Why Your Board Hates Fundraising & What To Do About It

Author:

Sarah Lange, MSW

,

Principal & Founder

Reviewed by:

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Published:

April 13, 2024

Last Updated:

April 16, 2024

In survey after survey, non-profit executives cite underperforming boards as one of their top three issues – particularly when it comes to fundraising! Many of us have given up on ever getting our boards to participate in fundraising at any significant level, but I’m here to tell you – based on my own experience, over 35 years in the industry -- that it’s possible to turn your board into enthusiastic champions who raise money to support your cause!

It starts with understanding why your board members hate fundraising. Oh, let us count the ways!

Reason #1: Your board is not comprised of professional fundraisers

Boards are comprised of volunteers, who may or may not work in the nonprofit sector, and often do not have experience, skills or expertise in fundraising. Fundraising is a very specific set of skills that must be learned and practiced. Have you taught your board how to do fundraising?

Solutions: Provide your board with information, education, training, coaching and support so they can succeed. Send them to conferences. Send them links to webinars. Give them bite-sized fundraising tasks so they can build their comfort and confidence. Make sure fundraising is on every single board meeting agenda. Ditch the Fundraising Committee! Why? Because every board member should be contributing to fundraising in some fashion. If it’s all the prevue of the fundraising committee, then other board members may feel they’re off the hook. Not true! We need all hands on deck to raise more money, so we can do more good!

Reason #2: Your board members are freaked out about money

What are the top three taboo subjects in the US? Religion, politics and MONEY. From a young age, we’re trained not to ask or talk about it. As a result, most of us are not as knowledgeable about or comfortable with the subject as we might be. Are you nervous (TERRIFIED) by the prospect of asking other people for money? Your board is no different!

Beyond this, we frequently expect board members to solicit donations from and sell things to their friends, families and co-workers. In doing so, we are asking them to trespass on their personal relationships. How many of you would be comfortable doing that? Never ask someone to do something you yourself would not do! Instead, use the VIP Exercise* to identify people in your community who can help catapult your organization to the next level! You can also create an Individual Board Member Fundraising Menu* to allow them to select the ways to contribute that fit with their temperament (introvert/extrovert), schedule, skills, comfort level, etc.

Solutions: Things your board should know, which might ease their fears:

  • The Joy of Giving – when we do something nice for someone, we get a hit of dopamine (the happiness chemical). This means that donors experience a neurological high when they contribute to our organization! By encouraging them to donate, we’re actually contributing joy to their lives. And – FYI, donors are 43% more likely to report that they’re “very happy” vs. non-donors.
  • Nonprofits do not have needs. Yes, I just said that. Your donors have (philanthropic) needs. Those you serve have needs. Your nonprofit is the bridge between the two. You’re not actually asking for money for your organization, you’re asking someone to uplift those that turn to your organization for assistance.
  • 63% of people donate to a charity they’ve heard of through a friend, relative or social connection and donors feel happiest when they’ve contributed in this way. This is a great way to motivate your board members to talk up your organization in their circles.
  • Most people WANT to help, but often don’t know what that looks like or what kind of help is needed. It’s our job to direct their philanthropic instincts!
  • We’re not asking someone for money – we’re inviting them to make the world a better place, which is an innate human desire. 70% of people out there are already donating to causes they care about, which makes it easier to invite them to support your mission, as well.
  • There is a TON of money out there! In 2022, more than $499 BILLION was donated to US charities…most of which was contributed by your “Average Joe” (actually, Jane is driving the philanthropy bus…always has been…).
  • We’re experiencing the largest transfer of wealth in our nation’s history. Baby Boomers and the Silent Generation (WWII folks) will bequest a total of $84.4 TRILLION in assets through 2045, with $72.6 TRILLION going directly to heirs. The transfer of wealth from Baby Boomers will account for $53 TRILLION (63%) of all transfers, while the Silent Generation will hand down $15.8 trillion. If you’re not going to start asking people for money now, then when???

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Reason #3: We never told them it was their job

Surprise! When recruiting board members, are they told what their roles and responsibilities will be – including those related to fundraising? I once joined a board where I was told I was expected to give one gift each year. Then, every time I turned around, I was being asked for money! Needless to say, when I completed my first year of service, I dropped off the board.

Solutions: Uplevel your recruitment, orientation and onboarding processes to ensure that all prospective board members have a CLEAR understanding of what they’re signing up for. There’s no reason they can’t attend a board meeting to check it out for themselves. Be sure to check in with board members on a regular basis to make sure they’re clear about expectations (and that you’re clear about theirs!). Remember, this is a two-way street – don’t just dump them in the deep end of the pool, give them swimming lessons!

