How Nonprofit Board Members Can Become Fundraising Champions

November 16, 2016 | Ann Hinkins

Ann Hinkins | Audit Partner

Ann has more than 30 years of public accounting experience and leads the Nonprofit practice at EKS&H. A wide variety of nonprofit organizations in Denver and throughout the Rocky Mountain region seek her expertise...

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Effective boards are critical for keeping a nonprofit organization grounded, helping set expectations, and developing mission. But what is often overlooked is the importance of board members’ impact on fundraising — not only dollars they give personally, but also what they do to assist with greater organizational advancement efforts. In fact, in our most recent Nonprofit Outlook Survey, only 48% of respondents indicated that fundraising expectations were a high or very high focus of their boards. 
Chart of Nonprofit Board Focus

If board members are encouraged to create an intentional culture of fundraising, it will help out the immediate fundraising needs and facilitate sustainable revenue generation.

At a recent nonprofit client event hosted by EKS&H, board members were offered guidance on how to be more impactful when it comes to the fundraising process. As a principal development officer at the Rocky Mountain Institute and a board member at Denver Urban Gardens, Jennifer Stokes offered a unique perspective from her positions on both sides of the coin.

Providing Information

The first key to successful board fundraising is information. Stokes explained that nonprofit executives owe it to board members to be up front regarding how important they are for fundraising. Expectations should be communicated before anyone is invited to an official board position. Beyond quantitative fundraising goals, board members should have a clear understanding how money raised is to be used. If board member donations are relied upon for operational, programmatic, or administrative needs, scholarships, or other “pet projects”, that -designated should be identified in addition to the level of expected board support.

Setting the Bar High

Another key to successful board fundraising efforts is setting an appropriately challenging fundraising goal. In addition to baseline giving, “stretch” goals should be identified for board members based on their capability, interests, and financial situations. Stokes suggested that fundraising be tailored to board members’ strengths or where the member could be most successful. When it comes to events or campaigns, Stokes also explained that setting the donation bar high at the beginning is imperative to reaching fundraising goals. Starting too low may create an easier environment to achieve early fundraising performance, but it will create more challenge later on when donors are asked for additional gifts to bridge the gap. 

Showing Staff Appreciation

Another important contribution to fundraising from board members is supporting and recognizing the efforts of the organization’s fundraising and executive staff. When major gifts are landed or annual appeal records are set, an encouraging email or phone call from a board member can have a significant impact. A little acknowledgement can go a long way, and the desire for recognition compels some nonprofit professionals to work hard. (This may be especially true for younger staff.) An in-person thank you at an event or to a group a staffer built and promoted is also powerful.

Creating Motivation

Stokes believes board members’ investment of their own time and money shows critical commitment in the organization and further motivates staff members. (Almost every nonprofit organization has that one board member who never donates.) Anonymous support, while selfless, has less impact in terms of motivating employees or other major donors. This is particularly true in the case of the board — people expect to hear about board donations. Board members can also contribute by expressing their passion publicly for the organization and sharing with others why they are so committed to the mission. There is no better motivator than someone who is passionate about the causes they support.

Non-Financial Fundraising

In addition to communicating passion, board members can still contribute in many other ways if they cannot make major gifts personally. Hosting an event, facilitating a connection with another organization or business, or leveraging their network (asking family members, friends, or colleagues to support the cause) are all ways they can help the fundraising efforts without signing checks themselves. Some organizations accept this kind of income toward a board member’s annual donation goal. 
Beyond these very concrete means of assisting with fundraising, they can also offer strategy and guidance (another reason for being on the board, remember!). Sharing successful fundraising experiences individuals have had or seen elsewhere is truly valuable. Even showing up to events and encouraging energy and enthusiasm is helpful to fundraising. According to Stokes, “It is amazing how much it means to donors and staff members when the board members are just simply there.”

Expressing Gratitude

Board members can also help by recognizing donors and their contributions and communicating how important they are to helping achieve the organization’s mission. Stokes explained that research shows donors like prompt and meaningful acknowledgement once a gift is made. They like to know that the gift went to a specific purpose and how it impacted the organization’s recipients. And they like reports that show how their donation accomplished something before they are asked for another. Knowing this detailed and strategic information and offering it to donors conveys board members’ commitment to the organization and its fundraising.
Stokes’s last bit of fundraising advice for board members is that they need to support fiscal responsibility and show that donations are being wisely used. Firms like EKS&H have the financial, accounting, and technology experience to help assess if this is the case and recommend specific strategies to improve it.

With five partners and 40 professionals dedicated to serving the audit, tax, technology, and consulting needs of the nonprofit industry, EKS&H serves more than 125 local and national nonprofit organizations. For more information about how we can assist your organization or board, please contact Ann Hinkins at 303-846-3372 or