Nonprofit Board Fundraising 101: Tips and Tricks for Success

Nonprofit fundraising is a science and an art– it’s challenging at times, but also rewarding. If your organization is large enough to have a dedicated development staff, your board may focus primarily on governance issues, assisting the development team with intros and personal contributions. For smaller nonprofits, the board’s network and fundraising efforts may be much more crucial to the organization’s bottom line.

Whatever your nonprofit’s board fundraising landscape looks like, you can be more successful by brushing up on the ins-and-outs of board fundraising. In this article, we’ll review the following core topics:

The expectations of nonprofit board fundraising need to be carefully defined.

Board Fundraising and Expectations

First, let’s be sure we understand the difference between the responsibilities of individual board members and the board as a whole. The board of directors as a group doesn’t fundraise. They meet once a month or so and discuss governance questions, the overall fiscal soundness of the organization, and so on. But the board as a whole doesn’t fundraise.

Instead, donations come from activities of the development staff, perhaps earned revenue, and individual board members. Whether it is personal donations, introductions to business and personal contacts, or other methods, any funds that come in from the board are not from the whole board, but the individual board members.

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Setting expectations for board members

Every nonprofit board should include fundraising expectations in their board recruitment materials. The more we make sure that everyone knows what they are expected to do, the more likely our board members are to excel. Conversely, in the event that a board member’s performance falls behind, the conversation about what challenges they’re experiencing is much easier when we have already outlined what the standards are.

Here are some ways to set expectations clearly:

  • Consider using a formal job description for open board seats. Not only should this spell out attendance and other norms at your organization, but it should also make fundraising responsibilities clear.
  • Be sure to review the job description, including fundraising expectations, during the outreach and screening interviews for new board members.
  • As a new board member begins his or her term, consider having a signed board member expectation agreement. This way, there are no doubts or confusion for board members.
  • Review fundraising expectations periodically (along with other board member duties) as part of your periodic board assessment process. Be sure to provide an opportunity for board members to give feedback on what help they need with fundraising.

Make board fundraising more successful with clear expectations and a culture of philanthropy.

Culture and Support

Part of setting the expectation of board fundraising is establishing a supportive culture around it. Do new board members see other board members doing fundraising introductions? Do board members have the chance to share successes and challenges with each other? Does the board as a whole prioritize fundraising skill development?

These are a few ways your board can foster a culture of fundraising support:

  • Remember that the best fundraising conversations come from an organic passion for the cause. Take a few minutes in every board meeting to share some stats about the outcomes for the community you serve so that board members have talking points of success top-of-mind and a feeling of connection to the work.
  • Occasionally pair off and practice telling each other a personal memory of the organization’s mission or recalling a time you told someone else about the work your nonprofit does. Practice the “elevator pitch” of why board members are involved.
  • Make sure there are a variety of fundraising or outreach opportunities to fit different personalities. Some board members may love making phone calls while others are more comfortable writing letters.

Regardless of the methods you use to establish a culture and expectation of board fundraising, being clear upfront will make it easier for everyone to know what to do. Now that everyone is on the same page, let’s look at some best practices for nonprofit board fundraising.

Nonprofit board fundraising best practices include making introductions, understanding the mission, and being proactive.

Best Practices for Nonprofit Board Fundraising

If you have carefully set the expectation for future board members that fundraising is part of the job, and you have created a culture of fundraising among your board members, you can now focus on some of the best practices to support the board members’ endeavors.

Remember, these are practices that will help the individuals on your board do better outreach– and feel more comfortable and empowered as they do it. With the right preparation and practices, securing funds for your important work should be something that board members actually look forward to!

Train Your Board.

Contrary to popular belief, fundraising can be learned. There are no innate fundraising skills that people are born with. Everyone has learned them at some point along the way. Having said that, it is absolutely essential to provide the board with training on how to fundraise.

Opportunities for training and learning will expose the board to the multifaceted parts of fundraising. Select some great fundraising books and ask your board to read them. There are many respected titles out there on nonprofit board fundraising and donor-centric fundraising as well.

Only with training and experience can each board member decide which approach is a good personal fit. Just remember, there is no “fundraising type.” Instead, board members are good fundraisers because they’ve been trained to be just that.

Leverage corporate giving.

