Non-profit governance: The work of the board, part 4

Dani Robbins is the Founder & Principal Strategist at Non Profit Evolution located in Columbus, Ohio. I’ve invited my good friend and fellow non-profit consultant to the first Wednesday of each month about board development related topics. Dani also recently co-authored a book titled “Innovative Leadership Workbook for Nonprofit Executives” that you can find on 

Governance: The Work of the Board, part 4

Raising Money

By Dani Robbins

board fundraisingWelcome to part four of our five part series on Governance. We have already discussed the Board’s role in Hiring, Supporting and Evaluating the Executive, Acting as the Fiduciary Responsible Agent, and Setting Policy. Today, let’s discuss the Board’s role in raising money.

As previously mentioned, Boards are made up of appointed community leaders who are collectively responsible for governing an organization. As outlined in my favorite Board book Governance as Leadership and summarized in The Role of the Board, the Fiduciary Mode is where governance begins for all boards and ends for too many. I encourage you to also explore the Strategic and Generative Modes of Governance, which will greatly improve your board’s engagement, and also their enjoyment.

At a minimum, governance includes:

  • Setting the Mission, Vision and Strategic Plan
  • Hiring, Supporting and Evaluating the Executive Director
  • Acting as the Fiduciary Responsible Agent
  • Raising Money and
  • Setting Policy

One of my goals for this blog is to rectify the common practice in the field of people telling nonprofit executives and boards how things should be done without any instruction as to what that actually means or how to accomplish it.

What “Board members being responsible for raising money” means is:

The Board sets the fund raising (also called resource development) goal; embarks on the campaign; opens doors; introduces staff; “makes the ask” when they’re the most likely person to get a yes (regardless of title or ranking, you always send the person who is most likely to get a yes to a gift request); picks up the tab for lunch when possible; and thanks the donor. The Board is also responsible for setting the strategic plan which may include a goal to increase contributed income. Each Board member should be expected to make a significant gift, reflective of their personal circumstances, as well as raise additional money.

I do not recommend give or get policies.

Give or get policies allow Board members to avoid personally giving; and 100% Board giving is critical for a successful campaign. Potential donors will ask if there is 100% Board giving, and the answer must be “yes“. Why should anyone else support an organization whose Board members do not? Moreover, how can you ask for someone else to financially support an organization you do not financially support? I can hear someone out there saying “I give of my time,” and that is wonderful, but it’s not enough. Board members should also financially support the organizations they serve.

I also don’t recommend set giving requirements.

Set giving policies, intended to be minimum gifts, actually end up being the entire gift. Such policies alienate potential board members who may bring a lot to the table but cannot personally give at the set level. It also leaves money on the table for people who can give more. Finally, it eliminates the Resource Development Committee’s opportunity to seek out and personally ask each Board member for a specific (to their circumstances and level of engagement) gift. It takes away the chance to say thank you for your engagement, removes the possibility to steward Board members as donors and minimizes the chance of a larger gift. Any policy that works against your goals is not a good policy.

The Board cannot and is not expected to raise money alone.

The staff is responsible for training the Board; coordinating the assignments; preparing the askers with relevant donor information; drafting and supplying whatever written information will be left with the donor, including a case statement (also called case for support) and a letter asking for a specific dollar amount; attending the ask meetings as appropriate; documenting the meeting in the database; writing the formal thank you note; and creating a plan to steward (or circle back to) the donor going forward.

The executive director cannot raise money alone. The development director cannot raise money alone. Fundraising works best in a culture of philanthropy when both the staff and the Board are working together to increase contributed income.

What’s been your experience? As always, I welcome your insight and experience.
dani sig

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