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Reason #4: We forget our board members are volunteers and underestimate the work it takes to provide them with adequate support

We frequently expect board members to fly out of the fundraising nest and soar. Without ongoing training and support, they’re more likely to crash to the ground. Ouch.

Solutions: Provide them with ongoing information, education, training, coaching and support so they can succeed. Send them to conferences. Send them links to webinars. Give them bite-sized projects so they can become more confident in their fundraising abilities. Use a menu* to give them some options that feel comfortable to them. Make sure fundraising is on every single board meeting agenda. Survey your board annually about their level of knowledge, comfort and confidence!

Reason #5: They think that asking for money is the only way to participate in fundraising

While some board members may enjoy asking potential and current donors to invest in your work, there are those who need other ways to help you raise funds. All board members have a role to play in fundraising. And don’t forget about cultivation and stewardship. Board thank you calls to donors have an incredible impact on retention rates.

Solutions: Here are 10 ways your board members can engage in fundraising without having to ask for money:

  1. They can give personally (100% giving is becoming more important with funders)
  2. They can all donors – board members LOVE thank-a-thons! You can use the 1st 10 minutes of your board meetings to make calls (that way, you KNOW they get done! ;) FYI - When donors receive a thank you call from a board member within 24 hours of making their gift, donors increase their giving by 39%! Fourteen months later (provided you stay in touch with them), the donor’s giving has increased by 42% and there’s a 70% retention rate! Your board members will need a script, contact info, brief giving history, relevant notes about the donor, and a “win” the donor made possible (impact story).
  3. They can name you in your will (the best place to start an estate planning program is with your board!)
  4. They can invite people they know to take a tour of the organization (be mindful of HIPPA and other regulations, like those governing minor children, etc.)
  5. They can host a cultivation event at their home. It’s likely staff will play a central role in this, but it can provide excellent results!
  6. You can give them 3 donors to cultivate – just be sure to create clear expectations and provide appropriate support.
  7. They can take on a project designed to raise awareness about the organization (30 day social media challenge, email campaign, etc.)
  8. They can share how donations create transformation.
  9. They can share client testimonials, impact stories, data, client success stories, etc.
  10. They can write a letter to the editor, article, blog, etc. to talk about why the organization is important to them and invite others to support the cause.

Reason #6: They don’t know how to talk about your organization and why it deserves donor support

Board members may have the inside scoop on your nonprofit, but that doesn’t mean they’re good at making the case for support!

Solutions: Make sure new board members receive a thorough orientation when they begin their board service. Have an annual all-board review of your organization’s history, programs, and organizational needs. Provide your board members with the case for support, impact data, success stories, etc. Encourage them to follow you on social media. Have staff attend board meetings on a rotating basis to provide updates and answer questions.

Encourage your board members to share their passion for your mission when they speak with others. They’ve made their own commitment for a reason. Their passion will be inspiring to others. The more times a board member hears that magic “yes,” the more comfortable they’ll become.

Help them develop their own “elevator pitch” by focusing on the following questions:

  • Why do I give up my precious time to be on the board?
  • Why this agency vs. another?
  • What do I get out of contributing to this organization?

Sharing from our hearts is the fastest way to connect to another person’s (prospective donor’s) heart. And here’s a secret: Philanthropy is a heart-centered activity!

Reason #7: They fear rejection

We all do! At first, many fundraisers feel that asking for a donation is “begging,” and board members are no exception. Rejection is inevitable – at some point, someone’s going to say NO. Let them know that it’s not a personal failing – it’s almost always about the donor, not the person who asked. And, most times, NOs are really a “not now.” You can always ask the donor why they turned down your proposal.

Solutions: Overcoming the fear of rejection takes time and comes with practice, along with an increased level of comfort and confidence in one’s fundraising skills. Provide your board members with the opportunity to develop and practice their pitch. Be willing to provide ongoing coaching, guidance, scripts, stories, data, etc. Make sure that at least some portion of every single board meeting allows members to discuss sticking points and roadblocks (this is probably best done in small groups or pairs) and to get advice on how to move forward.

There are many reasons our board members resist fundraising. The good news is that the solutions are straightforward, and the ability to turn things around is in our hands! Don’t try all of these strategies at once – pick the one that makes the most sense for your board’s level of maturity, experience, and functioning, and see how it goes. Then try another. Soon, your board will be raising more money than you ever imagined possible!

If you want a copy of the VIP Exercise or Individual Board Member Fundraising Menu, send an email to sarah@sarahblange.com with the title of the document(s) you want, and we’ll send them out!

Sarah Lange, MSW

Sarah Lange, MSW

Sarah Lange has raised over $100M for over 200 nonprofits. She’s the author of "The Field Guide to Nonprofit Fundraising" and has served as an Adjunct Professor at four universities.

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