Among the many roles and responsibilities boards have in the management of nonprofit organizations, one stands out as the least favorite: fundraising. While most boards will require fundraising participation, activity in this area is low. Wagner (1994) notes: “although board members are responsible for the financial viability of their organizations, some neither give money nor help get it”. Why is this? John D. Rockefeller stated that people feel they “need to apologize for asking someone to give to a worthy object” (1933).
It can be viewed as a chore to request money from personal and business contacts. Some will refuse to fulfill this role within their board membership; others just do not know how to ask for money, and other just fear rejection (Wagner, 1994). The board chair can overcome both attitudes for fundraising. The chair and CEO should collectively explain the importance of fundraising and how the board is the perfect body to do the job. Apart from perhaps the CEO, board members understand how the money is used better than anyone else in the organization. They are the single most effective people in “selling” the value of the organization. For this reason, it is most important that the board be constantly “up” on the successes and recent goings-on of the organization. They will need to share this with possible donors as “people give money to success, not distress” (Wagner, 1994).
Wagner brings an interesting point about why boards may not have interest in fundraising and that is simply that they “do not have a strong commitment to the organization’s mission and programs” (1994). (See also my blog about motivations of board members to serve). It is a natural assumption that nonpaid board members, whose involvement is essentially an extracurricular activity, will not have the same invested interest as a CEO. Board members may want justification of need before investing time and energy in fundraising (Wagner, 1994).
Nonetheless, fundraising is such a valuable tool for ensuring financial growth and program development. Members need to have an in-depth understanding of their role in fundraising; why they are the best people to perform this duty, and how much the organization benefits from increased funding. Additionally, strategic training on ways to ask for money, who to ask, and avenues for reaching new donors is a step in the right direction. As Wager bluntly states: “[b]oard members need to see that they represent a cause larger than themselves”.
Wagner, L. (1994). The road least traveled: Board roles in fundraising. New Directions for Philanthropic Fundraising, 4, 33-47.
Rockefeller, J. D., The techniques of soliciting. Address presented to the Citizens Family Welfare Committee, New York City, 1933.