7 Rules for Successfully Soliciting Your Board

Getting the financial support of your board doesn’t really need to be such a huge challenge.

If you just take charge behind the scenes, you can really make it happen. It just might be easier than you think.

(This article is published this month in the current winter issue of AFP’s Advancing Philanthropy. I’m reprinting part of it for you here.)

It’s our own fault when board members do not give 100%.

The truth is – we could make full board participation a reality – if we handled it correctly.

The real issue is that we often don’t set up their solicitations in the right way.

Here’s how to make the process simple and successful:

  • 7589517_sRule One: Show why board members need to give generously.

Make the philosophy clear.

The importance of board member participation in giving is rarely explained properly to members.

Instead, the issue of their giving is apologized for, snuck up on, or swept under the rug.

When the reasoning for their giving is established in an open and straightforward way by board leaders, then staff can cheerfully and enthusiastically talk about it.

After all, board members are not dummies.

Most know that their cash contributions lend vital credibility to your fundraising efforts.

They know they are supposed to give. Their heads are not in the sand.

  • 13116233_sRule Two: Be totally clear about expectations.

Say what is expected, in both written and spoken form.

And be sure the board members themselves agree on the expectations themselves.

It is important to spell giving expectations out in your board enlistment materials and in the commitment letter that members sign when they join.

You must make sure that the commitment to give is written in plain English, in black and white, for everyone to see.

Do not stop there, however:

You and your board leaders must also talk out loud about it, and often.


  • Rule Three: Set the ask up correctly: get board members to solicit other board members.

17307461_sNever get in the situation of asking your board members yourself.

It’s an impossible situation. You work for the board as a whole. You report to the board via the executive director.

You may be already seen as asking for too many favors as it is.

In situations like these, it actually does get a bit like “begging.”

The conversation turns to being one about “money,” rather than about vision.

It is hard for you as a staff member to have a conversation with your board members about their giving, without it lapsing into the wrong tone.

Let the board members be in charge of this! (But you run things behind the scenes.)


  • 9909974_sRule Four: Give the subject of board donations lots of visibility.

Put the issue in front of them often and clearly enough.

I like to report regularly on the status of board gifts.

Put pledge cards and return envelopes in every board member’s packet.  They are a great reminder.

Try setting a deadline for all board gifts to be completed.

Say, “we need all board gifts to be in by March 30.”

That gives you – or your board chair – an excuse to be in touch to follow-up.

Remember that your board members are extremely busy people and need to be reminded of their duty to give.

Sometimes they may simply have forgotten – and they need to be cheerfully reminded.


  • 15849544_sRule Five: Take charge of the process yourself.

Don’t be shy. Or passive.

You will not get 100% board participation unless you arrange for it to happen.

Staff has to direct the entire effort like a quarterback behind the scenes.

You must take charge.

Do not—repeat—do not leave it to chance.

If you do, you may end up with a lackluster performance by your board, less than full participation, and a demoralized staff.

But just direct everything quietly – with the board chair or the development committee chair as the front person.

Let them do the talking and signing of letters.

Your role is to write the letters, give the board chair talking points, be sure it’s on the agenda repeatedly, promote the conversation, publish frequent reports on board gifts to date, and thank the board members early and often for their generosity.

Make it happen. But hide behind a board member so it is not all coming from you!


  • 15738222_sRule Six: Give the members lots of credit and acknowledgment.

Remember the power of positive reinforcement.

Reward the behaviors you want to develop, and those behaviors will show up more often.

We have to realize that board members typically do not get much thanks or acknowledgment at all. (just like you!)

Give credit for all the resources board members bring in – corporate, foundation, in-kind, public/government.

Every gift of resources of any type from a board member should be an occasion of joy and celebration!

Giving ample thanks makes them all feel great and successful.

Remember that success breeds success.

Create an environment of abundance, rather than scarcity, in your handling of board contributions.

