So many of my friends, colleagues, and clients ask me, “Why won’t my board raise money? Aren’t they supposed to be raising money?”

Even if there are written expectations of board members to “give or get” a certain amount of money, it can feel like pulling teeth or, at the very best, nagging to get them to actually do it. And often, they just don’t.

What gives?

Can we start by admitting that most people do not like or want to ask for money?

If you were to survey your board, I would bet that at least 80% (and probably closer to 100%) of them will say that they don’t like to, and definitely don’t want to, ask for donations. They would rather contribute to the success of the organization in some other way.

So, instead of putting that square peg in a round hole, why don’t we find ways that they can contribute to the organization’s success and even to the fundraising process? By building relationships and using our legislative leadership skills of influence, team building, and collaboration, we can allow each board member to enter the fundraising process where they are most comfortable and then build their skills and comfort level from there.

Forcing people to ask for money or to give you their contact list so that you can ask for money without first building the relationship can create a very uncomfortable environment, and many folks will just withdraw.

The framework we present here helps you create a board culture that includes giving and getting by recognizing each individual’s strengths and allowing them to choose whether to dive in head first or walk in via the shallow end.

My experience is that including board members where they are comfortable will benefit the organization in the long run. They learn more about the organization, mission, and fundraising process. They become more comfortable and often begin to participate in other areas – and even ask their friends for financial support – without being asked.

This takes time, intentionality, and patience. It’s only three steps, but moving your board from fund development hesitancy to asking for donations can be done using our three-step framework.

First, Get Clarity.

First, you need to know who will and won’t raise money. Create a short survey for your board that is focused on fundraising only. Do not use this to ask about anything other than fundraising. Don’t sneak in questions about other governance issues. Allow the board members to focus on raising money.

When the results come back, less than 5% say they want to “do the ask,” and 95% say they will write thank you notes or organize events, don’t be dismayed. You want an honest answer so that you can honestly build a fund development machine with clarity and confidence.

We have put together a few sample survey questions to get you started below.

After reviewing the survey results, you might want to have quick phone calls with each to review their answers and get even more clarity around their strengths and weaknesses. This simple act can help you build your relationship with each board member and give you the complete picture of how they want to apply themselves to your fund development activities.

At the same time, you need to know where your organization needs volunteers to help or be responsible for fundraising. Make a list of defined roles appropriate for board members for each kind of fundraising activity your organization uses. Be specific.

We have also put together a sample checklist of fundraising needs below. You can use this as a framework for your organization’s fundraising needs map. It is just an example, and you need to develop a list that encompasses your specific fundraising tactics and where you feel that board members will be most effective.

Then you compare your resources (board/volunteer skills, strengths, and willingness) with your needs (your fundraising map).

This short exercise will give you what we call the board fundraising GAP. When you compare your needs with your resources, you quickly see where the needs are not being met.

And with this information, you can decide how to fill that gap.

  • Do you recruit new board members with specific strengths and skills to fill the gap?
  • Can you create a non-board committee for something and recruit volunteers for that? (I highly recommend this route)
  • Can you find space in your budget for paid staff?
  • Are there items on your map that you can drop or put on your list of great ideas for future projects?

Second, give them the framework for success.

Give them a way to participate that leverages their strengths. For each board position on your fundraising map, think through and write out clear responsibilities with goals and expectations with your board members. When you discuss this together with them, it gives them ownership and a sense of responsibility, plus you are educating them on the organization’s needs along the way.

Your map should also show how staff will support them in these positions/responsibilities.

Third, support their work.

Don’t just give them the framework and walk away – particularly in the beginning. Your map now shows how staff will support each role, your job is to make sure that this happens and staff and board work collaboratively as a team. Supportive, kind, clear nudges and check-in phone calls are especially helpful. Again, you cannot just “set it and forget it” – as the organization leader, you need to be as supportive and helpful as possible in the early stages of implementing this framework.

Three steps: Clarity. Framework. Support.

You are building a fund development team. You are building strong relationships with your board and supporting them. To set them up for success:

  • Find roles that they are comfortable with to get them started. Giving them this entry will build them into strong fundraisers for you over time.
  • Take the time to give them lots of information, background, history, tools, and most importantly, expectations and goals for success.
  • Give them support and watch them grow.

The bottom line is relationship and team building. The first step is to focus on the people you want to do the work and not the work itself.

— Wendy