5 Fundraising Mistakes We Make With Our Boards

Do your nonprofit board members avoid fundraising?

If your board members back off when they should be pitching in, this may be why!

Don’t make these mistakes that hurt, rather than help, our cause.

Mistake #1: Thinking that fundraising is all about “asking for money.”

Many board members are mistaken about fundraising. They think it is “asking for money.”

And that’s what they are afraid of – the money part and the asking part.

But we all know that isn’t true.

We know that asking for a gift is only one small step in a very long, time-consuming process.

Board members don’t understand that fundraising is much more than “asking.”

They often don’t know that it’s a process with multiple activities – things we do every, single day, over and over:

  • identifying potential donors,
  • cultivating and involving them in our cause,
  • finding ways to thank donors and foster their long-term relationship with our cause.

Board members like to imagine the worst, don’t they?

They focus on the most difficult and awkward (to them) part of the fundraising cycle – the asking stuff.

  • Don’t let your good-hearted board members get away with equating the entire process of fundraising with soliciting.
  • Do help them understand that fundraising is much, much more than “asking for money.” It’s really “building and keeping friends.”
  • Don’t give them trainings called “the art of the ask.” That just might get them running in the opposite direction!
  • Do focus them first on making friends who join our bandwagon.

Mistake #2: Asking trustees to make cold or “cool” calls.

Cool and cold calls are the worst possible place to use the energy and good will of your kind-hearted board members. Why?

Because cold  – and cool – calls have the highest rate of failure.

If you ask trustees to make fundraising visits that have a low likelihood of succeeding, you’ll shoot yourself in the foot.

Rejection is one of the things they fear most, and this just sets them up for it.

A trustee said to me once after a board retreat:

“Before when someone mentioned fundraising, I immediately imagined cold calls. Yuck!

Now I know that good fundraising is EVERYTHING BUT cold calls.”

  • Do send them out to make visits that are already set up for success.
  • Don’t let them beat their heads against a very unpleasant wall.
  • Do involve them in warming up donors and they’ll be much more willing to help solicit.
  • Don’t let your thin-skinned volunteers experience defeat rather than success.


Mistake #3: Too many calls at too low a dollar level.

Yes, we do want board members to help solicit.

But don’t ask them to spend too much of their valuable time on smaller gifts.

They can just as easily be focusing on prospects with much larger potential.

  • Do focus them on the most important, the most visible, the highest potential prospects.
  • Don’t overload them with piddly little stuff.
  • Do focus them where they can do the most good:  fewer calls at much higher dollar levels.
  • Don’t waste their time -make the most of the limited time they have available.


Mistake #4: Emergency fundraising, not long-term relationships.

I am all for a sense of urgency when raising funds.

But all too often it takes a crisis to mobilize our board members.

And when we focus on the crisis, something deteriorates.

The conversation really does become all about money rather than about the great work our organization is doing for community good.

  • Don’t ask board members to help pull in money quickly to respond to a budget shortfall or cover some major financial loss.
  • Do capture the urgency of the situation – but in a positive light.
  • Don’t set your board members up for unpleasant fundraising experiences with hasty asks.
  • Do get your board members involved in friendmaking and fundraising projects before the urgency hits.


Mistake #5: Lack of training, structure, coaching, and support.

We often send our trustees out with too little preparation and backup.

We tend to forget that they are volunteers.

They are not the pros that we are.

We need to give them thorough training to correct their misconceptions about fundraising and pump them up with confidence to venture out into scary fundraising territory.

  • Don’t make the mistake of assuming that your board members understand fundraising, or how to talk about your organization.
  • Do be sure they understand the true nature of fundraising – developing donors/investors/partners who will stick with your organization for the long run.
  • Don’t challenge them to perform without giving them terrific support.
  • Do give them first-rate support from staff, clear goals, training and inspiration. They will appreciate your help!

Do you agree with these fundraising mistakes? Yes or no?

Let me know with a comment!