Myths and Realities about Nonprofit Board Members and Fundraising


There seem to be a lot of myths when it comes to nonprofit board members and fundraising.

Staff often expect that board members are supposed to raise money.

But board members are not so sure of this – as you probably have experienced.

It seems that board members – all too often – have another notion of what their job is supposed to be.  And it doesn’t necessarily include fundraising.

Sometimes it is like staff is on one planet and the board members are on another. Staff has one set of expectations and the board has another. (!)

Here’s a humane and realistic way to approach the situation.

I believe in accepting reality and working with people where they are right now.

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

The reality is that many board members are NOT particularly willing to raise money.

Fundraising can be challenging for many board members.

This is perfectly natural, because they are not familiar with our donor-centered methodologies, and how we (politely) do our work.

They often feel that fundraising can be awkward, or even worse, pushy.

They tell me they feel awkward about “asking for money.”  They don’t want to impose on their friends.  They don’t want to be presumptuous.  Most of all they fear rejection.

How to fix this?

We can’t expect them to help out until we give them the training and support that they need.

Let’s help them understand that much of fundraising is NOT about the ask – particularly with major donors.

And we have to motivate and inspire them so that they want to help. 

2. MYTH: Board members are enthusiastic and ready to help.

The reality is that many board members are not engaged or committed enough to tackle fundraising.

If you have a situation in which your board is disconnected or not engaged, then its members will not be interested in doing very much. Including fundraising!

You have to have energy before you have action! 

Before you even bring up the topic of fundraising, try to create trustees who are engaged, active, excited, and involved.

How to fix this?

Keep your good work for the cause front and center.

In our Fired-Up Fundraising board retreats, we ask board members to share why they care about the cause. We ask how the mission speaks to their hearts.

And often the flood gates open.  People are sharing their inner feelings and joys. You can just feel the energy in the room.

When you can awaken your board members’ inner passion for your cause, THEN you have an opening to talk about their role in fundraising.

If you go straight to a conversation about “asking,” you’ll scare them off.

If they are not fired up enough about your organization, they will avoid you when you even mention fundraising.

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

The reality is that board members don’t understand fundraising at all.

Board volunteers can hardly be expected to be enthusiastic and successful at something they may have never done.

As I mentioned,  many trustees equate fundraising with begging and the unpleasant experience of “asking for money.”

We know that fundraising is really the entire effort of developing donors/investors who feel part of our organization’s team.  Partners who are willing to stick with our cause for the long run. 

But our board members are uncomfortably stuck in another place – on the idea of asking for money.

How to fix this?

For a start, board members need lots of training on how to approach fundraising: What is it really about? How do we do it, and do it well?  

They need support and training on how they can help. We need to show them how and where to take action.

They need to learn what to say about their organization.  And how to say it.

Let’s start by turning our board members into passionate, articulate spokespeople for their organization.

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

We are not paying the attention we need to our boards as a whole and to their individual members. 

The reality is that too many trustees are disconnected from the work and mission of their organizations. And they are not necessarily to blame.

How to fix this?

We need to be sure that the experience that we are giving board members is worth their time and energy.

This experience gets to be meaningful at some personal level. They get to have a sense of offering something of worth to the organization.

They need to feel that they are active contributors to, and part of, your organization’s success.

We have to be present, listen to them, offer varying ways they can become involved, and act on their suggestions.

It is called cultivating their involvement – just like we do with our donors.

You can create partners out of your board members. Set them up to actively participate, because they’re deeply passionate about your mission and outcomes.

Bottom Line: Let’s Get Real About Nonprofit Board Members and Fundraising

Don’t forget how board members really feel!

Accept reality. Meet them where they are.

Educate and train them on 21st century fundraising tactics.

Help them learn how to talk about their favorite organization!