Community-Driven Institute


Boards & Fundraising:
Why Board Members Don't Want to Do It and What They Can Do Instead
by Hildy Gottlieb
Copyright ReSolve, Inc. 2003, 2005, 2006, 2011©

Much has been written about boards and fundraising. There are those who believe one of the primary responsibilities of a board member is to raise money. Then there are those who believe boards should not be required to raise money. Most articles you see about boards and fundraising focus on those 2 sides of the coin - whether or not boards should fundraise.

This article isn't about whether boards "should" or "should not."

That is because there is no point in arguing "should" - not just about this issue, but about most issues. We should lose weight, we should quit smoking, we should get more exercise - but do we do so just because we are told we should?

Therefore, this article will start by looking at the reality of "Boards and Fundraising" and will suggest that maybe it is time to find paths that align with reality, instead of continuing to fight reality. Systems that build upon those realities as a significant strength (rather than seeing "Boards and Fundraising" as a weakness to be fixed) will create a win-win for all involved - the board, the organization and the community.

Facing Reality

Here are just a few of the realities we have observed about "boards and fundraising":

Reality #1: Board Members and Fundraising
For a variety of reasons, board members commonly hate to ask for money. Even when they are cajoled into saying they will do it, board members typically underperform their commitments. A 2007 Board Source Report notes that "only 5% of boards list fundraising as a strength, and that fundraising ranks #1 among board areas needing improvement."

After all the videos on "teaching your board to fundraise" and all the consultants and all the classes, it is still the rare board that raises any significant portion of the dollars the organization brings in.

And so the first reality is that the "boards should fundraise" argument has failed to get boards to fundraise, has provided significant stress for board members, has caused stressful relations between EDs and boards, and is often a barrier to recruitment, as many prospective board members share (usually in embarrassed whispers) that they refrain from being on boards because they believe "being on a board" equals "asking people for money." And they do not want to do that.

Reality #2: I Don't Know Any Rich People
There are many reasons why board members do not want to raise money. Some liken it to stage fright. Others, noting the emotional baggage many people have about money, talk about "not wanting to bring money into my relationships with my friends." And then, of course, there is the argument that, "If I ask a friend to donate to my cause, she will just turn around and ask me to help with her cause."

Regardless of the reason, there is one thing that most board members seem to agree on - a sentiment that might be summed up in one phrase: "I don't know any rich people."

For the most part, those board members are correct. The peers of most board members do not have significant means. Most are just average folks, trying to make a living, worrying about sending their kids to college, just like so many board members themselves.

That brings us to one of the most interesting aspects of Reality #2 - a point that comes not from the board members, but from their friends - those average people who are NOT board members. In my own professional and social realm, when I encounter individuals who are not on boards, one of the most common pleas I hear is this: "You advise nonprofits? Could you tell them to stop with all the raffle sales and tickets to events!? I can't go to their galas and golf tournaments, and I can't afford to buy raffle tickets from everyone who asks me. Then I wind up feeling guilty. Please tell them to stop doing these things!"

Reality #2, then, is that often the friends who are being asked see the ask as just the same burden as the board members who didn't want to ask in the first place!

Reality #3: Board Fundraising Doesn't Raise Money
One of the biggest reasons why organizational leaders continue to insist that board members raise money is the simple reality that organizations need money. Frustrated that there never seems to be enough funding to do what organizations have the potential to do, eyes eventually fall upon the group of individuals who is presumed to have all sorts of connections - the board.

The fact that most board members know people just like themselves - people of medium means, who cannot give the sorts of life-saving funds organizations wish for - doesn't deter the belief that board members could indeed raise significant funds if only they would do so.

Coming back again to reality, the fact is that even if boards raised 2 or 3 or 10 times what they currently raise, "Board Fundraising" would remain one of the smallest sources of revenue.

Even more important, the dollars board members do raise are often very different from the sustainable income generated in individual giving campaigns (direct mail or major gifts), as dollars raised by board fundraising are frequently contingent upon that board member doing the ask. When the board member is no longer on the board, it is not uncommon for that donor to stop giving.

To summarize thus far, then: Boards often hate to raise money, and organizations spend a lot of money on training in an effort to get them to do so. Board members' friends are not wealthy and often feel put upon when asked to contribute. Board fundraising does not raise significant dollars and those dollars it does raise are not renewable.

That leads to Reality #4...

Reality #4: The Board as the Link to the Community
One look at the org chart tells us that the board is the link to the community.

It is the community that will receive the benefit the organization provides, and it is therefore the community to whom the organization (i.e. the board) is accountable. The community includes donors. It includes volunteers. It includes clients and just plain individuals living in the community. All those individuals receive the benefit the organization is accountable for providing.

And the board is the organization's link to all of them.

Reality #5: Creating Relationships Between the Organization and the Community is about Making Friends
The important role of "the organization's direct connection of accountability to the community" is a role most boards do not know how to do. But unlike fundraising, when board members are shown simple approaches for making those connections, they take on this role gladly.

In their efforts to make connections, what board members are asking of their friends is just that - friendship. That true friendship is something board members feel comfortable asking for, and their friends feel delighted to give. No one feels diminished or embarrassed. Everyone feels exalted.


A horrible thing has happened to the word "friend" in the nonprofit world. "Friend" has come to mean, "Someone who gives us money."

