Boards: The Secret to Successful Fundraising

The secret to successful fundraising can be summarized in one word: boards.

If you want to raise more money for your organization this year, you must have a fundraising board. Do you?

The real secret is the ability to leverage your board members and their connections. If you can do this, your fundraising will be magnitudes more successful.

Leveraging Your Board Members

Let me give you some examples of how you can leverage your board members and their connections.

I worked for an organization once to help with their first fundraising gala. The organization had board members with access to resources, and therefore, they were able to set high sponsorship levels. With one phone call or email, those board members were able to generate $10,000 sponsorships and they raised almost $300,000 in the first year. Without those connections and resources, the gala would have made significantly less.

Another time, I worked for an organization providing board fundraising training. The board members had not been helping with fundraising or making their own gifts, primarily, because they had not been asked or trained properly. Within two months of the training, three board members had solicited and received $5,000 plus checks from peers, simply because they had been taught to ask.

A nonprofit’s board’s attitude toward fundraising can make or break your fundraising efforts.

Getting Your Board to Fundraise

If you don’t have a fundraising board, don’t worry. It takes an average of three years to turn a non-fundraising board into a fundraising board, but it can be done.

Below are the basics on getting your board to fundraise.

1. Recruit them right.

Are you recruiting new board members on a regular and ongoing basis? Do you have a nominating committee of the board that is responsible for bringing on new board members?

Do you have a comprehensive job description for new board members? Does it include giving to the organization as well as helping with fundraising?

Make sure that each new board member understands that they are responsible for making a personal donation each year, as well as helping with fundraising. It should be spoken about as well as in writing.

2. Train them.

Don’t expect board members to automatically understand how to fundraise. They must be taught and trained on a regular and ongoing basis. Hold at least one annual board training session on fundraising, as well as periodic mini-trainings throughout the year.

If you can afford to, you should bring in an outside trainer. If you don’t have the resources to hire a fundraising consultant to provide training, do an exchange with another local organization. Your development director can train their board in exchange for training your board. Outside trainers generally bring a fresh perspective and new ideas to any situation.

3. Require 100% participation.

All board members should be expected to make a personal donation to your organization. Not only that, I believe that board members should be asked to make a “stretch” or a significant gift for them. This means that everyone will contribute at a different level, but hopefully at a meaningful level for their budget.

I strongly disagree with anyone who thinks that if they volunteer their time, that they don’t need to give their money. Board members need to be the first in line to give. If board members, who are “closest” to the organization and know the needs of the organization most intimately, don’t give, why should anyone else?

4. Get them to give more.

In order to increase you board member’s giving, ask them to consider doubling or quadrupling their gift by making monthly or quarterly payments. In most cases, this will significantly increase your overall board giving.

5. Have them sign a board member expectation form.

Create a written board member expectation form, so you know what to expect from each board member at the beginning of the year. Include committees they will serve on, specific dollar amount they will give, which fundraising activities they will participate in, etc.

6. Leverage board member contacts.

Board members should be introducing their friends to your organization, by making introductions to the CEO, brining guests to fundraising events, bringing friends and colleagues on tours, etc. It is often then up to staff members to keep these new individuals engaged and involved.

Going Further

For more information, check out the following articles:

How to Get Your Board Members to Become “Door Openers” by Gail Perry

8 Ways Your Board Can Fundraising Without Asking

Top 3 Board Member Excuses Not to Give

So how about you?

What have you tried to get your board members involved with fundraising? Did it work? I’d love to hear from you in the comments.


  1. Michelle says

    Great advise on raising funds! In these tough economic times, this type of information is critical to securing donations.

  2. says

    This is so true! We are all so nervous to ask our Board members to give, but how can we ask anyone else to invest in our work if our Board won’t? It took us a couple of years to get to 100% Board giving, but its worth it because more and more corporate and foundation grants are asking for Board giving rates.

  3. Dawn says

    I think we all know how important and how successful our fundraising efforts can be when the board plays their important role, however, what to do you do with a board who knows this is their responsibility but when push comes to shove they are still looking at the development director to raise all the money?

    • says

      Great question, Dawn. I would start by making sure they are all giving. Do you have 100% participation?

      Also, do you have at least 1 or 2 board members who “get it”? If so, have them do some fundraising with you and then ask them to report their success stories at the next board meeting.

      Next, meet with each board member individually at their home or office (don’t spend money on lunch) and ask them what they think they can do this year to help with fundraising efforts. Give them a “menu” of choices, such as – host a reception, bring 3 people on a tour, bring 5 people to your next event, make thank you calls, sign thank you letters and appeal letters, etc.

      Finally, provide board training, so they fully understand their role and the impact they can have.

  4. says

    For many of my Board members, expectations about their role in the fundraising process were not made clear from the outset. This helps me remain patient but it certainly is gratifying to see how excited our newest Trustees are about making connections and supporting our cause. It really does boil down to being clear and specific about what’s expected of them.

  5. Jessica says

    This is good advice. My board recently decided they would have to become a fundraising board. They are very aware that they don’t really know how to do this or feel suited to it, but they are trying. During our spring and fall appeals this year, they took seriously their role in passing on the letters to colleagues and friends- and we more than doubled our typical annual donations. (This sounds fabulous, but the original number was really small! But still kind of fabulous.) Anyway, it’s good advice to arrange periodic training for boards- mine would appreciate it and benefit from it.

    • says

      Jessica – Congratulations on doubling your annual appeal income, no matter how small the amount. That’s a significant milestone and one your board members should feel proud of! Great work.

  6. Heather says

    After running a recent LYBUNT report, two board member names appeared on this report…how disappointing. Our board does not know it is a fundraising board and rarely attend special events. Training has been offered but declined. Any suggestions?

    • says

      First, were those board members asked for a gift this year? If not, then you as staff need to make sure you are asking each board member for a gift each year.

      Are you the ED or DOD? First, the ED needs to understand the importance of having a fundraising board. Then, it will be up to the ED to start convincing the board. First, have a conversation with the board president. If he/she agrees, then you can start adding small bits of fundraising training to each board meeting agenda. Do you have a development committee of the board? They should be driving this process as well. Your goal this year should be to create a board expectation form which states that each board member is responsible for making a personal donation as well as attending fundraising events. Make sure that this is made clear to new board member recruits. I am available to coach ED’s, DOD’s, and board members through this process if you would like assistance.

      I hope this is helpful. Good luck!


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