Building Board Fundraising Strength (Not) One Member at a Time

Author: Cedric Richner, CFRE

When a non-profit board is dominated by members who do not possess the desired skills and attributes necessary for fundraising success, there is a temptation to go out and recruit one person who does have those characteristics to join the board.  The problem with this strategy is that the one board candidate who has these great skills is often in great demand to serve on other boards.  More importantly, sophisticated philanthropists know what a daunting challenge it is to single-handedly effect change related to fundraising as a board member.  They are often reluctant to take on this challenge.

They are, however, more likely to say “yes” to the opportunity to help build the fundraising program if you approach three people with the desired skills and make their “yes” contingent on the other two saying “yes”:

“We have approached ____ to serve on our board.  She will agree to serve if you agree to serve.  We also plan to approach ____.  We would like to have the three of you join our board at the same time.  In this manner, we will have a nucleus of people to work on upgrading our fundraising agenda.”

My experience has shown that organizations need a super-minority of qualified people to begin to shift the board culture related to fundraising.  For example, if your board has nine members, my class of three example would be perfect to begin to effect change.   One voice, no matter how respected and powerful, is a voice alone in a wilderness of unqualified people.  Three, however, is a working group.  They can reinforce and support each other.  They can spread the workload.  Most importantly, they can work as a team to help other board members grow and become more effective in their roles.  They can model the behaviors that are important.

Obtaining a super-minority of board members who give commensurate with their capability to do so and work to encourage others to give, begins to shift the board culture in a direction that says, “fundraising is important at our organization.”  As the board culture moves in this direction, there can be attrition of those who are not comfortable with the direction in which the organization is heading.  It is okay for people to move on from our boards when this misalignment with the new direction occurs.  The key is to fill vacant seats with board members that truly reflect the role of fundraising expected at the board level.