Myths and Realities of Board Members and Fundraising

deer in headlights!

Whaaaaat? Did you say “fundraising??!!!”

How do YOUR board members feel about fundraising?

Not enthusiastic, I’ll bet!

One of the biggest myths around is that board members should be willing and able to raise money.

We wish!

But here’s the reality:  Most board members have some very real challenges when they are confronted with fundraising.

Let’s look at the myths – AND the realities.

1. MYTH: Board members are willing to raise money, and they accept it as their job.

REALITY:  Most board members run the other way when you mention the word fundraising.

Most are in fact pretty nervous about it.

You know it and I know it. (Do you blame them?)

The reality is that many board members are simply afraid of fundraising.

But our board members are really stuck, in a very uncomfortable place.

Why? Because the idea of asking for money strikes anxiety and fear into most nice, well-meaning board members’ hearts.

REALITY: Many board members would be happy to be friend-raisers. But they don’t want to have to ask for a gift.

They are anxious about making solicitation calls.

They think it is unseemly and inappropriate.

But they like the idea of “friendraising.”

REALITY: Many trustees say they will but then they won’t!

Have you had volunteers who chickened out at the last minute?

Even if they agree to call on a prospect?

Many board members equate fundraising with begging.

Many board members equate fundraising with begging.

There’s usually a good reason that they are backing off – they need more encouragement, training and support.

2. MYTH: Board members understand how to be successful at fundraising.

REALITY: Board members don’t understand fundraising at all.

They are really confused.

They think that fundraising is all about “asking.”

Most board members don’t understand that it’s all about developing happy, productive relationships with donors who will stick with us for the long run.

Reality: Board members often equate fundraising with “begging” and the unpleasant experience of asking for money.

They are making up these awful stories in their heads about just how distasteful fundraising is.

But you can change the conversation.

Try showing them that fundraising is about SO MUCH MORE than simply asking. It’s about making friends for the cause.

Then they start to shift. They even get start to get enthusiastic!

Myth: your board members think fundraising is begging.

Myth: your board members think fundraising is begging.

Reality: We can’t expect them to be successful until we educate them.

They need to understand the bigger picture of what fundraising really is today, and what it takes to be successful.

We’ve been at it for years.  We are trained.

We work hard to learn the best techniques.

Most board members are just well-meaning volunteers, inexperienced and untrained.

For us to expect that they can go out and instantly be successful is probably delusional.

What do YOU think?

3. MYTH: Board members are active, enthusiastic, and ready to help.

REALITY: Many board members are NOT engaged or involved enough to tackle fundraising.

You’ve got to start at the beginning, with trustees who are engaged and involved.

Meetings like this do not inspire board members to action!

Meetings like this do not inspire board members to action!

You have to get them super-charged up!

Reality: When board members are charged up, sometimes there’s no holding them back.

When board members are really connected to the mission, and they understand where the money is going – they can be amazing fundraisers!

Reality: If your board members are disengaged, they won’t perform in any area.

They may get dragged into fundraising, but they will not do it with passion, care, and heart.

You’ve seen it. I’ve seen it.

But I’ve also seen amazing transformations when board members understand that fundraising is about intentional conversations, longer term relationships, and the joy we bring to donors.

4. MYTH: Board members’ experience on the board is fulfilling and satisfying.

Reality: Many board members are bored.

And bored board members will NOT be be active in fundraising.

Myth: board members equate fundraising with cold calls.

Myth: board members equate fundraising with cold calls.

They are talented and high-achieving people.

But what do you ask them to do?

Low-level, meaningless work that does not inspire action or create commitment.

Much less tap their real creative talent.

Reality: The role of a nonprofit trustee today can be confusing and demoralizing.

What kind of experience are you even offering your board members?

Reality: Board members themselves are not necessarily to blame.

It’s OUR responsibility to create a terrific experience for board members.

It’s OUR responsibility to connect them to the cause.

It’s OUR responsibility to give them interesting meetings and work to do.

If you make that the experience your board members have is worth their time and energy, then you’ll have an active engaged board ready to spring into action.

And this is how you’ll change the world!

Fire-Up Your Board for Fundraising!

If you want to set up your wonderful volunteers with fantastic training, inspiration, and top-notch staff support, join my workshops this month:

“Fire Up Your Board for Fundraising” and “Create a Fundraising Action Plan for Your Board Members.”

I’ll show you how to awaken their passion and energy, and put them to work where you need them. And they’ll be happy and productive. No kidding! :)

Find out more about the workshops here.

What’s YOUR biggest challenge with your board? Share it with a comment below!

  • mauney

    What is a proper response to board members offering advise and input related to curriculum and program offerings? We are a state institution and duplicate programs are being cut system wide.

  • gailperry

    Well, first, is it their job to offer input into program offerings? You need to be sure that their role is clearly defined. That’s the first place to start – are they supposed to be involved in this area or not.

    If you want their input, then try setting up a task force of board members to look into these issues from a strategic angle and make some recommendations. Be sure there are staff members on this task force, so your board doesn’t end up in left field! Gail

  • Darren Macfee

    Great article, Gail! Are you familiar with the “Curse of Knowledge”? In essence it means that once a person has some bit of knowledge it becomes exceedingly difficult to imagine what it was like to not know. This leads us to assume a base of knowledge that may not exist, over-generalize, and omit important details during training.

    You’re right, they don’t know. Furthermore, they are afraid to ask, either because they don’t want to reveal their lack of knowledge to their peers (when in reality they are all in the same boat) or they don’t want to indicate any sort of interest in the subject and risk being asked to chair the DEVELOPMENT COMMITTEE.

    Making the time for training sounds like a really good idea.

  • gailperry

    HI Darren, great comments. Seems like the simple solution, as your aptly pointed out, is making sure that board members understand 21st century philanthropy and fundraising.