How We Work: One Path to a More Effective Board


If you’re a nonprofit staff member, you’ve likely pondered how to more deeply engage your board members in fundraising. If you’re a board member, you likely know it is part of your responsibility to help raise money, but you may not know how.

As a former Director of Development, the most common question I received after “What’s a Development Director” was “Isn’t it scary to always ask for money?” It may seem counter-intuitive, but the vast majority of my time wasn’t spent asking for money. It was spent preparing people to be asked.

This misconception can exist on boards as well. Board members often don’t understand how they can effectively support the ongoing development efforts of staff. They may believe that the organization wants them to wrangle money from their friends or add a zero to their contribution if this outreach fails. The reality is board members are already passionate about the work being done. They are in love with the mission. They just need some tools to help them share this love.

Whether you’re a young nonprofit just beginning to explore a structured fundraising effort or a well-established institution, more deeply involving your board in development is imperative to growing your revenue. And this idea goes beyond the classic “give or get” requirement we often see listed on board responsibility documents. 

Brightspot believes that fundraising can be comfortable, organic, and thoughtful for board members. We offer a board training that starts with an exploration of how board members’ personal values drive their volunteerism, a critical reminder for deeper engagement. We help board members begin creating a simple pitch that combines their reasons for being at the table with ways the organization is essential to the community. Then we introduce a new way for board members to understand their networks. We disprove the notion that those networks need to be financially wealthy to get involved and debunk the expectation that board members will report back with $1,000 checks from each of their contacts.

That’s not how development works, and that’s not an effective way to realistically engage board members in the process. Instead, we promote the idea that the more people who know the mission, the larger the prospective donor pool. And if these people actually really KNOW something about the organization’s impact, they have the potential to be long-term investors, not just one-off contributors who donate solely because their friend asked them to. 

We challenge board members to collectively brainstorm strategies for introducing their contacts to the organization’s work. It could be as simple as an email “Hey, did you know I’m on this board. Check out a video of our work,” or as engaging as a one-on-one facility tour with the organization’s ED. They leave the training with a concrete toolkit to help them through the process of building their organization’s roster of potential supporters. 

A few weeks later we circle back with each board member to coach them in their outreach. We hold them accountable, partnering with development staff to ensure they have all the necessary tools to take steps toward growing the organization’s network.

I’ll be the first to admit that this process is not revolutionary. Actually it’s really Development 101, but for some board members, removing their fears, setting realistic expectations, and providing tangible strategies gives them the confidence to embrace this aspect of their role. It’s a win for you and a win for them.

Kelly DelektaComment