The Art of Fundraising: Don’t Just Inform Your Board, Empower Them

by Daniel Billingsley, VP of External Affairs

In our line of work, I always tell people that board members have a number of important duties. However, the one we all joke about is that as a board member, we need to “give, get or get off the board.” The other important part of board service is the right combination of time, treasure and talent. If someone gives treasure, they’re a donor. Time? A volunteer. Talent? An employee or in-kind donor.

But board members have to navigate an important road that allows them to showcase their talents (both professional and personal) as well as give their time and their treasure. And the best board members go above and beyond by advocating for your mission, evangelizing about the beliefs of the organization and opening doors to new sources of time, talent and treasure!

But how do staff and other volunteers help to encourage our board members and committee members to give more, give repeatedly and give selflessly. That’s a tougher question. Many will say that we must educate and inform our board. This is certainly correct. Fundraising guru Jerry Panas would say you have to build passion in your board. They’re your greatest asset at an organization. I believe that we also have to go a step further and EMPOWER the board. Empower the board member to be bold, confident and fearless.


Board members need to work with their heads, feel with their hearts and experience with their hands. Years ago, while working in mental health care in Chicago, two of our board members – long time, dedicated, high-energy and big givers – asked our team to put together a day of experience for them. One very cold day in February the two women joined our social workers and rode the trains and buses, looked under bridges, visited libraries and sought out homeless individuals who were experiencing mental illness. I know that, to this day, they use that experience to communicate the mission to other board members and donors. They tell personal stories of the work our organization did. When board members have experience, they will use that experience to involve others.


Board members bring incredible professional and personal stories to the table. And we need to listen. It’s critical to seek their guidance on donors, peers, strategy and other resource development issues. If you have a diverse board (and of course you should have a diverse board), you should have individuals with professional experience to help you through most issues – both good and bad. You should also have women and men who can open doors into the community, and not just a small part of the community. Most importantly, a diverse board gives you a level of expertise to tap for counsel and advice on just about any topic. When you ask, they become more involved. They become more interested. Inevitably you build more passion as board members take great ownership of the mission and the programs. And more passion means more open doors, more donations and more resources for a nonprofit.


Board members are volunteers. They aren’t there day to day (and nor should they be). But they should have roles and responsibilities around fundraising. Ensure they know their roles and responsibilities before they ever step foot in a board room. This includes the cultivation of a new board member, their solicitation, their orientation and other on-boarding. Board members should all have fundraising expectations outlined in their service letters of agreement when they join the board, and each member should reaffirm that agreement every year by signing a new form. Give them your development plans and your strategic plans. Make them champions for goals and objectives. Engage them in strategic discussions. Give them your donor list and identify the relationships. Have the conversations about prospects and come up with a cultivation and solicitation plan for each of those prospects.


Just like your donors, don’t forget to acknowledge your board members for their volunteerism. Honor their achievements each year at your board’s annual meeting. Toot the horns and help them set examples for other board members. Most importantly, recognize achievements at all levels, including those board members who may have introduced you to the $50,000 donors and the $500 donors. Any volunteer who raises money on your mission’s behalf should feel like a champ, regardless of how much they raised.

Make sure you involve your board members in fundraising. Do it systematically. Get them jazzed about your mission. If they believe in you, others will believe in them.

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