Make the members feel they are creating abundance, even if you are not so sure.

Creating the feeling will help make the reality happen.


  • Rule Seven: Tie the board’s gifts directly to your program results.

9275125_sLet the board members know what they are accomplishing through their gifts, just as we do with all donors (don’t we?)

Give them meaningful information on the results they have created.

Show a cause-and-effect link between better fundraising results and better daily operations.

It will encourage your board members to not only be more active in fundraising, they will be more active donors personally.

If you can get them enthusiastic about what they are actively accomplishing through their work and their personal gifts, you will have lots more money coming from them.

Like all donors, they experience joy when they see the results of their gifts.

  • “With your leadership, support and financial contributions, we were able to accomplish X .”
  • “The generous gifts from board members allowed us to go even farther to do Y.”
  • “The board’s gifts made all the difference in our ability to reach Z.”

These are the magic words that board members (and donors) love to hear.


  • Don’t personally solicit them.

Never, never, never put yourself in the position of soliciting your board members.

Do not forget the fundamental fundraising rule of peer-to-peer solicitation: when it comes time to solicit the board, get out of the way and have someone else do it!

You are one-down before you start, so don’t go there.

  • Don’t apologize, or let your board chair apologize.

Too many board chairs apologize when they bring up the subject of board giving.

They are not definitive about what is expected or encouraging about giving.

Too many board chairs are so nervous about this issue that they soften up their manner.

They look down and around instead of making eye contact with other board members.

If you doubt that your board chair can make a clear, emphatic, and direct oral request to the board about the importance and necessity of full financial participation, then find another board member to make this speech.

It is up to you to make this happen.

  • Don’t complain.

People want to be part of success.

They do not want to be part of failure.

Moaning, groaning, feeling sorry for yourself, and hand wringing in any form are not allowed.

You will NOT change the world without a positive attitude.

Expect the best from your board  – and you’ll get the best out of your board.

Good luck with you – and your (generous) board!


You CAN take charge behind the scenes and successfully get your board members to give. But it will never happen if you are passive about it!

So what do you think of these ideas? What’s YOUR experience with your board? Let me know with a comment!




  • tomstevens42

    A good article with good advice.

  • SOCALmols

    Our board has made great strides this year, electing a board governance committee and looking intentionally at roles and responsibilities. This committee provided a wonderful platform for us to utilize the concepts outlined in rules two and three. This year they established a %100 board give/get policy. The amount was set at $500. By setting the amount relatively low, we were able to emphasize the WHY of board giving–it’s not about the potential $6000 a year, but about being able to say EVERY board member gives or gets money yearly. By making an option to get the money by asking others to support, we have made certain not to hinder board membership due to financial status, which was really important to us.

  • gailperry

    Smart move for your board! Really glad that you used this as a change to talk openly about the WHY of board giving. Gotta educate everybody! And I think it’s really important to be flexible about whether they give it or get it.

  • gailperry

    Thanks Tom!

  • Jennifer Ott

    I agree with all your points, Gail, and want to share a few good ways to address Rules #2 and #7. In terms of being explicit, it helps to develop a 1-pager that amounts to “Characteristics of an Effective Fundraising Board.” (I’d add here that doing so in collaboration with the Development Committee—which ideally includes members who are solid givers themselves and who “get it”—helps give the concept more gravitas with other board members. It’s also a great piece to use, perhaps adapted, in board recruitment; too often there’s such excitement or even carelessness in approaching prospective trustees that expectations aren’t spelled out, which propagates the problem your post addresses.)

    In terms of #7, in addition to your ideas, members can become even more excited if board asks (by other board members, as you rightly say) are preceded by a board meeting that includes a presentation by vibrant, passionate program staff who demonstrate the results they’re personally seeing more compellingly than anyone.

  • gailperry

    Hi Jennifer – love your ideas for #2 and #7. Would that EVERY board would understand the “characteristics of an effective fundraising board.” That could change the world!