According to BoardSource, nonprofit boards have 10 basic responsibilities. They range from determining mission and purpose to enhancing the organization’s public standing. In between there are responsibilities about selecting and evaluating the chief executive, ensuring effective planning, providing oversight and building a competent board. And, at number 7—to ensure adequate financial resources.
So how is it that many organizations seem to think that the board’s only responsibility is fundraising?
I’m not denigrating fundraising. In fact, I think it is critically important. But I’m not at all sure that it is the board’s primary job.
Don’t read that as saying that the board has no fundraising responsibilities—just that it is not THE thing that the board does.
Fundraising, good fundraising, is a structured process. It has a lot of moving parts. Asking someone to purchase a ticket or table for an event, make a large or small gift, is only a small part of what goes into raising funds. And for all those pieces, you need dedicated staff. And even small organizations—if they are ever going to be anything but small—need more than one development staff person.
For starters, there are many ways to raise funds, and even someone who has the skills to excel at all these ways can’t be effective if she is jumping from one to another and then yet a third. That gives no time for planning, developing strategy, recording what is happening and figuring out what should happen next.
A one-person development office is a recipe for failure; though not as bad as a development office of none.
The best fundraisers have a certain amount of business they are responsible for. That might be making sure the annual appeal goes out on time or the grant is written (well!) and submitted by the due date. It may mean managing an event or meeting with prospective donors one on one. They also have the responsibility to facilitate and coordinate board members’ fund development activities. That might mean helping a board member craft a really good thank you letter, training members on making follow up calls for the appeal. It could be creating the structure for how board members are ambassadors at the gala or out in the community. And it may be staffing meetings that board members have with potential larger donors.
In short, fundraising is a partnership between staff and board and it is the responsibility of everyone at the organization. So yes, the board needs to be on board with fundraising. But they aren’t driving the train, nor are they the only passengers.
Janet Levine takes nonprofits from mired to inspired and spends a lot of her time helping
boards get over their fear of fundraising. Learn more at www.janetlevineconsulting.com.
She is also the co-author of Compelling Conversations for Fundraising, available at Amazon.