundamentals of fundraising. Strategic recruitment of board members is one way for a board to access these skills.

Critical Conversations

We know that every board is at a different stage when it comes to involvement in fundraising. The questions below are presented as possible topics for the board to explore through dialogue. We recommend a board set aside approximately 30-60 minutes to explore several questions.

Distributing an article related to the topic in advance can be useful in priming board members for the conversation – we’ve identified some recommended articles and books below. The questions in each mode engage the board in a different kind of thinking, so consider mixing and matching to engage the board in a substantive dialogue.

Fiduciary Questions Strategic Questions Generative Questions
  • What funding model(s) does our organization use? (see related resource below, “Ten Non-profit Funding Models”)
  • Are our fundraising vehicles – e.g. events, direct mail, capital campaigns – delivering a positive return on investment?
  • What’s our board giving policy? Where are we in relation to our targets?
  • Which board members need to be involved in which funding-related events? What role should they play?
  • Who (i.e. people, corporations, associations) are we connected with that might support our organization in some way? E.g. as corporate sponsors, material resources?
  • What other sources of funding might we pursue? What role might the board play in growing this type of funding?
  • How might we inspire people to give us money without asking them directly?
  • What assumptions do we each have about fundraising… and how do these limit our collective success?
  • How might a person with limited money but extensive networks help us access substantial funds?

Sandi Trillo and Ruth Armstrong, VISION Management Services

Related resources

  1. Board members and the art of saying thanks. Interview with Penelope Burk by Jay Blossom. IN TRUST. Summer 2013.
  2. Finding Your Funding Model, by Peter Kim, Gail Perreault, &William Foster. Stanford Social Innovation Review. Fall 2011.
  3. Nonprofit Fundraising Study – Covering charitable receipts at Nonprofit organizations in the United States and Canada in 2013. Nonprofit Research Collaborative, March 2014.
  4. Ten Nonprofit Funding Models, by William Landes Foster, Peter Kim, & Barbara Christiansen.Stanford Social Innovation Review, Spring 2009.
  5. The Power of a Case for Support. Nell Edgington, Social Velocity.