Boards and Fundraising – Enough!

When will we stop the ridiculous demand that boards get past their “hang-ups” and just get out there and ask people for money? This morning’s Google Alert linked me to yet another article excerpted from yet another book on how to get boards to “Break Through Fundraising Anxiety” – this one from BoardSource, but it could be from anywhere.

When will fundraising and board experts stop treating the passionate, caring adults who serve on boards as if they were errant children, who, despite our ongoing nagging, simply will not take out the trash?

There are solid, not-to-be-messed-with reasons board members do not want to fundraise / ask for money. I have cited those reasons so often I will not bore you all here – you can head here if you want to see some of those reasons, and the Introduction to FriendRaising has more.

For this post, I will just say this: If there weren’t real, solid reasons for not wanting to ask others for money, board members would have years ago gotten past whatever silly thing was stopping them, and they would have just gone out there and raised all the money the industry tells them they should be raising.

So why do the experts (who are, by the way, well-meaning – really) continue to insist that board membership is about fundraising, when fundraising does not have one single thing to do with leading on behalf of the community’s most extraordinary dreams? (And that, by the way, is what Governance is all about…)

The answer is simple: Organizations need money. The demand that boards ask others for money – despite their oh-so-loud-and-clear and nearly universal refusal to do so – comes from the scarcity mentality. If board members would only raise money, then perhaps we could finally be solvent.

What if we try this instead: Let’s make our organizations systemically sustainable – focusing beyond money towards true sustainability of mission.

And then let’s inspire boards to Govern towards their passion – creating significant, visionary improvement in our communities.

Imagine the difference that could make! Imagine what would be possible if we tapped the energy and passion of those millions of individuals who are RIGHT NOW sitting on our boards, waiting to be inspired to act!

Instead of nagging at boards to fundraise, imagine the results if we inspired boards to engage community members in the issues those board members care about!

Imagine the results if we gave boards easy ways to share their stories, their passion, and to engage the wisdom and passion of those around them!

Nothing destroys passion like being told we are not living up to what is expected of us. We don’t feel inspired to do great things; we feel disappointed in ourselves, embarrassed that we just don’t cut it. That is the effect of demanding that boards raise money. They have proven, year after year, that nagging won’t make them do it – it will just make them dispirited. Talk about squandering an incredible asset!

But if board members were inspired to build an engaged community, what a goal that would be! And it would not be because an engaged community will give you money (which, by the way, they will). It would be because building an engaged community is an incredible goal, in and of itself.

And here’s the real kicker: Board members LIKE doing this work! Engaging the community, making real friends for the organization, without asking them for money – it’s fun!

So let’s start aiming at the target, and stop whining about the arrow.

If the target is sustainability, let’s aim at real sustainability – not the kind that comes with huge dollops of wishful thinking (which is what the “Board Fundraising” issue really is – wishful thinking). Let’s aim at building strong, resilient efforts from the inside out.

If the target is an engaged community that cares passionately about your mission and your work, then let’s aim at building that connectedness.

If the target is a board that holds itself accountable for making a significant difference in its community, let’s aim at inspiring them to do so.

I have said this often, but I will repeat it:

An energized board is engaged in making a difference, and engaged in engaging others in making a difference.

So let’s stop berating boards for their “failure to perform” in the fundraising arena, and let’s build sustainable organizations, once and for all.

And let’s get boards out there to do what they are passionate and excited to do – something each and every board member can feel great about doing: Making a difference, and engaging others in making that difference alongside them.

2 Responses to Boards and Fundraising – Enough!

  1. You are so correct. I get so many calls about wanting to make the board more effective at fund raising. It is just not central to the work of the board. Defining the difference an organization is to make in the world is. When linkage to the greater community is leveraged through individual board members and that brings in some extra dollars–that’s great. I ask boards if they want to define fund raising as a job output of the board. If the answer is yes, they must design a strategy for doing it and hold themselves accountable. But, the should not start that task until they are good at the core work of governance–defining desired results, accountability and linkage to ownership.

    Nice post, I wish you all the best.

  2. Glen:
    Thanks so much for your comment. Indeed, much is possible when a board is engaging the community. And in our repeated experience, when the community is engaged, the money takes care of itself. Thanks for the reminder!
    Hildy