Nonprofits look to board members to tap their connections for corporate sponsorships. Some board members may feel at a loss here. How, they may wonder, should we be engaging potential corporate sponsors?

It typically feels most natural to begin looking for sponsors among local businesses. While local businesses may have smaller marketing budgets than a national company, there is also much less red tape to get a “yes.”

It is often as simple as a phone call or conversation at lunch between a board member and business owner. It’s always a good idea to have at least small events on the horizon, so as these casual conversations come up, board members always have something to tell contacts about.

However, if a board member is the local agent of a larger company, that shouldn’t be overlooked. It’s a rewarding feeling for the board member to bring a big name aboard.

Points to remind board members about when doing corporate giving asks:

  • Encourage the board to think about connections and support broadly. If you’re hosting a family festival, for example, consider the multitude of educational organizations, service providers, restaurants, grocery stores, and product outlets that serve families.
  • A board member who dislikes the idea of soliciting an acquaintance can ask for the company’s events planner or solicit silent auction donations.
  • Remind businesses of the internal benefits of sponsoring nonprofits. Especially with the socially-conscious Millennial workforce, employees show more loyalty to an employer who exhibits community involvement.

An effective case statement is crucial to nonprofit board fundraising efforts.

Craft a successful fundraising ask or case statement.

Before any fundraising efforts get underway, you should spend some time crafting a quality case statement. A case statement spells out what you do with funds raised for your mission and what your biggest goals are for the future. Essentially, it tells a potential donor in simple terms what the money they donate will do.

Elements of a Comprehensive Case Statement Include:

  • How does this organization help people?
  • Who do we help?
  • What vital services do we offer?
  • What is our organization’s track record?
  • What are our plans for the future?
  • How do we use our money?
  • Why do we deserve support?

We conducted a great webinar that talks more in-depth about where to get started, including a case statement worksheet. Listen to the replay and get the worksheet here.

Build out your fundraising toolkit.

An important piece of nonprofit board fundraising is having a way to track progress and motivate the individuals on your board. After all, one more phone call or email could be the difference between hitting your goal or not. Consider using a donor database like Bloomerang or specific software for online auctions and peer-to-peer fundraising, or capital campaigns.

Nonprofit board fundraising methods include utilizing social media, being creative with digital fundraising, and thanking donors.

Nonprofit Board Fundraising Methods

Nonprofit fundraising is an entire field of lifelong learning. There are any number of experts and consultants who can help your nonprofit develop more sophisticated and effective methods than what you’re currently using.

However, there may be some basic building blocks you can improve or start experimenting with– without a ton of overhead. Consider picking a few of these to strengthen.

Don’t neglect social media.

Fifty-one percent (51%) of high-wealth donors prefer to give online. Social media is one of the best methods of fundraising today, but it requires an authentic, delicate touch. If your nonprofit doesn’t have a strong social media presence, you can make a difference by building out a proposal. Consider:

  • Sharing posts about the nonprofit and its work on social media regularly, to build a following of people who truly care about the nonprofit’s mission.
  • Creating regular “challenges” for your followers to meet, that result in real, tangible benefits that you can show them.
  • Linking to a donation page on your nonprofit’s website, so followers are exposed to the option to donate more frequently.

There are lots of ways nonprofit board members can help fundraise, even remotely.

Virtual fundraisers can take the place of events.

Many nonprofit professionals know that traditional galas have never been that great of fundraisers. When you consider all the time and overhead costs involved, the margins were always slim on big events. But now that there’s a pandemic, these stalwarts aren’t an option anyway! Luckily, there are lots of other options.

Consider some of these digital fundraising event ideas:

  • Host a special speaker on Zoom with ticketed admission. Add special VIP access and mail attendees swag for the event.
  • Plan a t-shirt campaign with proceeds going to a special project. Donors will love wearing a well-designed token of their support!
  • If you have another big digital event like a conference or forum, consider adding a silent auction. These can be hard to conduct independently, but they go well with existing events. See if you can collaborate with partner nonprofits for a more robust event.

Use this time to focus on grants.

When it comes to creative fundraising methods, government grants and funding programs are too often ignored by nonprofitsespecially smaller nonprofits that may not have grant writing expertise on their panel.

