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10 Practical Tips for Engaging Board Members In Fundraising

14 min read
November 27, 2023
Rachel Clepper headshot
Rachel Clepper
Content Marketing Specialist, Neon One
Hands counting several dollar bills. How to Engage Board Members In Fundraising

Engaging board members in fundraising is one of the most common nonprofit challenges out there. Feeling like your board members won’t help work toward your organization’s fundraising goals is discouraging, especially if you feel like you’ve tried everything to get them involved.

There are several reasons your board members might not be willing to engage with your fundraising programs. When you understand the reasons they’re not willing to help, you can start putting together some practical solutions that will change your board members from “reluctant fundraiser” to “enthusiastic supporter.”

Let’s explore a few of the most common board fundraising blockers and how you can turn your board into all-star fundraisers.

Why Is Engaging Board Members in Fundraising So Hard?

Why on Earth is it so challenging to get your board members interested in fundraising? 

Here are a few common reasons.

1. They’re Scared To Ask

Not all board members are experienced fundraisers—some may never have made a single appeal before. When a board member doesn’t know how to ask, they’ll find the whole process intimidating—especially when the fear of the unknown combines with the fear of being rejected.

“That’s the biggest fear people have that stops their ability to succeed in fundraising — the actual ASK,” says Tim Sarrantonio, Director of Brand at Neon One and former Board Member of Reading With Pictures. “They get so worked up that someone is going to say no that they just don’t bother to put it out there.”

If your board members get cold feet about raising money for your cause, there are a few things you can do. First, let them know what separates fundraising from a sales pitch. At the end of the day, fundraising is about relationship-building. Remind your donors that they aren’t harassing people for money—they’re giving people the opportunity to support a cause they care about.

Fundraising doesn’t have to mean sitting down and making cold call after cold call. It can be an enjoyable time to talk with donors one-on-one, invite friends and family to learn more about your work before getting involved, help write fundraising letters, and more.

Your board should understand that fundraising doesn’t have to come off as a sales pitch. Instead, help your board members tell a story. You can even take a portion of a board meeting to go around the table and have your board practice sharing their fundraising story. 

2. They Need More Training

Most new board members don’t have fundraising experience. Engaging board members in fundraising if they’ve never done it before is like asking someone to make Thanksgiving dinner when they’ve never cooked before.

The solution to this problem is simple, even if it isn’t easy. Nonprofit leadership and experienced board members must work together to train new members.

This will require investing time and resources into getting new board members familiar with your mission, your work, and how donors can make an impact. You’ll also need to spend some time helping them think through what they can do to support your fundraising programs. 

3. They Need More Guidelines

Whether or not your new members have been on a board before, your nonprofit’s fundraising strategies are unique to your mission and operations. When new board members join, make it easy for them to understand:

  • How they’re expected to support your fundraising programs
  • How to talk about your mission, work, clients, and impact
  • How they’re expected to participate in fundraising events (and when those events take place, etc.)
  • The various ways they can lead their own fundraising activities

Creating this documentation can feel dull and tedious, but it is a necessary step. When you have a documented board training process, you can clearly lay out your expectations for your board and give them important information they’ll need as they support you.

Practical Strategies for Engaging Board Members In Fundraising

At this point, you understand some common reasons your board members are reluctant to get involved in fundraising. They’re afraid to ask because they’ve never raised money before, they need training that will make them effective, and they need guidelines to reference as they support your fundraising activities. 

Now, let’s take a look at some practical strategies you can use to address their fears and make them feel confident as they raise money with (and for) your organization.

#1: Revamp Your Onboarding Process

Your board members should understand any and all responsibilities associated with serving on your board before they agree to get involved. This includes fundraising requirements! When you do this, your new board members will be much more likely to participate in fundraising than they would be if they learned about this requirement after joining.

After someone agrees to serve on your board, they’ll need a crash course in your nonprofit, your programming, and everything they need to do in their role. This is where your board packet will come into play.

