Nonprofit boards are changing and their support is ripe for the picking. We share practical ways to turn your directors into fundraising champions.

Gone are the days when boards existed purely for governance, while fundraising sat in a corner and had its figures raked through once a month.

Now, the first stop for many major donors and trusts & foundations when asked for support is to check who on a charity board is giving. After all, why should outsiders be expected to give if the leaders on the inside do not?

We may not have reached the American approach of ‘give, get or get off” – and perhaps we never will – but Australian boards are becoming increasingly involved in championing their organisations’ fundraising campaigns and tapping their networks. We hope your board members are already convinced of the value in their active participation in fundraising. But if they’re not, here are five tips to get them started.

1. Recruit for them

It seems obvious, but the best chance you have of working with a board member who is truly engaged in fundraising is to vet them for this before they take the role. It doesn’t mean your organisation has to recruit a professional fundraiser on their board (although many do and it provides myriad benefits and expertise), but new recruits do need to agree, ahead of time, that they will work hard to support fundraising.

We suggest that those responsible for board recruitment are crystal clear about fundraising expectations up front. Especially when it comes to a requirement for the board to donate personally. Laying out fundraising involvement clearly in writing – including the requirement to give, to be involved in donor events, to mine personal contact lists and perhaps even to perform major donor asks – is a smart way to ensure everyone is on the same page and set up for success before new incumbents begin.

Finally, we highly recommend that all board members read Perpetual Trustees’ white paper, Jump on board – high-performing not-for-profit boards in fundraising, which provides excellent insight into how Australian NFP boards are and should be participating in fundraising.

2. Ask for advice

Remember the old adage “If you want money, ask for advice. If you want advice, ask for money.” Well, if you want enthusiastic board involvement in your fundraising activity, ask for their input. We’re not suggesting you add extra layers of approval to what may already be lengthy sign-off processes but think of some key pieces of activity and request their ideas and feedback.

After all, this is a group of people who are deeply connected to your cause, but at the same time have jobs and interests elsewhere. You are deep in the detail, but they have a degree of separation and offer objectivity as a result. And, if the stars have aligned, they’re also your donors.

Projects that fit the bill include a case for support (remembering that you may ask your board to use this document to ‘sell’ your need), your annual report (what, in their opinion, have been the annual highlights?) and donor surveys (they are, or should be, donors).

3. Tap their networks

We know, it’s obvious, but this one can’t be overstated! The next time you hold a donor or fundraising event, ask you board to invite at least one guest each (and on event day, allocate three or four guests to each board member to meet, greet and mingle with).

When you start planning a campaign, ask your board at the outset who in their network has the capacity to support. This is especially pertinent for capital campaigns, but the gold in networks also applies to Christmas, Tax and shoulder appeals, giving days, gala auctions and peer-to-peer events.

Who do your board directors work for? Can they involve their workplace in corporate volunteering, workplace giving or entering a team into one of your challenge events?

Who do they know? Are you launching a gift-in-wills program – do they know wealth planners? Do you need an event sponsor? Will you soon roll-out a program that provides impact for a specific beneficiary cohort – who do your board members know with a passion for this cause area? Are you hoping for some media coverage – do they know journalists?

The list goes on, but the moral of the story is always the same: every time you need to find someone to support your work – from donating, to participating, to volunteering, to pro bono support – ask if your board might know the people you need. They almost certainly do.

4. Give them direction

Often in life, we really want to help, we just don’t know how. There’s every chance your board are ready and waiting to give you their support – they just need you to give them direction. Here are three examples:

  • Giving days – ask you board to fundraise as a team, displayed loud and proud on your giving day landing page.
  • Case for support –equip your board directors with this key document, ensure they understand it thoroughly (attending a board meeting to walk them through it is a good idea), and ask them to take it to their interested contacts. At Victorian charity, St Kilda Mums, the six projects within their case for support were divvied up amongst the board, so that each director could become a committed champion for a specific area of the charity’s need.
  • The big ask – because what is more convincing than an ask between two people who know and respect each other? Using ‘peer’ or ‘advocate’ asks in major giving is common practice and, if the person a major donor knows best sits on your board, then perhaps they should be the one asking, or at least attending the meeting.
5. Keep them updated 

End-of-month figures in a board report aren’t enough if you want your directors to be truly engaged in your fundraising vision.

Give them a one, three and six-month look ahead at activity and let them know how you’d like them to be involved. Provide a list of five major donor prospects for each board meeting and ask if anyone knows them. Work with your CEO on a board ‘fundraising checklist’ of tasks you’d like them to be responsible for and foster a routine of monthly reporting.

And finally, make yourself visible! For too long, fundraisers have been in the background while exec managers relay their results, progress and questions at board meetings. Is someone in your team working on an exciting initiative that will inject new life into your fundraising program? Secure them a 15 minute spot at a future board meeting and let them shine – only good can come from building the bond between the board and the people they oversee.

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