August 3, 2022

When Boards Know Their Role & Still Fail to Help Fundraise

I lead a Zoom board workshop.

When the board reviewed how well they were fulfilling their responsibilities, they found an area that needed work: Ensuring adequate financial resources.

I grinned. The slide deck’s prepared call to action was perfect. They had previously decided to grow their donations.

Find two people or businesses a quarter 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 asked about times they had found people and resources.


I shared three client stories–more silence.

How did we–the board, the CEO, and I –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.

Nine 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 ensure adequate financial resources are complicated. Here are the ones that appear most frequently in my work besides knowing their roles.

1. The How Challenge.

These members can’t imagine how they would find interested people and act if they found them. This was the problem in the Zoom group.

2. Not Important.

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

3. Not Now.

Board members don’t believe supporting fundraising is urgent. They are more vital board tasks.

4. Professionals Only.

These individuals believe that only 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 impact of the board consistently engaging the community.

6. Backlash.

These leaders fear people will think less of them if they ask others to get involved.

7. Pestered Contacts. 

Some directors worry staff will hound any of their friends. (Read Why Your Board’s Unenthusiastic About Finding New Donors for more.

8. Doesn’t Work or Bad Experience.

Once, they invited prospects to an event. They found the encounters awkward. Besides, the guests didn’t give. Or, they brought friends who gave. Besides never being thanked, the staff immediately asked them to bring more.

9. Isolated.

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

You Won’t Cure Fundraising Resistance by Dwelling on Responsibilities

Not only will you not get results. You risk fostering resentment and members tuning out your requests . 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 You Can Do to Engage Your Board in Fundraising

Instead, identify the reasons (usually several) why your board is stuck. When you grasp what’s behind this common problem, you’ll stop being frustrated by their behavior. Instead, you’ll cure their fears and erase their false impressions.

Your insights on why they resist will help you craft a customized cure. The board in the Zoom session needed help identifying their circles of influence and using casual conversation to explore nonprofit interests.

The Bottom Line

Just as you don’t heal a viral infection the same way you resolve a bacterial one, respond to this problem by solving what ails your board. Stop using the one size fits all “don’t know their roles” appraoch.

Your Turn

Which of the nine reasons listed impact your board? Mark those that apply.  Check with your board members for their  take. With these insights, you’re 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  to email or to set a time to chat.
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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