Fundraising and the Board: Whose Job Is It Anyway?

What’s the role of a nonprofit board of directors when it comes to raising money for the organization? Two articles I came across this week got me thinking about that question.

The first is research highlighted in The Chronicle of Philanthropy that ranks fundraising as the weakest trait identified by nonprofit executives in their boards of directors:

Forty percent of the chief executives said their boards are reluctant to engage in fundraising, relying mostly on staff members to carry out that responsibility. Nearly 60 percent said their trustees are not comfortable asking others for contributions.

That weak score will likely sound familiar to anyone who’s spent much time with nonprofit staff after their board members have left the room. But is this the right framework to be using for board member evaluation in the first place?

In a new post on the Nonprofits Assistance Fund blog, Kate Barr emphatically argues that it’s not, for four main reasons:

1. Fundraising is a profession — requiring skills, training, experience and adequate time to do the job.

2.The fundamental role of board members is to govern the organization, which requires appropriate roles and responsibilities distinct from those of the executive director and staff.

3. Any level of board participation in the fundraising work of the organization requires planning, volunteer management, supervision and substantial staff leadership and support.

4. Not all members of the board are right for the job. Organizations need board members with a variety of capabilities, personal characteristics and experiences.

Number four really strikes a chord with me, and I would go so far as to say that an organization that puts so much emphasis on its board’s fundraising skills is likely missing the boat on inclusivity.

Who will be the best fundraisers? Probably those who have spent years climbing the career ladder and intentionally cultivating a network of others who have done the same and are doing well for themselves because of it.

And those are all good things! But what if a nonprofit wants to recruit a younger board member with fresh ideas and an eye for innovation? That person’s network may be comprised primarily of peers trying to pay off their student loans.

Should a nonprofit that serves an underserved community have members of that community on its board? There are clearly many benefits of doing so, but none of them involve a spike in fundraising.

As I’m sure it’s clear by now, I find Kate’s points to be persuasive. While fundraising is vital for many nonprofits, it will always be one of many means to the end of those nonprofits fulfilling their missions.

A balanced approach that accounts for the many vital contributions board members can make, with less tut-tutting about a particular difficult-to-master skill, sounds like a better prescription for the sector.

Join the conversation: What expectations do the nonprofits you work for and with have of their boards of directors?

-Chris Oien, web communications associate

Image cc miggslives

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