Books for Nonprofit Staff & Volunteers

Five Questions Every Board Member Needs to Ask about Fundraising

This article is adapted from Harvey McKinnon's book, The 11 Questions Every Donor Asks. For more information about the book, click here.

By Harvey McKinnon

Ask practically any executive director or development professional what they want most from their board of directors and you’re all but certain to hear “Help with fundraising!” It’s the nonprofit cri de coeur.

Such help will be more forthcoming if before recruiting a board candidate you encourage him or her to ask the five telling questions listed below.

I speak at length about these and other fundraising strategies in my book, The 11 Questions Every Donor Asks, and the Answers All Donors Crave.

Am I committed to making a gift to the best of my ability? Are my fellow board members equally committed?

It’s absolutely essential for board members to make as large a gift as possible to the organization on whose board they serve. This personal commitment gives them the ability to ask others to be generous as well. Without a personal donation, board members are rarely successful in securing large gifts from others. Their gifts set a tone for the culture.

Are the fundraising and gift-giving responsibilities of board members outlined in the board orientation materials?

Although some board members are lured onto a board with promises that they’ll rarely have to do any fundraising, or even make a donation, these practices undermine an organization’s effectiveness. It’s a board responsibility to give, and a board should offer support and training to help all board members become more skilled at raising money.

Am I willing to act as an advocate for this organization? In my community? With politicians? With donors?

In the ideal world, people are proud to sit on the board of directors. They’re leaders in their community, dedicating themselves to something important and setting an example for others. When they’re passionate about the organization and its role in the community, they inspire others.

Does the organization offer a letter of agreement for major donors, spelling out their wishes regarding the use of their gifts?

We live in litigious times. There have been cases recently of donors suing organizations when they felt their wishes hadn’t been honored. A clear signed letter of agreement outlining the organization’s responsibilities and the donor's responsibilities will protect both parties. It will also put board solicitors at ease.

Am I comfortable asking my colleagues, friends, and family to give?

I’ve trained thousands of fundraisers over the years, and I’m pretty sure the majority don’t like asking for money. But from decades of experience I can attest to a inspiring corollary to soliciting. When a board member asks for a gift and the prospect makes a generous commitment, joy pervades the air. It’s wondrous how giving touches something in the core of our being. But board members won’t experience this rapture unless you temper their natural anxiety and reluctance by providing ongoing training in the art of solicitation.

Harvey McKinnon is author of The 11 Questions Every Donor Asks, from which this article is adapted.