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October 22, 2020
Turning Board Members into Development Leaders in Five Steps
By Jill Goldenberg and Cindy Rowe

Jill Goldenberg + Cindy Rowe
Jill Goldenberg, left, and Cindy Rowe
When’s the last time a board member said to you, “So, when can I start raising money? That’s the reason I joined the board!” If you’re like most nonprofits, your board members are less than enthusiastic about fulfilling their duties to raise money.

One of the most important things you can do is get your board members excited about helping to make sure your nonprofit is financially stable. Offered below is a five-step plan to help convert your board members into willing and able development leaders.

The Status Quo
Let’s start at the beginning. If you’re involved in a typical nonprofit, and you’ve asked your board members to help with development, chances are you’ve encountered some of these obstacles:
  • They have other priorities in their own jobs and personal lives, so they don’t set up solicitation meetings or do phone calls in a timely manner;

  • Board members don’t want to be trained because they think they know everything about fundraising (or, the opposite #147; board members who are scared to engage in fundraising because they think they don’t know anything);

  • People who want to talk about campaigns, but don’t want to do the work; or

  • Board members might participate in a solicitation, but can’t bring themselves to ask for the target donation amount, so don’t want to get involved at all.
Creating a Culture of Philanthropy
Cultivating a culture of philanthropy starts when people join your board. For that reason, it’s important to be upfront with them about your expectations for them to engage in development. If you don’t have a specific requirement for board donations, there’s nothing wrong with saying, “Everyone on the board is expected to a give a donation according to his or her personal ability. All we ask is that you make our organization one of your top three giving priorities. We also ask that you participate in the development process.”

You’ll need to explain that development isn’t all about that one moment of the “ask.” It can involve being an ambassador for the organization, talking to potential donors about why the board member is passionate about the mission. It could be writing a thank you note. Thinking creatively, there are many ways for board members to enhance your development needs.

The Five-Part Training Program
The Lawyers Clearinghouse provides pro bono legal services to nonprofit organizations, eligible groups seeking nonprofit status, and homeless individuals. Typical of many small nonprofits, the Clearinghouse was supported by foundation and corporate donations, relying mostly on the executive director and board member law firms.

When the Clearinghouse wanted to diversify its donor base, it needed to get its board members excited about their role in fund development. This five-part training was developed to help transition the Clearinghouse board members into their new roles and can be applied to virtually any nonprofit. The trainings take place over five consecutive board meetings:
  1. Laying the Groundwork: First, make sure board members understand the budget situation and the plan for growth, so that they know why they need to engage in development. To be sure board members can connect to their own passion for the organization, we get them talking about why they are on the board.

  2. Transforming Concerns into Advocacy: This session focuses on why board members themselves give to certain charities, and elicit from them their own fears about raising money (and provide answers and advice to combat those fears).

  3. Ambassadorship: This discussion looks at the difference between “fundraising” and “development,” and the many different activities in which board members can engage to lead the organization to new donors and steward current donors.

  4. Following Up with Potential Donors: In this session, board members think about what they would say to follow-up on a fundraising letter, and start crafting an approach which makes them comfortable. We also begin thinking through potential donors.

  5. Face-to-Face Solicitation Training: Finally, we spend time working with board members to take them through the steps of a personal solicitation, doing role plays to put them in the position of talking to a potential donor, and teaching them how to listen in these meetings for donor interests. We also think through some matches for future donor meetings.
After this training the Lawyers Clearinghouse experienced a transformation in its board. Most significantly, board members increased their comfort with reaching out to their peers, thinking about creative ways to involve people in the organization, and participating in stewardship opportunities.

Creating this shift isn’t easy or fast, but in the end, will reap significant benefits for your organization by creating greater board member engagement and increasing organizational financial stability.

Cindy Rowe, a board member of the Lawyers Clearinghouse, is principal of Rowe Resources, who has worked on fundraising issues with boards and staff of more than 50 nonprofits. Email her at Jill Goldenberg, has more than 25 years of board and development expertise, is a strategy manager at the Partnership for Excellence in Jewish Education, and served as associate director of the Lawyers Clearinghouse. Contact her at
March 2013
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