Boards missing in action on fundraising
By Todd Cohen
Nonprofits need to do a better job asking their boards to ask for money and, equally if not more important, helping them understand that effective fundraising depends on building a culture of philanthropy at their organization that connects their mission to the needs of the community.
The fact that boards are missing in action on what should be one of their core responsibilities is one of the worst-kept secrets in the nonprofit world.
But two new reports suggest a big part of the problem lies with nonprofits’ failure to engage their boards in fundraising.
According to an informal online poll by the Association of Fundraising Professionals, or AFP, that got 838 responses, the part of their job that gives fundraisers the most anxiety is trying to get their board involved in fundraising.
“Board members play an important role in fundraising because they are greater spokespersons for the charity they serve and they can speak with authority on the impact of the organization,” Andrew Watt, AFP president and CEO, says in a statement.
“However, many board members focus more on the fiscal management and operations aspects of their responsibilities,” he says, “and it can be challenging for fundraisers to get them involved in raising money.”
That sounds like denial: A central requirement for joining a board should be a commitment to help raise money, and a core job for nonprofit staff should be to make sure their boards are asking for money.
Indeed, any board member who fails to get involved in fundraising or claims he or she does not know fundraising is expected of board members must be living on another planet and has no business being on a board.
A separate survey by Cygnus Applied Research, the consulting firm headed by fundraiser Penelope Burk, finds that, while donors say “being asked by a leadership volunteer” is what influences them more than anything else to give, and to give generously, nonprofits are doing a poor job preparing their boards to help raise money.
Among nearly 3,500 donors surveyed who were current or recent board members – part of a much larger online questionnaire to which over 22,000 North American donors responded -- only one in three said their nonprofits required all board members to help raise money, only 39 percent received any kind of fundraising training, only 6 percent said their nonprofits had a budget to train board members, and only 18 percent said their boards evaluate their fundraising performance.
The survey attributes some of the difficulties boards experience to nonprofits’ nominating committees “that do not function year-round or have loose or vague requirements of candidates regarding fundraising.”
For those and other reasons, the survey says, fundraisers are “leaving money on the table.”
Crushed by the damaged economy and the surge in demand for services it has fueled, nonprofits are struggling to continue to serve clients and keep their doors open and lights on.
So they should use every resource they can find to generate the support they need, and boards should be one of a nonprofit’s best fundraising resources.
Effective fundraising, however, requires not just knowing and using the techniques of asking, but also understanding and helping donors see the connection between the mission of the organization and the needs of the community.
If nonprofits fail to build a culture of philanthropy and make sure their boards ask for money, and if boards fail to understand the value and role of philanthropy, and to ask for support, they will be asking for failure and will have no one to blame but themselves if their organizations fail to survive.