Creating a clear and concise board packet is one of the best investments you can make. Your board packet should include elements like:

  • A short history of your nonprofit
  • Your mission statement, vision statement, and any other important institutional information
  • Program information
  • Financial reports or information
  • Contact information for other board members
  • Information about requirements for participation on your board
  • Fundraising information like expectations around participation in events, best practices, etc.

Here’s the important bit, though: Don’t just hand your new board member their welcome packet and call it a day. Make sure you or someone else on the board regularly checks in with them to answer any questions they might have.

#2: Offer Ongoing Training

How do you expect your board members to engage in fundraising activities? Do you need them to solicit in-kind donations for your annual silent auction? Will you ask them to ask their friends and family for donations? Are they expected to participate in calling donors?

There are virtually endless ways a board member can participate in fundraising at your organization. Nearly all of them will require training, and that training will be most effective when done on an ongoing basis.

This doesn’t mean every board meeting has to be dedicated to teaching board members how to write appeals or run a great event. Other options include:

  • Holding an annual board retreat that covers upcoming fundraising campaigns and how board members can support each one
  • Dedicating a few minutes at each board meeting to reviewing your organization’s fundraising progress and how your board is contributing to your success
  • Sharing fundraising ideas and tips in your board portal or board communications

You could stick to one of these ideas or try a combination of all three! Your goal here is to make your board feel empowered to raise money for a cause they love.

#3: Create Supporting Materials

Getting involved in fundraising will be less intimidating if your board members have the supporting materials they need to do it well. What assets do they need as work to support your fundraising efforts?

You might want to consider getting your board access to things like:

  • Printed pamphlets or brochures to share with their friends and family
  • Pictures and videos they can use in emails, social posts, or other digital activities
  • Boilerplate copy, mission and vision statements, and other supporting materials they may need as they ask businesses for donations
  • Stories and talking points they can share with their networks
  • Email and social media templates they can use as they create their own appeals

However you choose to support your board, it’s also important that they know who to contact if they have questions or need help.

#4: Identify Their Strengths

Not everyone on your board will be comfortable sitting down with a friend and asking for a donation. And that’s okay! But discomfort with one style of fundraising doesn’t mean any one board member shouldn’t fulfill their fundraising roles. It just means you may have to help them play to their strengths.

What are your board members good at?

If someone on your board is an excellent writer, get them involved in writing your next appeal. A talented event planner can play an important role in putting together your next fundraising gala. That board member who seems to know everyone in town could help introduce you to new potential donors. 

Engaging board members in fundraising will be easiest if they can use the skills they already have to raise money. Ask your board members how they want to be involved. You may be surprised at their answers! 

#5: Make Room for Creativity

Some fundraising activities will be required of your board members. But they may have fundraising ideas of their own. Give them room to get creative!

Invite your board members to come to you with their own proposals. Maybe one of them wants to host a small dinner and ask their friends to donate to your nonprofit. Or maybe one of them had the idea to work with a local business to run a fundraising night. Someone may have an idea for a fundraising event that you’ve never tried before.

Who knows? Your board members’ ideas may be your next annual campaign!

#6: Get Them Involved In Events

For many organizations, fundraising events are a tried-and-true way to raise money. They may also be a great opportunity to get your board members engaged in fundraising. Get them involved with planning your next fundraising event!

How can your board members support your next fundraising event? You can always try:

  • Inviting one or more of them to share a testimonial about why they choose to support your work and how attendees can get involved
  • Working with board members to secure event sponsors or in-kind donations
  • Asking board members to invite attendees, sell tickets or other items, or take in-person donations
  • Putting together a plan for how board members will connect with VIP attendees during the event itself

Get creative! What other ways can your board members work together to make your next fundraising event a success?

#7: Create a Peer-to-Peer Fundraiser

At its heart, peer-to-peer fundraising involves individuals raising money on behalf of their favorite nonprofit organizations. While many people associate this type of fundraising with events like 5ks, bike rides, dance-a-thons, or polar plunges, it’s also useful for getting board members engaged in fundraising.