You don’t have to become an expert grant writer overnight, but you can look into programs that may be applicable to your nonprofit. There are grant proposal writers for hire for very little compared to the amount of money a government grant may offer.

No-Brainer: Get the board more involved in donor appreciation!

We all know that it’s much more cost-efficient to keep a donor than find a new one. Why not give current supporters a double shot of appreciation by sending cards, emails, or phone calls from board members? It will give them a warm fuzzy feeling, and chances are they’ll donate again. This is perhaps the easiest and most established form of informal board fundraising.

Common mistakes in board fundraising can be focusing too much on grants and events, and not enough on individual donors.

Common Challenges Encountered with Board Fundraising

It can be difficult to dig and sort through all the advice on nonprofit fundraising. There are thousands of articles out there on what to do. We’ve covered some basic best practices and ideas for board member fundraising. What are some of the practices to avoid?

Let’s go over a few common challenges to watch for when it comes to board fundraising, as outlined by nonprofit fundraising expert, Cindy Grubenhoff.

Mistake #1: Focusing on too much on grants and corporate sponsors instead of individual donors.

Nonprofits want that one big check to save the day. Chasing one big check, though, often leads to one of the biggest fundraising mistakes. Why? Because 72 percent of all money given to charity comes from individuals.

Yes, we do need to get corporations involved in our events, and of course we need to have a grant program. But if you really want to increase your fundraising potential, you should spend the bulk of your fundraising time cultivating relationships with your individual donors.

Mistake #2: Failing to ask volunteers for a cash donation.

Sometimes fundraising leaders believe they can’t ask volunteers for money when they already give their time, or they assume volunteers are not interested in making a donation. Whatever the reason, some belief holds them back from making a fundraising ask.

What’s the problem with these beliefs? Everything. When an organization makes an assumption about volunteers and their willingness to give or giving capacity, they almost always leave money on the table. What’s even worse is that they can create a strain on what was a positive relationship.

Studies show volunteers are almost twice as likely to donate to charity than non-volunteers. Don’t deny them an opportunity to give in more than one way.

Mistake #3: Ignoring existing donors.

Acquiring new donors is always more expensive than cultivating the donors you have. Every organization needs to have opportunities for new donors to get involved, but what do you do with those donors once they have made a financial contribution? As an industry, our donor retention rate is only 48 percent.

Ask yourself this question: Are we focused on getting donors and raising money, or on building relationships that will result in donors feeling like a stakeholder because they care about what we do and want to invest in our success? Doing the latter will lead to creating a culture of philanthropy in your organization.

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Mistake #4: Getting in a rut with special events.

“We have to start planning the gala for next year!” These are dreaded words. When you do the same event every year because you have to, it turns out the same as last year. Why do we automatically assume that we should do the same events every year? I want to challenge this assumption.

Every organization should do a special event analysisevery year, on every event. I am not talking about a revenue versus expenses report (which is a necessity), but a full analysis of all the pros and cons to one specific event. Just realizing that you can decide whether to have the event can change your outlook and get you out of that rut.  

Mistake #5: Not having an annual fundraising plan.

Many nonprofits set their budget goals, but don’t actually break those goals down into some kind of action plan. In fact, I see lots of organizations that set a budget goal that’s higher than last year, but then proceed to do everything the same way as the year before. Can you guess the results?

I believe that you can take valuable time to write a concise and helpful plan with the right process. An annual fundraising plan forces you to: think strategically, set realistic but challenging fundraising goals, focus on new AND existing individual donors, analyze tactics beyond revenue/expense, and spread out responsibility.

Here is a free resource for nonprofit board fundraising, how to take board service to the next level.

Conclusion & Free Resources

Nonprofit board fundraising is not easy. It is neverending. It is something you can always improve and learn about. This job is never finished. The good news is that you can always try new things and engage your board members and donors in innovative ways. We hope that the board fundraising basics in this post will help your board members do more for your important work than ever before.

Now that you’re working on your board fundraising, you might be ready to improve the rest of board service. 

Has your board has been hovering in mediocrity? Are you ready to step up your board performance to be more impactful? This free guide shows you four simple methods to assess and improve any weak areas in your nonprofit board. Whether that requires consulting outside experts or restructuring committees, you’ll learn it all here.

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