How to Grow an Award Winning Board

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FUND RAISING? That’s the executive director’s job. Isn’t it? One would think so to hear some board members talk, and all too often boards express this sentiment.

Now we all know darn well why many board members feel this way – it’s because we all really love to fund raise – don’t we! It’s great fun going out and twisting the arms of associates and friends and relatives trying to raise money for causes that are dear to us. Isn’t it? Let us be honest about this – most board members approach fund raising with a certain lack of enthusiasm and so some of them find little difficulty in coming to the rationalization that since the executive director is the professional, therefore who better to “sell” the organization and its monetary needs to potential donors. There are exceptions to this and I’ve known many board members who relish the challenges of fund raising and take great satisfaction out of raising large sums of monies for their organizations. But for most of us, fund raising is a chore – yet it is a chore which must be done.

It is also true, however, that whoever is to do the hands on fund raising must be determined by the funding source. So if your major sources of funds are: state and/or federal subsidies, service fees, United Way, foundation grants and so forth, then the executive director may very well play the lead role, with the board in support.

However, if you are going to the community for money either in a periodic capital campaign or for annual giving, then your board of directors must play the lead role – because successful fund raising in any community is usually best done by peers in that community. This simply means that if you must fund raise in your community, then you must see to it that there are some people included on your board of directors who have the necessary clout to raise significant sums of money from your community; or lacking that clout themselves, they bring linkages to those in the community who do have the necessary clout that can be borrowed from time to time to get the job done.

But if you personally are not one of those who was recruited to fund raise, don’t feel that you are let off the hook, because you’re not! All of us on a board must pitch in and take our share of the pledge cards and fund raise wherever we can. We will simply leave the major donors to the fund raising specialists we have among our board members. We should note in this same context that if there is an advisory board (or council) as a part of your organization, advisory board members should also feel a responsibility to lend a hand in fund raising – and be expected to do so.

Now let’s shift from raising to giving. One of your personal responsibilities as a member of a board is that if your organization is going to the community in some form of a fund drive, then you are responsible to provide whatever level of financial support that you are personally capable of providing. There is always some resistance on this point.

Too many board members still feel that the gift of their time is sufficient and that this relieves them of responsibility to contribute financially. However, it is a basic tenet of fund raising that in your case statement you must be able to say that the board is 100% behind the drive and all have given within their capabilities. Small donors will rarely raise this question – but large donors often do. Sure your time is an important contribution to the organization. But it is widely held that a person who sits on a board of directors of a nonprofit organization must be willing to place that organization at or near the top of his or her personal philanthropic priorities. And if you are not willing to live up to this requirement, you may well be holding your organization back in its efforts to raise money in your community.

You’ve certainly heard the old fund raiser’s maxim that board members must “Give! Get! Or get off!” This is, of course, overly simplistic as the job of board member is much more than that. But raising the money is, none-the-less, a vital part of the job – and giving money is implicit in raising it.

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