Building a Powerful Fundraising Board: Three Things You Need to Know

To begin with, most NGOs/nonprofits require boards of directors that are generous in giving and effective in fundraising. In rare cases, there is a revenue model, or possibly an endowment, that is so financially robust that no additional funds are required in order to achieve the mission (the organization's compelling purpose) or the vision (the organization's greatest potential to improve the world). But for the vast majority of nonprofits, donated funds -- especially unrestricted dollars -- make it possible for the organization to provide valuable services in improving our communities and our world, whether in education, healthcare, economic development, social justice, the arts, or the environment.

Nonprofit boards have many important roles and responsibilities which I address in numerous posts. Furthermore, board members can be valuable in helping to generate revenues in many ways other than simply giving and fundraising. For example, board members can improve an organization's fortunes by providing expertise in pricing strategies, guidance in accessing public funds, or access to pro bono services.

In this post, however, I want to focus specifically on giving and fundraising. I have three observations.

  1. Your best donors are probably right under your nose. Frequently, I see nonprofit executives and board leaders eagerly seeking to find that "rich person" who's on everyone else's board. The wish is that the person will come on your board, give a whopper of a gift, perhaps bring her pals, and boom! The problem is that that person is already committed. Even if she comes on your board, it's often the case that most of her philanthropic dollars are already allocated, and she's previously asked her friends to give elsewhere. What I've observed, however, is that there are likely to be people among the organization's own board, advisory committee, or smaller donors who are able to give more -- often significantly. You simply need to identify them, find a way to engage them more deeply, and ask.

  • When looking outside the organization's circle, take off your blinders. Nonprofit executives and board leaders frequently pursue the "usual suspects"--people who are already known as major donors with other organizations. Where I've observed the greatest success is with organizations that identify younger people -- sometimes from more diverse backgrounds and industries -- who are not on the radar. The most desirable board candidates are often people who have not already chosen their cause or their organization -- people who have value to offer and funds to contribute and who are looking for something meaningful. There are an abundance of such individuals.
  • Fundraising begins with the vision. Most fundraising training for board members starts with "how to" this and "how to" that. It's like starting a story in the middle. In fact, the key to successful fundraising is to begin with a vision of what you seek to achieve. That is, what is wrong with the world, and how will you make it a better place? And how will the donor's money help achieve the better world? Ultimately, people contribute to accomplish something meaningful. Yes, they must see that you have what it takes to be successful -- the right leadership, team, and strategy and operational plan. They also want to see that you measure as you go, and that you are accountable and transparent. But most of all, they want to understand the mission -- your purpose; your vision -- exactly how you will make the world a better place; and why their dollars are critical for success.
  • My final comment is for board members, members of advisory councils, and anyone who is committed to a cause. Volunteering your time is tremendously valuable; I've devoted my life to service. But money matters! Nonprofits depend on your generosity to achieve their important work in building a better world.