Want to know the secret to building a really great board of directors?

The secret is to recruit the right people in the right way which is to be clear with them about your expectations up-front. Then, to have a great board, orient them well and cultivate them through regular contact the way that you would with other important donors.

But what to do if you have board members who are appointed to serve on your board? In other words, what do you do if the secret to building a good board is to recruit the right people and you don’t have control over who is placed on your board?

I see this problem a lot. With religiously affiliated organizations, often a central governing body of the church appoints board members. The people appointed are often clergy members or other religious leaders who have board responsibilities for several entities. Sometimes community organizations are required to put political figures, school board superintendents or juvenile judges on their boards.

It’s not that these people are bad people. They just might not be free to fundraise for the nonprofits organizations they serve. State judicial codes of ethics, for example, usually explicitly preclude some types of fundraising. So if the board’s job is in part to fundraise for the organization, to ensure adequate resources, these good people aren’t maybe the right people for the board job.

What’s a nonprofit to do?

If you can’t get your board to fundraise and you can’t change the composition of your board (either in the short- or long-term), then off-load the fundraising to other groups.  If you are a nonprofit leader charged with spearheading fundraising, you do need help. Fundraising is a team sport. So if the board is not your fundraising team, build other fundraising teams.

  1. Build a strong board development committee from a subset of your board members: While a good board where shared fundraising responsibilities is universally accepted may not be a realistic hope, it’s possible that a good development committee might be. Without giving up on working with the board to fundraise, spend extra time with those board members who will be committed to shouldering the fundraising responsibility. Would you like our sample board development committee job description?
  2. Consider bringing non-board members onto the development committee. Some boards preclude this, but most welcome it. In addition to other benefits, you can audition future board members this way.
  3. Create one or more fundraising committees that are independent of the board. You can create an event or campaign specific committee such as an Annual Fund Committee (with an Annual Campaign Chair), a gala planning committee, or a golf tournament planning committee.
  4. Create an Advisory Council: One way to address the board challenge is to invest effort in developing an auxiliary council of some sort (maybe even a few auxiliary councils). An auxiliary or advisory council can help with fundraising in many of the same ways that a board of directors can. An advisory group, of course, doesn’t have the governance power or responsibilities that a board has and that has to be made clear, but a good advisory council can help tremendously. Make it clear to your advisory council members, as you recruit them, that they have a responsibility to give and to fundraise. Most alumnae associations have alumni councils, for example, and camps can have former camp counselors councils. Some organizations have advisory councils comprised of former board chairs.
  5. Or simply start an “Ambassadors” Committee of some sort. If you regularly conduct tours (for example, if you follow the Benevon fundraising model), these ambassadors can be responsible for filling and participating in tours, open houses, and drop-ins to build relationships for your organization. Make your ambassadors group official by handing out a t-shirt that says that they’re an ambassador for your group.

Not being able to get the perfect people on the board is a challenge, but not an insurmountable one. No need to be reduced to singing the board member blues. Find other ways to onboard the people you need to staff your fundraising team.

Photo used by permission from Bigstock.com/master1305

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