This guest post is by Andy Robinson, who provides training and consulting for nonprofits in fundraising, board development, marketing, earned income, planning, leadership development, facilitation, and train-the-trainer programming. Over the past 18 years, he has worked with organizations in Canada and 47 states in the U.S.

If you ask fundraising professionals to describe their deepest and most enduring fantasy, the answer would sound something like this: "Give me a wealthy board filled with wealthy people who will ask their wealthy friends for money."

Sure, those boards exist, but they are very rare. Unless you work with a legacy institution like a university, hospital, or major cultural organization, you are unlikely to have that board. Ever.

Fantasies can be fun, but they distract us from what we can realistically achieve. The good news: your board, wealthy or not, can still raise money. To help them succeed, you need to set clear, simple expectations and give them the tools and training to do the work.

Task 1: Give Money

Everyone on your board needs to make a gift based on their financial ability. This is essential because:

  • There's karma in fundraising, and you can't ask others to do what you are unwilling to do yourself.
  • It's a litmus test. If people are unwilling to invest in your organization, do they deserve to lead it?
  • Many grantmakers and major donors will ask, "Do you have 100% board participation? Is everyone on the board giving?" You really want to be able to answer, "Yes!"

To be clear, I don't believe in giving quotas that require board members to contribute a specified amount. Your board must represent the diversity of the community you serve, and you don't want to price people out of board service. But I strongly believe that everyone can give something, regardless of their financial circumstances.

My recommended language for your board agreement: "We expect to be one of your top three charitable commitments while you serve on the board."

Task 2: Give Names

Back in the dark ages before social media, the average North American adult knew 150 to 200 people, including friends, family, co-workers, neighbors, and business associates. With the rise of social media, our networks have expanded.

Seventy to 80 percent of North Americans make gifts to charitable organizations. If your average board member knows 150 people, then he or she knows at least 100 donors. Multiply this by the number of people on your board, and most nonprofits are sitting on a prospect pool of at least a thousand people.

"But I don 't want to ask my friends!" moans the fearful trustee. Here's the best response: "Give us the names anyway. We'll invite them to events, send them newsletters, or offer volunteer opportunities. If you prefer, we will ask your permission before we solicit a financial contribution. But let's start educating them about our work. If our organization is important to you, wouldn't they be interested in knowing that?"

Task 3: Participate

Help the board understand that the scary part of fundraising - asking for money - is only about 15 percent of the work. The other 85 percent - prospecting, cultivation, engagement, thanking, and recognition - happens before and after 'the ask.' Every board member can help out in many different ways.

Here's a great exercise, Creating a Board Fundraising Menu, that you can use with the board to identify specific fundraising tasks they can do. It includes a sample menu borrowed from our smart colleagues at the Ohio Environmental Council. Create your own board menu, then encourage every trustee to choose three items from it. When people choose their own tasks, they are more likely to take ownership and follow through.

Learn More

For a hands-on learning experience, watch the webinar Mobilize Your Board to Raise More Money.

For more practical tools and tips to engage your board, visit

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Learn more about this topic with:

What is the board's role in fundraising? (Knowledge Base article)

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