Sanford Institute of Philanthropy Blog

5 Things Good Nonprofit Boards DON’T Do

In my previous post, I discussed what your board should do to support your nonprofit’s fundraising efforts. Now, here are five things that a good board doesn’t do when it comes to fundraising:

1. Ask for money

The first thing that nonprofit boards don’t do is ask for money. I know that probably surprises you that’s what I’m starting with, right? Now, don’t get me wrong, there are times when nonprofit board members do ask others to provide financial support for the organization and are very good at it, but the best organizations know it’s not all about asking for money. It’s about making introductions in the community. It’s about being an ambassador in the community and opening doors for the nonprofit. 

The people who are best at asking for money are the executive director and the development staff. Let the professionals do the asking. Let them close the deal. As long as you make the introduction, that’s why you’re on the board. You have connections in the community that they don’t have, and just by making the introduction to those connections, you’re doing quite a bit to support the fundraising for that organization.

2. Create events

The second thing that boards don’t do to support fundraising in nonprofits is create events. Let me say a word about events: there are times when nonprofits hold events that are about raising awareness in the community and they are very important to the organization. However, there’s been research that shows that when the full cost is taken into account, most of the events that nonprofits hold actually don’t raise that much money. 

Now, there are exceptions to that. There are some very successful events. There are some that focus more on building a relationship with the donor and getting pledges rather than the golf tournament, or the gala, or the lunch. Those can be very effective, but nonprofits today are focusing much more on engaging people who are passionate about the mission and getting rid of all of the sort of baggage that events have. 

Nonprofit boards who talking about how they can support fundraising shouldn’t be talking about, “Let’s come up with a good event.” We don’t need more nonprofit fundraising events. What you can do is talk about opening those doors and finding new connections in the community. That’s what will help their fundraising effort the most.

3. Stay in the boardroom

The third thing that boards don’t do is keep it all in the boardroom. What do I mean by that? You serve on a nonprofit board of directors and, of course, you’re expected to attend meetings. A nonprofit’s bylaws usually require them to a certain number of times per year, and then you may have committee meetings as well. 

Sometimes people think that all of the work they do for a nonprofit is in those meetings, but the truth is your real value and power as a board member comes in your connections in the community. If you are taking the mission of that nonprofit out into your network, talking about it everywhere you go to everyone you know, opening doors, that’s really the best work that you can do for that nonprofit. 

When you’re in board meetings you’re not there to do all your business. You’re there to think about how you can do more in the community to spread the word of the mission of the organization and make more connections for it.

4. Micromanage the executive

The fourth thing that good boards don’t do to support fundraising is distract their executive from fundraising. Even if here is a whole development department for a nonprofit, the CEO or the executive director is really the top fundraiser because many donors need or want to meet the executive before they make a commitment. It’s very important that nonprofit executives have as much time to spend on fundraising as they can because they also have a lot of other responsibilities as well.

Too often, boards get involved in micromanaging their executive, too involved in the weeds of the management and operation of the organization. Usually when that happens, the first thing that that executive gives up is time for fundraising, so very effective organizations. Very effective organizations and their boards let their executive shine in their management and fundraising capacity.

5. Wait for somebody else

The fifth thing that boards don’t do is think that fundraising happens without them. In other words, they don’t think that it’s somebody else’s responsibility. Having an effective development team and executive is a great resource for your organization, but if you leave it to them entirely, you’re abdicating your responsibility as a board to be in charge of the fiscal health of the organization and you’re not capitalizing on your connections in the community. That’s why they need you on that board. The development team and the executive director don’t have all of those connections. You, as a board member, bring those to the table. 

If you have a development committee on your board, they’re there to organize the strategy for fundraising for the organization, but not to do all of the work. Fundraising is the responsibility of every member of the board, so good boards don’t leave it to somebody else. They recognize their own role in fostering the financial health and capacity of the organization.


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