There are so many different approaches, attitudes and philosophies swirling around the challenging and emotional topic of fundraising, that the best way to respond is to acknowledge that actually there is no right or wrong answer! In many ways, “it depends,” is the only thing consultants and nonprofit leaders can say when asked whose job it is to fundraise for the organization. While no one likes to rely on a vague phrase like ‘it depends,’ that may be the most accurate!

What does “it depends” mean?

Because each nonprofit has its own mission, leadership team, board of directors and volunteers, there will be different expectations regarding who will assume fundraising responsibilities for each unique entity.  No one single answer fits every situation. Too many organizations spin their wheels trying to turn board members into fundraisers when it just is not something they excel at doing.

Asking business colleagues, friends or family members for a donation is a hard thing to do, even when the asker is passionate about the organization and the mission. It feels awkward.  That’s because the process can be complicated and uncomfortable for those who are thrust into the role.

If the nonprofit has the resources, a better scenario would be for the board and other volunteers to consider themselves “cheerleaders” for the organization, spreading the word about the mission and identifying potential financial supporters without being required to directly drive revenue. For this to be efficient, the nonprofit must have enough staff and volunteers to divide the responsibilities between cultivation and donation.

Both small and large organizations can participate in a “treasure mapping” process. In this way, regardless of staff size, the leadership invites board members to brainstorm regarding specific firms, companies or individuals across various demographics with the goal of providing viable names and contact information along with a warm, personal introduction on behalf of the group.  This is much less intimidating and intrusive and one that most board members will gladly do whether the organization has a full-time fundraiser or not.

Should board members do more?

In “Good to Great,” author Jim Collins goes out of his way to remind leaders that they not only have to get the right people on the bus, but even more importantly, they have to place them in the right seats. Even super stars need to be positioned in the right spot in order to achieve optimum success. So instead of asking board members to step outside of their comfort zone and directly solicit donations, why not leverage their talents and connections more strategically by asking them to be advocates and champions while leaving the fund raising to those who do it well?

Everyone will be more comfortable and effective if they follow this model, but whether or not it will work depends on if the organization has a designated full or part time Development Director or someone with experience in the field.  For a nonprofit with this advantage, these are the people who should be involved in the process, establishing the strategic plan and executing the final request. 

But smaller organizations may not have the benefit of drawing on the skills of a professional, most especially if they have a limited staff. In those cases, volunteers will be called upon to assist in development, but they must be trained before they begin.  Inviting a professional fundraiser to a board meeting and asking for insights, tips and best practices will enhance the experience for all.  In addition, under any circumstance, there should be a team of two when approaching a potential (or existing) donor. This would include the Director of Development and the person who owns the relationship.  If there is no Director of Development to call on, the Executive Director/CEO or perhaps board chair, can step in to help with the meeting.  Remember that practicing in advance no matter who is attending the meeting will make the whole event go more smoothly. After all, when it is clear what the expectations are, everyone can be more at ease and ultimately have a better chance of achieving the goals.

What else can board members do?

Along with identifying donors and facilitating warm introductions, board members have another important function as brand builders for nonprofits of all sizes.  Most nonprofits have several board members who enjoy strong reputations in the community. This doesn’t mean that you must have a celebrity as a spokesperson, but a locally recognized leader can exert the same, or better, positive influence on your fundraising efforts as a national or regional ‘star.’   Board members and other volunteers who are known for being just a “little famous” can open doors for the organization and set the stage for enhancing your brand and propelling your mission.  An engaged board member with a succinct story to tell about the organization can inspire and motivate in a special way. An enthusiastic, energetic board member is a valuable asset to any organization – with or without a Director of Development on hand to close the deal. 

The bottom line is this: Board members do not have to make the “ask” but they certainly can set the stage for a successful outcome.  By drawing on their status in the community and the loyalty and friendship of others, they can have a significant impact without ever having to ask for one dime.