Posted , by Erin Phillips, Consultant and Marketing Director. Topic: Boards of Directors, Nonprofit Management.

In our 24-year history, The Curtis Group has spent significant time advising on how nonprofit management can work most successfully with their boards. We hear it a lot: one of the biggest challenges nonprofit executives face is getting their volunteer leadership to help raise money and a common complaint from board members is they aren’t being asked to do anything other than attend board meetings. This gap creates confusion, frustration, and ultimately can lead to board member attrition. However, there are some straightforward steps nonprofits can take to solve this dilemma and it originates with nonprofits setting expectations of board members upfront.

This month’s AFP magazine Advancing Philanthropy features a variety of articles on board engagement in fundraising and one in particular titled “Triple-A Boards” by Kay Sprinkel Grace. Grace explains how nonprofit executives can be much more effective in engaging board members when they make specific requests of them, not just, “We need your help fundraising.” When it comes to raising money, board members should be askers, ambassadors and/or advocates and it is up to the organization’s leadership to work with each board member to maximize their participation in one or more of these roles. These three positions are defined as follows:

Askers: Board members who are comfortable through experience and training asking others to make gifts to the organization. They are matched with prospective or current donors and focus on getting new or renewed gifts.
Ambassadors: Board members who assist with donor cultivation and stewardship. While not making outright asks for money, they engage prospective or current donors in the organization through their outreach and focus on relationship development.
Advocates: While they are not asking for money or focused on cultivating specific potential donors, they are always telling the nonprofit’s story and sharing its mission and work with others. Advocates should take on other tasks on the board outside of the fundraising efforts if they don’t feel comfortable as askers or ambassadors.

In our board development work with clients we often start by reviewing the policies and procedures a nonprofit is using when recruiting board members. It is important to be clear and direct from the beginning on the expectations of a board member. When a new board member comes on, part of their orientation process should be meeting with the board chair or development committee chair to discuss how they would like to be involved in the nonprofit’s fundraising efforts. The goal is to identify two to three roles the board member will play during his or her service. Therefore whatever responsibility they take on beyond being an advocate of the nonprofit, there is a clear understanding from the get-go of the expectations on both sides and the board member will feel a sense of purpose and accomplishment, further invested in the cause.

Interesting in learning more on this topic? We will be hosting a webinar on “The Role of the Board in Fundraising” to be held February 20. Register for free here.

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