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What to Do When Board Members Won’t Raise Money

Board membership and fundraising go hand in hand, but all too often, trustees don’t think that way.

Sometimes that’s because they joined when the criteria for board membership were either unclear or didn’t involve fundraising. But times have changed, and raising money is harder than it used to be for a lot of groups:

  • Charities that used to receive significant government financial support, which has decreased or vanished.
  • Organizations that have more competition than they used to. An executive director I worked with years ago said, “It used to be so easy to bring in money. It felt like people would just slow to 30 and throw bags of money out the car window.”
  • Nonprofits that have significant endowments that sank like a rock during the last recession.
  • Charities with an aging donor base that didn’t get on the planned-giving bandwagon and didn’t replace aging donors with new ones.

As a result, board members who might never have been asked before to be involved in the fundraising process are now stunned to be asked to ask.

At a board retreat I did a few years ago, one board member proclaimed:

“I joined this board when I came home from World War II.” (Obviously, no term limits!) “I didn’t have to raise money then, and I don’t see why I have to now.”

I said that he didn’t have to raise money. He just needed to make peace with the fact that the organization couldn’t pursue its mission if he and his fellow board members chose not to.

I said, “You have three choices: You can write a major check yourself, you can learn to fundraise, or you can make way for someone who will.”

He said, “I don’t like my choices.”

I said, “I would like to wear a size 5 and eat 5,000 calories a day. I’ve made my choice and you have to make yours.” Unlike many board members, he chose to learn to fundraise and was brilliant at it.

Ultimately, you have to offer board members choices, and you have to respect their decisions. Fundraising can be scary for the uninitiated. Here are some ways to make it less intimidating:

  • Plan to spend a considerable amount of board time training your trustees if this is new to them.
  • Clearly define fundraising as a process rather than an event. It’s all about building relationships.
  • Offer trustees a menu of opportunities for how to get involved. Some are not comfortable making an ask but are more than happy to help with anything from making stewardship calls to setting up meetings with colleagues to having an “at-home” to introduce your mission to friends and family.
  • If none of the above work, find a graceful way for the trustee to leave the board but stay involved in another position, such as committee member or volunteer.

Turning the board into a fundraising machine will be a long process but well worth it.

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