Posted , by Lauren Fenn, Consultant. Topic: Boards of Directors, Fundraising.

On February 20,  we offered a free webinar on “The Role of the Board in Fundraising.” This timely subject proved to be one of our most popular webinars yet with nearly 100 nonprofit staff and board members tuning in. Our extensive work with nonprofits over the past 24 years has provided us the opportunity to interact with a wide variety of nonprofit boards, and we enjoyed sharing our ideas with all participants. The webinar covered: how successful nonprofit boards operate; key traits to look for in potential board members; the board’s role in major gift fundraising; orienting their role in fundraising; and the importance of board leadership and why it is essential to successful fundraising.

How are you engaging your board in fundraising? This is a question we posed at the beginning of our webinar and asked attendees to think about throughout the presentation. We received some creative feedback:

– “Through good communication. Our board receives all organizational news prior to a press release, so they feel ‘in the know’.”

– “By sharing fundraising success stories at the beginning of each of our board meetings. It energizes our board members and helps them feel much more connected to the mission.”

– “The name of our board governance committee is the Leadership Development Committee. It says more to have the expectation built into the title.”

– “By offering a quarterly program called ‘Understand What You Represent.’ This provides board members with a better understanding and update of our key programs and projects.”

During the presentation, we encouraged webinar attendees to submit their own questions. Here are a few questions, along with the responses we provided.

Seven (out of 15) of our board members have been on the board for longer than 10 years. Is there a way to (gently) institute board member term limits? First, all organizations should review their bylaws every couple of years. Secondly, the board chair should sit down individually with board members and talk about their thoughts on the organization and their involvement. This conversation begins to get long-term board members thinking about the number of years they have served, and more times than not will suggest it is time to begin thinking about a succession for their seat. And finally, your organization should request that board members review the board roles and responsibilities document and conduct a board assessment annually. In many situations, long-term board members continue to serve because they simply haven’t been talked to, or because they fear they will negatively impact the organization by leaving. Communication is key.

How many is too many when it comes to board members? We consider 15 to 22 members to be an ideal number. If you are a smaller nonprofit, you would trend to the smaller side of that range. Statewide and larger organizations should have more. If you have too few, you won’t have enough members to get the work done. If you have too many board members, people will begin to think that someone else will do the work and they don’t have to be as involved.

Our board seems to have a difference of opinion on board giving. What is the minimum amount that a board member should give? It is most certainly expected that all board members give and it should be addressed during the recruitment process with a potential board member. That said, we do not advise nonprofits to have a minimum gift or “blanket” gift requirements. A prime example would be a human services organization where a former client may serve as a board member and a $100 gift may be a stretch gift from them, while others on the board may be asked for gifts up to $10,000. A board member’s annual gift should be unique to each member and what they are able to do.

Well-trained leaders, who fully understand the critical role they play in the fundraising process, are essential to any nonprofit’s success. We hope these highlights from our webinar will help you begin to build a successful fundraising board.

– Begin with a strategic recruitment process
– Make your expectations clear up front
– Thoroughly orient new board members
– Provide proper training
– Practice donor stewardship

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