board support

What can be done to get our nonprofit board focused on fundraising?

Nancy Dunleavy

By Nancy Dunleavy

In a perfect nonprofit world, all of your board members would be fundraising champions. They’d flip their rolodex from back to front to back again, seeking donations from friends and colleagues, and even reach deep into their own wallets to ensure the financial stability of the organization they’ve committed to support.

While such boardroom all-stars do exist, it’s rare that an organization is fortunate enough to have an entire roster of them. It’s actually a more common problem for a nonprofit to struggle with board members who are disengaged or reluctant to participate in the fundraising process. So what can be done to drum up the support that your nonprofit needs?

Really, it comes down to inspiration trumping hesitation. Many board members are not accustomed to the relationship cultivation and solicitation that is required to land major donations, and are fearful because they don’t know how to do it. It’s the job of a nonprofit’s leadership to work with such board members to help them feel both passionate about the cause and confident in the fundraising process.

Board members will often gravitate toward special-event fundraising such as selling tickets to a cocktail party or a golf outing, because it’s an easy way to solicit support without having to make the case in person. However, leadership should help board members realize that people typically only give major donations to other people, not to paper. Even the most inspiring newsletter can’t match the emotional connection of a face-to-face appeal.

Board members are best equipped to make these appeals when they’re passionate about what they’re “selling.” Leadership should help board members identify which services speak most to them, and make them the heart of each person’s appeal. For example, as chairwoman of the Gwynedd Mercy University Board of Trustees, I have gravitated toward supporting internship programs for students because I believe in the power of real world experience.

The success of these internship programs in helping students to secure jobs, and companies to cultivate promising employees, has given me confidence in asking for donations. It’s much easier for me to solicit donations for the programs when I believe in their purpose and have evidence of their importance.

Leadership can also help assuage the concerns of board members by reassuring them that success rates are higher than they might think. While its unrealistic to expect a 100 percent conversion rate, prospects will more often than not become donors when courted by an honest and enthusiastic board member. Even better, it only takes the landing of one major donor to receive a potentially transformative donation that even the best golf outing could never match.

About the author: Nancy Dunleavy is the President and CEO of Dunleavy & Associates, which she founded in 2001. Chair of Gwynedd Mercy University Board of Trustees, Nancy also serves on the Board of Directors of The Union League of Philadelphia, and is Treasurer of Valley Forge Tourism and Convention Board.  She is a popular public speaker and has received numerous accolades for her work and leadership, but most prides herself on being an “extraordinary talent scout” in recruiting phenomenal clients, colleagues, and collaborators.

How much administrative support does a nonprofit board need?

Kate Goffredo Dougherty

By Kate Goffredo Dougherty

Time can be an easy thing to under-budget. A 20-minute drive into the city? Try 45. Half an hour at the grocery store? More like an hour and a half. A few minutes after dinner for a stroll around the block? Forget about it.

But time is the key factor when deciding how much administrative support a nonprofit needs to give to its board of directors. Over or underestimation of time commitments on either side can result in leadership breakdowns with ramifications throughout the organization. So how can this be avoided?

Follow this golden rule: Boards do not have a lot of time. Never lose sight of the fact that board members are almost always volunteers, with jobs and other commitments that will take priority over your organization. Even the most enthusiastic board member will at some point find themselves running short on time when life's other responsibilities come calling.

For this reason, you must treat your board's time with respect. Expect little of it, and make the most of what you do receive by giving extra emphasis to organization. When board meetings roll around, be prepared.

Don't use word-of-mouth to determine who should be attending or what will be on the agenda. Instead, send out an email a week in advance with all of the necessary materials and a list of who will be speaking. If neither your board nor your administration has its ducks in a row prior to a meeting, you'll end up wasting time or, even worse, arriving at crucial decisions based on faulty information.

Administrative support shouldn't conclude with the meeting, either. Although it can be a cumbersome task, have someone take thorough minutes and commit to spending a few hours after the meeting to cleaning them up and sending them out. You have your board's attention and the meeting is fresh on their minds, so follow up immediately. They can't be expected to jump back into the fray a week or two down the line.

Occasionally, board members can actually be the ones who underestimate how much of their own time is needed. We see this often with organizations that lose an executive and decide to temporarily shift responsibilities to the board. Board members optimistically believe they can divvy up the time, but they often fail to realize the extent of responsibilities: tax filing, banking deposits, invoicing, event organization, and even day-to-day communication with employees and stakeholders.

These responsibilities should rarely, if ever, be given to board members, because these situations can quickly degrade into disorganization and lost revenue. For that reason we always advise nonprofits to enlist administrative support services provided by a company like Dunleavy & Associates when faced with an absence, even if only for a short period of time.

About the author: Kate Goffredo Dougherty is Senior Project Manager, Operations at Dunleavy & Associates. With a background in nonprofit administration, Kate oversees the lion's share of Dunleavy's operations, and shares her expertise with clients seeking to improve their operational and organizational management. She also specializes in event planning.