When Boards Know Their Role & Still Fail to Help Fundraise

When Boards Know Their Role & Still Fail to Help FundraiseWe were in the midst of a successful Zoom board session.

While the board reviewed how well they were fulfilling their responsibilities, they uncovered an area that needed more work: Ensuring adequate financial resources. They had previously determined included growing donated funds.

The slide deck’s prepared call to action was perfect.

Find two people or businesses a quarter that may be interested in donating their time, treasure, or talent to advance our mission.

Except it wasn’t.

When the board read it, one member muttered, “The challenge is how.”

I prompted them for times they had already identified people and resources.


I shared three client examples—more silence.

How did we get here?

It wasn’t hard.

Most nonprofit leaders believe that board members do not help with fundraising because they don’t know their responsibilities.

Yet, this board knew its responsibilities and was still stuck.

 9 Reasons That Boards Don’t Engage in Fundraising  Besides Being Unaware of Their Responsibilities

As clients discover in Board Rx, the reasons boards struggle to fulfill their responsibilities to ensure adequate financial resources are complicated. Here are the ones that appear most frequently in my work besides lack of role clarity. To successfully solve your board engagement challenge, each requires a different response.

1. The How Challenge.

These members can’t imagine how they would find interested people and proceed if they found them.

2. Not Important.

Members don’t understand why fundraising is essential. They think perhaps it would be better for staff to find a grant.

3. Not Now.

Board members don’t believe supporting fundraising is urgent. They have more essential board tasks.

4. Professionals Only.

These individuals believe that the professional staff should fundraise. (For why you need everybody’s help, get the first chapter of Let’s Raise Nonprofit Millions.)

5. Vision Hungry.

Members fail to appreciate the collective potential impact of the board members consistently engaging the community. These leaders fear people will think less of them if they even approach others about getting involved.

6. Backlash.

These leaders fear people will think less of them if they even approach others about getting involved.

7. Pestered Contacts. 

Some directors worry staff will hound any referrals they make. (Read Why Your Board’s Unenthusiastic About Finding New Donors for more.

8. Doesn’t Work or Bad Experience.

These individuals did invite prospects to events. The encounters were awkward, and the guests didn’t make a gift. They’re skeptical about fundraising. Or, they created new relationships and brought friends. Besides never being thanked for the effort, the staff immediately asked them to do more.

9. Isolated.

These members are new in town, have been out-of-pocket (family health issues, COVID, etc.), and feel disconnected. Their network feels sparse and fragile.

The Danger of Trying to Cure Board Fundraising Resistance by Dwelling on Their Responsibilities

The challenge of eliminating board fundraising resistance by teaching your board their responsibilities is that you’ll likely fail to get results. Moreover, you risk fostering resentment and members tuning your requests for support. Failing to diagnose what’s preventing fundraising efforts is why many CEOs complain their boards don’t fundraise. Leading with Intent (2021), for instance, found that chief executives gave boards C minus on fundraising performance a C minus.

What Can You Do Instead to Engage Your Board in Fundraising

Instead, identify the reasons (usually there are several) why your board’s stuck on expanding your donor and resource base. When you grasp what’s behind this common board challenge, you’ll stop being frustrated by their behavior and instead cure their fears and false impressions. Give them practical know-how and thank them for their support.

Your insights on why their resist will help you craft a customized cure. The board above needed guidance on identifying their circles of influence and examples of how a casual conversation about the nonprofit’s mission might work. They had The How Challenge. Just as you don’t heal a viral infection the same way you resolve a bacterial one, you want a response that solves what ails your board, not the one size fits all “don’t know their roles.”

Your Turn

Which of the reasons above impact your board’s behaviors? Mark those that apply, and then check with your board members for their reactions. Add any additional challenges you discover. With your insights, you’ll be ready to plan how to help your board fulfill its responsibilities and become fundraising enthusiasts.

For more about board engagement, check out these board resources.
Need more help with your board? Karen is available for a mini-consult or more. Click here to email or to set a time to chat.

Karen Eber Davis

Karen Eber Davis Consulting guides executive directors and CEOs to generate the resources, boards, and support they need to make remarkable progress on their missions. As the award-winning thought-leader, advisor, and founding principal of Karen Eber Davis Consulting, Karen helps nonprofit leaders get answers, generate revenue, and grow their mission. Davis is known for her innovation and practicality based on her work with or visits to over 1,000 nonprofit organizations and her experience leading board and team events. She is the author of 7 Nonprofit Income Streams and Let's Raise Nonprofit Millions Together.