Should nonprofit board members be expected to be fundraisers for the organization? There are two opposing views on this subject. One states that board members must be engaged in fundraising to ensure the organization has adequate financial resources. The opposing view states that fundraising is an operational role and therefore outside the scope of board oversight. Although they sound opposing, both views are correct and boards have a number of issues to consider when making fundraising a requirement of board membership.
The first question to ask is why the board exists. If the organization is small or just starting out it might need every board member to help to fundraise in order to survive. As organizations grow and oversight becomes a bigger task, focusing mainly on fundraising might distract the board from other issues it should be watching.
The second question to ask is whether the strategic plan for the organization supports the requirement. Fundraising is likely only one of several strategies to achieve the organization’s purposes. It might be short sighted to put a large emphasis on fundraising. If advocacy is a strategic objective then a person with those skills or contacts could be more useful. The same is true for having board members with specific technical or subject-matter expertise related to the purposes of the organization.
A third question is whether the board can achieve proper diversity if every board member is expected to be skilled in fundraising. If the board requires an accountant or human resources expert to achieve adequate oversight of finance or HR, is it reasonable to expect them to also have fundraising (sales) skills? If the board is expecting each member to come with a network of wealthy contacts it might eliminate the perspective of a younger generation or of people with valuable but not wealth-generating occupations and networks.
Fourth, the board should consider what their motivation is for requiring board members to fundraise. If the thinking is that having major donors on the board will facilitate access to their funds and networks, board membership might not be the best option. The potential board member should be considered first on their contribution, benefit and commitment to the board and second on their ability to access funds. If board membership is held out as being more prestigious than other roles such as being chair of a fundraising campaign, the host of a gala or a member of the CEO’s advisory council, the board might be missing better opportunities to engage major donors.
Fifth, there are many ways for board members to get involved in fundraising without having to solicit funds year-after-year from their same circle of contacts. Instead of asking directly for money, board members can write thank you notes to major donors, make thank you calls, serve as a member of a fundraising committee, volunteer at events or work their network to facilitate introductions for the CEO. Introductions can be to individuals, corporations, foundations or other sources of funds or gifts-in-kind.
Finally, as the opening argument stated, once board members get involved in fundraising they shift from an oversight role to an operational role. In other words, they take off their board hat and put on their volunteer hat, making them subject and accountable to the CEO. Boards need to be aware of the potential difficulty they put the CEO in and ensure the fundraising role is well defined with exit strategies if a board member is causing stress for the CEO or organization.
In closing, while board members should definitely be expected to be a donor of record each year and are ultimately responsible to ensure the organization has adequate financial resources, expecting that they should also fundraise might not be in the best interest of the organization. Each board must consider carefully its strategy, diversity, motivations and culture to determine the best role for the board.