December 6, 2017

Boards Who Won’t Fundraise: 3 Shocking & Familiar Scenarios

a group of people working at a meeting

Nonprofit leaders spend an excessive amount of time trying to change boards that won’t fundraise. Recently, I worked with two sharp leaders with “Never Boards.” The first group found fundraising repugnant. They had a nice endowment, substantial earned revenue, and a member willing to write checks to cover emergencies.


The second had been hand-picked for compliance with the former CEO’s leadership. Their duty came with a promise they would never have to ask for money. They liked it that way.


These were boards that won’t.


If you want to develop a board that fundraises, you, like a physician, need to diagnose your board’s condition. If your board is helping to fundraise, this is healthy. If your board fails to help fundraise, they are not. Ask why. Your diagnosis will lead you to the best management approach. Below you will find three board conditions I’ve encountered in my twenty-plus years of serving the nonprofit community, from the most common to the least common.


#1. Boards Who Will Soon

With persuasion, education, and hand-holding, this board begins to help raise donated income. With your leadership,  they grasp the importance and urgency of gathering donations to ensure the nonprofit’s success and longevity. You can help them to realize their unique leadership role in generating revenue. You can challenge them to develop fundraising and development skills.


Boards Who Will Soon is the most common board situation. While you’ll encounter initial reluctance, you can overcome it with education, reasonable requests for fundraising-related tasks, and many board successes.


#2. Boards Who Will Eventually

This board will fundraise, but it will talk a long time, possibly beyond your watch. Not-yet boards agree fundraising is essential, so you should do it. Sometimes reading about windfall gifts that other nonprofits received inspires boards that won’t fundraise to get active. They realize they are missing opportunities to help your organization.


I once worked with an organization whose most vocal board members definitely did not fundraise. However, via private interviews, I discovered an enclave of yes–people willing to help. To move forward, this sub-group of leaders just needed to know the existence of others. Using a customized approach combining coaching, board term limits, and peer pressure, we created an entirely different board culture–shortening a multi-year, multi-CEO process into a year.


Your goal here is to shorten the time it will take them to get on board. You take nibbles of the elephant. Educate your board members and ask them to do small safe tasks that help you raise funds. By the way, don’t call these fundraising until after your board members have completed them.

#3. Boards Who Won’t

You yell fire into the room, and nobody moves. If this is your board meeting, when it comes to raising contributions, all the logic and the emotion in the world won’t motivate them. They have non-correctable issues. Sometimes they explain that it’s philosophical. Fundraising is begging and beneath them. They take it as a point of pride not to fundraise. Often no matter what they say, it’s fear. They collectively agree to resist every attempt to engage them.
Of course, if this is your board, you will continue to invite your board to generate contributions because it will improve your board members’ lives. At the same time,  you create alternative mechanisms to grow donations.

The Value of Dealing with What Is Real

If you believe in the life-giving vitality of donated funds and your board’s not on board, identify which three types of board you have. A correct diagnosis will avoid wasting time, banging your head against the wall, and lead to more donated income with less effort.

Find Out More

Why Your Board’s Unenthusiastic About Helping You to Find New Donors 

Guilty as Charged: Prove Your Board Supports Your Organization

How to Stop Your Board from Micromanaging | Good Boundaries Make Good Board Members

For more answers, check out this Nonprofit CEO Library.

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Karen Eber Davis

Karen Eber Davis provides customized advising and coaching around nonprofit strategy and board development. People leaders hire her to bring clarity to sticky situations, break through barriers that seem insurmountable, and align people for better futures. She is the author of 7 Nonprofit Income Streams and Let's Raise Nonprofit Millions Together.


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