Right on the Money: Get Your Board to Lead the Way on Fundraising

Excited business people.

David Sternberg, a fundraising consultant and author of “Fearless Fundraising for Nonprofit Boards,” has a simple message for nonprofit leaders in search of new funding sources.

“Most of the money that goes to nonprofits comes from people,” he says, not from governments, foundations or corporations. To build those relationships, charities should tap a built-in fundraising team: their boards.

“People give money when they are individually asked and have personal connections,” Sternberg says. “The only way to stay competitive and raise money is to have a board that’s engaged in the process.”

Board members should work together to identify potential donors and organize charitable events like parties or dinners, as well as raise money on their own. Sternberg suggests the following steps to making a charity’s board its best fundraising asset:

Structure the board to encourage fundraising. Sternberg recommends that every board have three committees: a governance committee, a finance or audit committee and a fundraising committee. Part of the last group’s role is to ensure that the entire board—not just the fundraising committee—has philanthropic assignments, he says, such as helping to identify and approach prospective donors. With the right structure in place, ask the board to make fundraising a priority. Start by winning over one or two influential board members then initiate a discussion with the others about the organization’s needs and the role board members could play.

Recruit board members committed to philanthropy. Sternberg suggests asking current board members to list their personal connections to potential sources of philanthropy, whether individuals, foundations or corporations. He also recommends meeting with the boards and CEOs of other nonprofits and asking for their help pinpointing potential board members. Perusing the board and donor lists in the annual reports of other charities is also a good start. Set expectations for new and returning board members and ensure that everyone understands their roles. Create a board member job description that includes both giving and getting financial contributions.

Train board members in the basics of fundraising and support their efforts. Board members should receive training on such topics as how to ask for gifts, how to identify potential donors, how to give an elevator pitch and how to be comfortable in the role of fundraiser. Finally, ensure that they have the staff assistance they need. For instance, help them prepare for meetings with potential donors, brief them about prospects’ interests and backgrounds, and accompany them on visits, if they request it. (For information about where to find training, contact your state’s nonprofit association.)

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