Do It Right and the Money Will Come: Six Strategies for Engaging Board Members

Thursday Morning, April 12, 2018, Scandinavia House, New York City

By Susan Fields, CFRE 


“Tell your board members what your organization needs and provide them with a plan to make it happen.”

Laura Fredericks,
Founder and CEO, The ASK Panel 


“Eighty percent of my time is spent with board members with 30% of our budget funded through them.”

Carol Glazer
President, National Organization on Disability


“Take a detailed interest in the professional and personal lives of your board members.”

Mark Roithmayr
CEO, Alzeheimer’s Drug Discovery Foundation


“Our organization views development as a team sport including staff, board, and fundraisers.”

Aileen Hefferman
Chief Executive, Prep for Prep


Your organization’s board members have the potential to be its most loyal and generous ambassadors. Engaging them in its mission begins with the recruitment and orientation process and can continue after they have served their term or stepped down and received “alumni” or “emeritus” status. Never forget that they are your greatest asset and it is your job as CEO or fundraising professional to fully utilize their talents and express radical appreciation and acknowledgement for their beneficence.

In reviewing the following list of takeaways, it is important to mention that it was unanimously agreed by the panel that “giving and getting” was one of the most important roles of a nonprofit board.  In cases where boards were originally organized as primarily “advisory” it was suggested that possibly the culture of these governing bodies could gradually be transformed through education and other engagement processes.

1. Recruit to task! Existing board members can often provide the best leads in targeting new board members that are suited to the various skills needed. In fact, many boards utilize a nominating committee which encourages existing members to consider personal and business contacts who have the motivation, expertise, connections, and financial resources to share with your organization. It is always best for a board member to be present at the recruitment interview.

2. Be straight-forward about “giving and getting”! The best way to articulate financial expectations is in a written document listing personal gift minimums, event sponsorships and tables, and the amount prospects are expected to raise from outside sources. Rather than giving an exact figure, many nonprofits stress that board members contribute “a meaningful gift” to leave the door open for an even larger contribution than expected. Of course, it’s always a good idea to ask a potential member if they can open doors in terms of corporate support or individual gifts.

3. Board members are not ATM’S!  Once you have put together a dynamic and dedicated board who are fully aware of the expectations—stop talking about money and start sharing your plan to assist them in realizing your organizational needs.  Meet with them, talk with them before and after board meetings, show interest in their business and professional life, hook them on your mission, and acknowledge them profusely both publically and privately for their service.

4. Don’t put your board to sleep with long and boring meetings? If possible  make certain the time and location encourage optimal attendance. Keep committee reports brief and focus agendas on problem solving as well as strategic priorities requiring members to focus on the big picture. It’s also a good idea to “put fundraising first” on your agenda by highlighting the status of the annual fund, major gifts, and event revenues, etc. Special accomplishments of board members in this area should also be heralded. If possible and appropriate, try to limit your meetings to five per year.

5. Exhibit patience with recalcitrant fundraisers! It’s easy to beat yourself up because one or a few board members are dragging their feet in bringing on donors. Instead ask yourself what you can realistically obtain from them at this point in time. Sometimes it’s necessary to compromise in exchange for other benefits such as a generous personal contribution, valuable media contacts, or a connection to a stellar board recruit. Being patient and working with them is often the best strategy of all!

6. Hold an annual board retreat. Weekend retreats are an excellent means of bonding members to mission. These occasions provide an opportunity to evaluate individual and collective performance, make suggestions for improvement, and get to know one another on a more personal level. These events are also perfect venues for Capital Campaign strategizing, fundraising and solicitation training, strengthening board-staff relationships, and creating a culture of fundraising.   


Join us for the next AFP-NYC Educational Program

Organizations in Crisis, Achieving the Best, Averting the Worst

Thursday morning, 5/17/2018



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