Saturday, December 26, 2009

How to Develop a Strong Fundraising Board

By Norman Olshansky: President
NFP Consulting Resources, Inc.

How can nonprofit organizations increase revenues? This is one of the most frequent issues that I am asked to address as part of my consulting practice.

Most nonprofits depend upon private philanthropy (in addition to user fees, memberships, grants, earned income, ticket sales, etc.) to support their operation. According to the AAFRC Trust for Philanthropy, 78.3% of all charitable contributions come from individuals. So if the largest portion of philanthropy comes from private, (individual) sources, what is the best way to seek out those funds?

There are many axioms related to fundraising. A few are:

You don’t get if you don’t ask
Connect to passions, hearts and minds before you connect to wallets
The quality of a gift is directly related to the quality of the relationship between the solicitor and prospect.
Fundraising is both an art and a science. Success requires both.
Most worthwhile endeavors, including fundraising, start with a clear vision/plan and require lots of planning, preparation, hard work, engagement of leadership and strategic execution.
You can never thank a donor, volunteer or staff member too often. They are the keys to your success.

There is a direct relationship between fundraising success and the quality of volunteer and professional organizational leadership. Better leadership equals better success.

Nonprofit boards are usually populated by individuals who are committed to the mission of the organization. Many have come up through the ranks as volunteers within the organization. Others are on the board based upon their professional expertise in the areas related to the organization’s service, operations or administration. All too often, however, boards are lacking in members who have the characteristics necessary to obtain significant private philanthropic support from individuals. In addition, staff members are often ill prepared to be successful fundraisers, especially in the area of major gifts.

Staff members need to be trained, mentored and encouraged to engage in those activities that will contribute to fundraising success. New hires should be selected, in part, on their ability to provide professional leadership to the fundraising process.

When a board does not have sufficient members who have major gift fundraising experience, access to wealth in the community, and the ability themselves to be philanthropic leaders for the organization, steps should be taken to make needed changes/additions. The goal should be to bring onto the board and fundraising committee(s) individuals who have a positive passion for the organization’s mission, are known and respected leaders in the community, have the ability to inspire others, can recruit additional leadership, are able to make a major gift to the organization and can open doors to other major donors. The organization should be among their top philanthropic priority during the length of their service on the board or fundraising committee. Many organizations are at a loss on how to recruit board members with the above characteristics.

When a nonprofit does not have a strong board and needs to bring on new people, the following are a few steps to consider which have been successfully implemented by nonprofit organizations.

A. Put together a 3-5 member nominating committee drawn from your most prominent board members, current supporters and past chairs.

B. Have them, with staff input, develop a job description for leadership which includes expectations for participation, attendance, philanthropy and committee involvement. Establish what will be the length of service. Identify your expectations of time commitment, including time needed for the review of minutes and other materials in preparation for meetings.

C. Review prospect lists developed by the organization, as well as other input from leadership and staff, for names of individuals who would be ideal to involve in your leadership. Think high and boldly. Look at names of philanthropists and other leadership who have been successful with other organizations. Prioritize prime candidates with whom you have or can obtain access.

D. Cultivate your top choices through invitations to visit your organization and/or participate in small group briefings about its work. Provide a quality experience for the prospective leader when they visit/tour your operations.

E. Based upon their desire to learn about your organization and their reactions to cultivation activities, approach the key leadership prospects to obtain their willingness to have their names put into nomination for a board or key committee position. Show them an expanded list of people who are being considered. This will demonstrate to them the quality of people with whom you will be talking. Tell them that you are interviewing many people on the list to determine if their names should be put into nomination. Ask what they know and what their feelings are, about the mission and work of your organization following their visits and involvement in the cultivation briefings. After you answer any questions they have, show them the job description for leadership and ask if they would be willing to be considered, among others, for submission to the nominating committee. Emphasize that only a few of the people submitted, will be asked if they can be nominated for a slate to be presented to the existing board/membership. Ask for their bio’s, list of nonprofit board and leadership experience, and professional accomplishments. The purpose of this strategy is to build status for participation.

F. Avoid any indication of existing weakness or need to upgrade leadership.
Make sure that the people talking to them are the select group that was recruited for the nominating committee. In addition you may want to involve your key professional from your organization (Executive Director, CEO, etc.) in the prospect meetings.

Recruiting the right people into leadership, who have demonstrated fundraising success in the past, in addition to training and mentoring existing leadership and staff in the art and science of fundraising will give your organization a tremendous return on investment.

(For more information on board development and nonprofit fundraising, go to )


  1. Private philanthropy earnings are also called as "love gifts". Non-profit groups are commonly known as whole-hearted charitable groups that is involve in a micro or small business. Payroll services of these small organizations are always unstable for they accept income through donors. Sometimes it depends on last month's computed payroll, tax services, and other post-determined financial changes.