Developing Your Nonprofit Board

Updated: Mar 01, 2023

Four people holding conversation bubble signs
by Amanda L. Ravens, Special Events & Corporate Partnership Manager, Spaulding Rehabilitation Hospital

In my last post, I introduced the concept of peer-to-peer (P2P) fundraising. Although we often think of P2P fundraising as a grassroots effort, the practice can be easily adopted with your board. It is these volunteer leaders who should be at the core of every fundraising initiative, not only as substantial donors themselves, but as your biggest cheerleaders and advocates. This month, I will focus on strategies to develop a philanthropic board and lead them to become the door openers to the funding you need.

Board Development

Board structure varies greatly from one organization to another. However, establishing specific fundraising-related requirements can foster growth and development among your members. Below are some examples of how implementing strategic requirements can help with engagement--and in turn--fundraising:

- Philanthropy requirements are the most basic criteria when it comes to board support. This term can include a minimum personal donation, an agreement that your organization will be a top philanthropic priority, procurement of funding through a third party, or any combination.

- