WealthEngine works with nonprofits across the spectrum, from the largest universities, hospitals, and international aid organizations to local and regional arts and social service agencies. Many of those who reach out to us are startups who have a passion, a vision and willing hands, but lack fundraising expertise and have few or no resources to hire trained staff members. In this three part blog series we offer three keys to help make your fundraising program more sustainable.
All organizations go through transitions in the makeup and focus of their governing boards. Often, a mission begins with those in the community who catch the vision and passion for the mission directly from the founder or founding members. The primary goals of these individuals are to lay the groundwork for the organization, obtain nonprofit legal status, and guide the organization through early obstacles and challenges. These individuals often fund early activities personally. A small group of like-minded individuals often works well in making early decisions with the agility necessary to establish the organization.
As the organization becomes more established, it is normal to look to expand the board, paying particular attention to fulfilling or anticipating certain needs. These needs often include fundraising, influence in the community (especially if there will be zoning, legal or other hurdles), and partnerships (such as with government, civic, faith-based or social service agencies).
The board sets the fundraising tone for the organization and any donors to the cause, including individuals, foundations, and corporations. For example, when applying for grants, you will almost certainly be asked what percentage of your board members are donating (it should be 100%) and what percentage of total funds raised are from the board (it should be substantial – e.g. 20%). Likewise, board members cannot with credibility solicit other individuals for the cause without being able to honestly say, “I believe in this and have contributed to it substantially myself (or sacrificially).”
When searching for new board members, it is important to search for particular qualities. Here are some considerations for expanding the board:
- Affluence – While this may seem obvious, it is truly important to have a board with deep pockets. Fundraising is one of the most important responsibilities of the board, and you will not have access or credibility to ask community members for substantial gifts without having a board who has committed these types of gifts themselves.
- Influence – You will want a board who has many community connections, such as those involved in the Chamber of Commerce, on the City Council, or prominent business people. These connections are the key to expanded fundraising, committees, campaign volunteers and a pipeline for new board members.
- Specific Expertise — You may benefit by having individuals who work in the social services sector, those with expertise in arts and culture or faith-related issues, someone in the construction field, a financial planner, or any number of other vocations. Consider the types of expertise that are a fit for your specific needs over the coming 3-5 years, and recruit board members with these skills and abilities.
If you do have your board put together, there are two activities I recommend every board engage in if they haven’t already:
- Have a working session to develop a case for support. This is a comprehensive document that lays out your mission, vision, plans from getting from where you are to where you want to be, and all the reasons someone from the community might want to support you. See our Case for Support Checklist. This is not unlike a brochure that may describe your services and mission, but is more expansive, and intended as a working document to provide full and transparent visibility into your leadership, accomplishments, dreams, and needs. It is often used as a recruitment tool for new board members and a cultivation tool for prospective major donors.
- Develop and adopt Board Member Guidelines. These should cover term limits (if any), roles and responsibilities (such as contributing time, treasure, talent), and governing responsibilities. Read our sample Board Member Expectation Statement to learn more about guidelines that you could adapt for your organization.
Both of these exercises will serve you well in educating your current board and developing the tools you need to begin recruiting additional board members. Growing your board and leveraging their skills and connections will contribute to your ability to raise major and capital gifts.
Do you have a story to share about establishing a board to help drive fundraising activities? Share in the comments below.
Next week, we will share Part 2 of our three part series, Your Most Valuable Asset, which will cover some of the ways you can grow your fundraising list.