Creating fundraising savvy boards

by Cynthia Armour

The difficulty of encouraging…persuading…motivating a board to fundraise is possibly the arts manager’s most frequent lament. I am delighted to offer this illuminating guest blog by one of Canada’s most experienced fundraisers, who has years of success in overcoming this and other fundraising challenges.

The Arts Managers’ Lament is not a lonely ballad and what’s most interesting is that I find both staff and board members (particularly of many small charities) are equally frustrated about the board’s role in fundraising. A few decades ago, when I fell into fundraising it was mostly volunteer-driven because the profession was in its infancy! (Suddenly I’m feeling old.) As I’ve watched this discipline evolve I’ve seen the “disconnect” between board and staff roles increase and I’d venture to say, charities are creating some of their own monsters. SO, the good news is – that means you can slay those dragons. The first step is recognizing how you set yourself, and board members up for failure.

What usually goes unsaid is most people’s dislike of fundraising. Individuals conveniently avoid discussion about it because of their discomfort. As a result, board members are recruited and either the charity didn’t present (and document) their expectations OR the recruit may have tuned-out that conversation, which is why printed communication (job descriptions and agreements) help reinforce the message from the start.

Trying to force anyone (staff or volunteer) to ask for money, particularly when they’d rather jump into a vat of hot lye, is an exercise in futility. One of the most common mistakes I’ve seen, especially in under-resourced, often small organizations, is the challenge of board succession planning and its corollary, targeted recruitment.

Too often charities are trying to fill vacancies a week or two before its AGM. They frequently downplay their expectations for fear of scaring people away. Or worse, they actually don’t have any idea what skills they’re trying to fill. I totally understand how we are constantly “building the plane and flying it at the same time” but it’s such a waste of everyone’s time and energy to be so reactive.

Effective fund development is a team effort that relies on a clear strategic plan, implementation and ongoing evaluation. But if all these lofty ideals aren’t communicated clearly, people won’t invest their time or money. It takes all kinds of abilities to create a strong team. We need to recruit a variety of talents to our boards and then provide the training and support to ensure people feel confident.

Persuading board members to fundraise can feel like you’re pushing a boulder uphill. Rather than lamenting their fears and inadequacies, help people identify and capitalize on their strengths. Motivation needs to be encouraged – it’s human nature!

If you need more specifics, I’ve written three lengthier columns on this topic that can also be shared with your board. Use one or all of them to stimulate some dialogue on the topic. Email [email protected] and put Board FR in the subject line for a copy of my 2-page “Board Fundraising Roles – Where Do You See Yourself?” My other articles can be found at:

Fundraising Q&A: How to get your board to fundraise  (March 2009 – 1200 words)
Fundraising Q&A: Helping your board to fundraise (May 2012 – 950 words)
Encouraging fundraising-savvy boards
 (Jan. 2014 – 1000 words)

Favourites from some of my gurus include:

Andrea McManus – The Board’s Role in Fund Development
Kim Klein – The Board and Fundraising
Simone Joyaux – Involving your board members in fund development

Cynthia Armour (CFRE) is a specialist in governance, fundraising and marketing. Over the past 23 years she has helped board members and chief executives from grassroots to national charities take a team approach to their community outreach. Visit her website at www.elderstone.ca or call her directly at 705-799-0636.

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