How to Drive Board Fundraising Engagement for Nonprofit Growth

How to Drive Board Fundraising Engagement for Nonprofit Growth

by Morgan Falor
June 05, 2023

Nonprofit board members are commonly titans of industry with a strong sphere of influence. However, inherent leadership skills and renown don’t always translate into meaningful board engagement, notably in fundraising.

Many nonprofits struggle with both new donor acquisition and existing donor retention, a combination that can cause decreased fundraising revenue, a frustrated management team and a board that feels the development team should do more. More fundraising activity doesn’t necessarily translate into more dollars, however — it commonly leads to staff burnout with little increase in results. Without a clear development strategy that effectively leverages all stakeholders, fundraising will continue to suffer and this cycle of dissatisfaction will go on.

At the board level, this can lead to disengaged board members and missed opportunities. That’s why it’s critical that, from the outset, your nonprofit provides clear fundraising guidance that sets board members up for success while ensuring their potential contribution is maximized. Here’s how you can influence board members effectively and meaningfully throughout their term to increase your organization’s fundraising potential.

Establish Expectations During Recruitment

When recruiting board members, make sure that fundraising expectations are clearly defined.

Start by creating open lines of communication with your prospective board members. Conduct an interview with each prospect to gain a thorough understanding of their motivation to serve, the attributes they offer, their areas of interest and the time investment they can make.

Some individuals may just want to write a check. If so, would they be better suited as a donor? Others may be willing to financially contribute and make a specified number of introductions per month to prospective donors — a true growth opportunity for your organization. Understanding how each prospect will deliver a unique organizational impact can help determine if they are a proper fit.

And, it’s a two-way street. Board members need a clear understanding of the commitment they are making to your organization. Be transparent about your nonprofit’s development strategy and the board’s role in successful execution.

Do the prospect’s interests and reputation support your organization’s core values? Does their level of commitment meet your expectations around each board member’s responsibilities? Does their skillset sync with gaps you need to fill? When recruiting, it's crucial to be transparent about your needs and goals to ensure the relationship will be mutually beneficial.

Include Fundraising Training During Onboarding

Providing a comprehensive onboarding process is essential for ensuring new board members are well versed in your nonprofit’s case for support, the overarching development strategy and their specific role in the fundraising process.

The onboarding process should include more than just an overview of your nonprofit’s mission, goals and policies. Training should contain action-oriented information, such as the role each stakeholder group plays in the fundraising process, along with soft-skill exercises like elevator pitch development and making an ask. Board members being able to clearly articulate why they are involved with your organization, how their role contributes to your organization’s success and what your organization means to them is the most important takeaway.

Ongoing training is also important as a nonprofit’s case for support (i.e., the “why”) and corresponding development strategy will evolve throughout the board term. Provide recurring training at least semi-annually to update board members on the case for support and how to properly articulate the evolution.

Define Roles

Job descriptions aren’t only for nonprofit management and staff. Board members can also benefit greatly from having a formalized job description. It provides full transparency for the board member and helps management hold them accountable as needed. Board job descriptions should include expectations around meeting attendance, committee participation, the code of conduct and fundraising, including board giving requirements.

Nonprofits commonly require 100% board giving. But mandating that every board member make a financial contribution, especially a significant one, could shut out valuable, diverse prospects and create an exclusivity factor within the board.

A “give-or-get” policy, which requires individual board members to either donate or raise a certain amount of money each year, is an excellent alternative for those who may not have the financial means to give a sizable contribution but would be a vital asset to your board. Your organization could also consider setting a collective board fundraising goal instead of a specific dollar amount for each member to contribute. Collective goals allow individuals to contribute in ways that align with their distinctive strengths and abilities, giving board members more flexibility when pursuing fundraising targets.

Segregating duties by category can also be helpful to maximize board member contributions. By separating fundraising activities into must-do and optional categories, each board member can tailor their approach to suit their unique assets and interests.

Utilize a Structured Development Committee

A development committee’s purpose is to facilitate the board’s strategic role in a nonprofit’s development efforts. It should function like any other board committee — be governed by a charter, report regularly to the entire board and meet frequently with management.

The development committee should collaborate to identify areas where management and the development staff need support and then leverage their networks and tools to assist. The committee should recommend and monitor the overall development plan, provide feedback on the case for support and participate in all the components of fundraising: prospect identification, engagement, evaluation, solicitation, recognition and stewardship.

Ongoing meetings between the development committee and development leadership should be prioritized. At least once a month, the development committee should review the donor pipeline to see where personal connections could be made or where additional support could be provided to get an ask over the finish line.

Collaborative activities

Together, the board, development committee and development team can collaborate on ongoing fundraising activities that create significant value, including:

  • Donor retention efforts: One way to foster donor loyalty and boost retention is through expressions of gratitude. The development committee can lead efforts to thank donors by creating a gratitude team responsible for recognizing donors and volunteers — for example, by organizing a donor thank-a-thon and working with board members to write handwritten notes.
  • Qualifications of major gift prospects: The development committee can utilize the power of personal connection to identify major gift prospects within the current donor portfolio. The committee can provide valuable information to leadership and the board on which donors to solicit, how much to ask for and how to time the ask.
  • Joining visits for major solicitations: Board members and/or development committee members can also join management on major donor solicitations. Because these individuals are investing their resources, both time and monetary, to the organization, their endorsement carries significant weight and so can be vital to a donor’s investment.

Data visibility

Nonprofit leadership should ensure the development committee understands your organization’s key performance indicators (KPIs) and donor metrics. The development committee can utilize this information to suggest actionable steps to the board and management to augment the development strategy as needed.

For example, if the data shows that your nonprofit is acquiring new donors but struggling to convert them to recurring donors, the development committee can recommend the board support management in a retention campaign. The board can then invest their time, and potentially divert other organizational resources, to support this effort and strategize on ways to make it more successful.

By educating the development committee on key KPIs and donor metrics, data-driven discussions can happen at the board level. These discussions can help your board identify actionable ways to engage and support fundraising efforts in real time.

Final Thoughts

Fundraising is critical for the growth and sustainability of your nonprofit organization, and leveraging board members effectively can make all the difference. By implementing clear board member expectations from the outset and providing them with actionable steps that align with your development strategy, you can effectively engage your board members, energize your team and strengthen stakeholder relationships — ultimately driving your mission further, faster.

Contact our Strategic Development Outsourcing experts to learn more about optimizing your fundraising strategies or explore other ways to take control of your operations and face the future with confidence.

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