Try using a peer-to-peer fundraising format to encourage your board to raise money for your organization. Here’s how this could work:

  • You set up a peer-to-peer campaign for your board
  • You and your board work together to set fundraising goals for both the campaign and for board members
  • Each board member creates their own personal fundraising page, shares their story, and includes an appeal for donations
  • Your board members share their fundraising page with their friends, family, and colleagues through email, social media, and other channels
  • You and your board members work together to thank your donors and look for ways to keep them engaged with your organization after their initial gift

Peer-to-peer fundraisers are an effective way to empower your board to raise money. Many people are more comfortable with asking for donations online than face-to-face. Participating in this kind of fundraising campaign can alleviate a lot of the anxiety they may feel about soliciting donations from their networks.

If you don’t have a peer-to-peer fundraising platform, try spinning up individual donation forms for your board members. They can add their own story and case for support, then share it with their friends and family the way they would a peer-to-peer fundraising page. Since each member will have their own donation form, you’ll be able to attribute different donations to each of your board members.

#8: Meet Their Network

Many board members are invited to serve because they fill an important role at your organization. Some may be lawyers who can guide you through making important decisions. Some may have a background in marketing that helps you raise your organization’s profile. Accountants, business owners, and other community leaders often serve on boards because of their skills.

Board members may be able to offer more than skills—they may be able to introduce you to others in your community who share their passion for your mission.

As you work with your board members, have conversations with them about how you can work with them to connect with new potential supporters. Do they have a friend who might be interested in learning more about your work? Could they start a conversation with their employer about sponsoring an event? Can they facilitate a conversation with a potential major donor?

They’re inexperienced in fundraising, but they probably have valuable connections. You’re a professional fundraiser but don’t have the connections they do. It’s a match made in heaven!

#9: Get Them Talking 

If you’ve been in the fundraising world for a while, you know the importance of storytelling. Telling stories is one of the most compelling ways to inspire donors to give, but sourcing those stories can be difficult. It’s even trickier when you need to share stories while protecting your clients’ privacy.

Ask your board to share their own stories! Invite them to talk about why they’re passionate about your work, what their dreams are for your organization, and how serving with your nonprofit makes a difference. Those narratives can be valuable parts of your next fundraising campaign.

#10: Give Them Consistent Updates

Every board member knows that fundraising is necessary (or they should, especially if you’ve got a thorough onboarding process). But, just as donors like to know their impact before making their next gift, your board member will want to understand how their efforts are making a difference.

Share regular fundraising updates with your board members. Tell stories. Share pictures. Celebrate meeting fundraising goals and milestones. Be transparent when you’re not on track to hit your goals and work on solutions together. 

When your board members feel like they’re an invaluable part of your fundraising team, keeping them engaged in fundraising will be much, much easier.

Get (and Keep!) Your Board Members Engaged In Fundraising

There are lots of reasons your board members are reluctant to raise money for you. They’re probably intimidated by asking, and they need more training and guidelines that make them feel capable of doing a good job.

Luckily, there are lots of tactics you can use to get them excited about supporting your fundraising programs. Give them a thorough onboarding process, and prioritize providing them with ongoing training and supporting materials.

Then, offer a variety of ways for your board members to participate in fundraising. When they can choose a tactic that plays to their strengths—whether they want to help plan an event, create a fundraising page, introduce you to their networks, or something else—they’ll feel more comfortable stepping outside their comfort zones.

Engaging board members in fundraising is a common challenge. It’s okay if you feel stuck here! These tactics will help get you started.

Engaging Board Members in Fundraising Is Easier With the Right Tools

What do you need to get your board members invested in your organization’s fundraising progress? Reporting that helps them understand your progress? Fundraising tools that are easy for them to use? Supporter information that helps you understand how your board members can help you connect with potential sponsors and donors?

Get what you need with Neon CRM! Tools and features like scheduled reports, unlimited donation forms (plus QR code generators your board can use to share forms with their networks), detailed donor accounts, and tons more will support you as you work toward engaging your board members in fundraising activities.

Want to learn more? Our regular group demos give you an opportunity to check out Neon CRM without the pressure of a one-on-one sales call. Here’s where to sign up for a group demo that works with your schedule!

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