In our real lives, we don't love our friends because they pay our monthly expenses. In our real lives, our friends are the ones who know us and love us, who are there to dance when times are good, and who are there with a shoulder to lean on when times are bad.

If our efforts had REAL friends, instead of simply "donors," imagine how different life would be!

An organization's friends will volunteer. They will arrange for speaking gigs. They will make connections. They will share their wisdom about your mission and your programs. They will do all sorts of things - and, yes, they will also give you money.

As joyful a thing as friendship is in our personal lives, it is just as joyful a thing in an organization's life. And because the purpose of our organizations is to make our communities better places to live, those friendships mean even more to both sides.

"Fundraising is About Relationships"

It is usually at this point that fundraisers smile and nod, and say, "I've been saying this all along. Fundraising is all about relationship building!"

And since I have already angered those who think boards should fundraise, I might as well anger those who believe that "Fundraising-is-About-Relationship-Building" is the same thing as raising real friends for an organization.

"Fundraising is about building relationships," might be translated as follows:

• If you don't get to know people well, it is harder to ask them for money.
• If you do get to know people well, it is easier to ask for money.

• If we get to know people really well, in addition to giving us money, they will share many other gifts as well (including all the things noted in the prior section - volunteering, etc.)

• If we don't get the money, though, the rest of that is pretty inconsequential. We will likely not continue to pursue this relationship, and will move on to someone who can, in fact, provide some cash...

Does the word "friendship" or "relationship" really mean, "when the time is right, we will agree on a price"? What talk is that walking? What message is that sending to our communities? What behaviors is that modeling?

We can now add to that phenomenon a more recent phenomenon - those fundraising approaches that encourage board members to invite their friends to an event where, "We will absolutely not ask anyone for a dime," only to have those same friends invited to a hard-sell event a few months later, where they are told honestly and directly, "We will be asking you for money, and a lot of it!"

It is easy to see why board members tell us, "I don't feel comfortable giving the names of my friends to the organization, as I know, in one form or another, my friends will be hit up for money."

Money. We have so many emotional hang-ups about money. And every time we reinforce that "the point of having friends is so we can ask them for money - perhaps not now, but eventually..." - well, that just continues that pattern of board members feeling uncomfortable about sharing their precious friendships.

Board Members and FriendRaising

If the point of FriendRaising efforts is not to ask for money, then what is the point? It will sound trite, but the point of friendship is friendship. The point of engaging the community (which is really what FriendRaising is all about) is an engaged community.

Friends will not let anything bad happen to your work. They will help in ways you never dreamed possible. They will want to see good things happen, and will work like the devil to be sure nothing bad happens.

Friends share all their gifts with the organization, and are thrilled that the organization sees value in those gifts! They give what they have, whatever that is - and yes, quite often, it is even money. But it is not only money. It is usually far more.

And that is because they are acting like real friends. That's the point. If we had an army of friends, we would have everything we currently have, plus tons more.

The only road to sustainability is to engage the community in your work, to turn that community into an army of friends achieving something amazing together, spreading the roots of ownership of your mission and vision throughout the community, so the community would not dream of letting that mission die.

And as the link to the community, that is a job board members can do without fear.

This Free FriendRaising Action Tool will start your board's FriendRaising activities right now!Click

The Benefits of FriendRaising

When we approach our personal friends to become engaged with something we feel passionate about, there are multiple benefits for our organizations. Here are just a few:

1) We are sharing ownership of the issues that concern our whole community and expanding ownership of the efforts to make the community a better place to live. An engaged community is the only road to significant and lasting change.

2) By sharing that ownership of our community's future, organizations will have friends who will help in all kinds of ways, because they want the mission to be accomplished, and they feel they have a stake in that success.

3) We are celebrating all the things we love about our friends, encouraging them to share with the community their potential, their gifts - frequently the things they don't think are anything special. "I have knitted all my life - I never dreamed that was something that could make a difference to anyone!"

4) Board members who participate in these kinds of FriendRaising activities become directly engaged with the mission in a way that has everything to do with effective leadership and governance.

5) Board members who become engaged in this way also learn dramatically more than they ever could in an orientation program, allowing them to make far more educated decisions at the board table.

6) FriendRaising creates a win-win-win because it builds upon the abundant strengths of everyone involved. Unlike fundraising, which focuses on the scarce resource of money, FriendRaising builds upon the collective passions, insights and ideas of board members and their friends. And there is nothing more abundantly energizing for all parties than that!


When we ask for money, that is all we get. When we ask for friendship and the myriad wonders that come along with friendship, we get all the surprises friendship can bring - and as a bonus, those friends often donate money. Just as important, though (if not more important), friends will offer their own creativity, their own ideas. "I was thinking the other day about something I'd like to do with my church group for the patients at the clinic... "

Friendship is the most valued possession in our personal lives. Sharing friendship with our organizations in a way that is respectful and engaging - that is something any board member can feel comfortable doing.

No shoulds. Just reality.

  • The reality that honest friendship feels good for everyone.
  • The reality that friendship builds engaged and ongoing support for accomplishing your mission.
  • And the reality that the only way we can create significant improvement to the quality of life in our communities is if we engage with everyone who cares about what we care about, linking arms in true friendship.
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