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Financing Not Fundraising: Jump Start Your Board
Nell Edgington

February, 2012

In part 12 of our on-going Financing Not Fundraising blog series we’re talking about activating an often under-used nonprofit financing resource: the board of directors. The words “fundraising” and “board” can sometimes seem so incongruous that it results in  a lot of eye-rolling on the part of an executive director. As a general (and probably optimistic) rule, nonprofit boards of directors are not very helpful at bringing money in the door. It is often a chicken or the egg scenario that leaves many nonprofits at an impasse. But I believe it is up to the executive director to get tough and strategic about getting her board to take action.

If you are new to our Financing Not Fundraising blog series, the series is about how nonprofits must break out of the narrow view that traditional FUNDRAISING (individual donor appeals, events, foundation grants) will completely fund all of their activities.  Instead, they must create a broader, more strategic approach to securing the overall FINANCING necessary to create social change. You can read the entire series here.

If you want to learn more about how to apply the concepts of Financing Not Fundraising to your nonprofit, check out our Financing Not Fundraising Webinar Series.

Here are some ways to get your board to bring more money in the door:

  • Make Them Strategic. Involve them in strategic planning. No one wants,  or is able, to raise money without a bigger plan. If you don’t currently have a strategic plan, put one together, but make sure to get the board involved in the whole process. It must be their strategic plan if they are going to help finance it. If you already have a strategic plan, make sure that you are updating the board, and more importantly, asking for their help on implementing it at every board meeting. It’s not enough to create a strategic plan, you must keep the board engaged in making it come to fruition.

  • Force Them to Give. Once your board is excited about the strategic plan and the future direction of the organization, get them to invest. It is unconscionable to me that there are still nonprofit board members who don’t make a financial contribution to their organization. Make it abundantly clear that a contribution (at a level significant to them) is a requirement of service. No one can convincingly ask someone else for money if they aren’t giving themselves. End of story.

  • Focus Their Fundraising. The highest and best fundraising use of a board member is major donor recruitment. Stop asking board members to be involved in any and all aspects of fundraising (event planning, direct mail letter creation, grant writing). Instead have them focus on tapping into their networks to bring people to the organization. And no matter how “connected” you may or may not think your board members are, believe me, their networks are vast. They include their friends, family, neighbors, co-workers, social media fans/followers, church congregants, fellow alumni and on and on. Ask each board member to come up with 5 people in their network that they think have the capacity to give at your major donor level. Then have the board member spend the year focusing on getting those people in the door.

  • Integrate Money into Every Conversation. A lot of boards don’t like to talk about money: either raising it, or how it is spent. Boards often have limited financial management conversations, skimpy or non-existent finance committees, and a general preference for discussing mission over money. But you can’t let them get away with that. It is absolutely critical that money be fully integrated into any conversation the board has. They must understand what the financial model of the organization is and be continually monitoring the ability of that model to deliver on mission.

  • Don’t Sugar Coat Anything. The tendency in the sector is to treat a board as the organization’s most important donors and from which you hide the truths about your organization. But you need to move beyond that and start helping the board to understand the harsh realities of your work. The next time your board asks you to raise more money without additional staff, or add programs without new funding, or go down a rabbit hole for no reason, tell them “No.” Give them your honest appraisal of what the organization should or shouldn’t do. And make sure they listen.

Boards need to step up. There is no doubt. But it is up to the executive director to make sure that they do. By getting your board to be strategic, focused, invested, integrated and aware they can start helping to finance your work.

Photo Credit: Intercontinental Hong Kong

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About the Author: Nell Edgington is President of Social Velocity (, a management consulting firm leading nonprofits to greater social impact and financial sustainability. Social Velocity helps nonprofits grow their programs, bring more money in the door, and use resources more effectively. For more information, check out Social Velocity consulting services and clients.


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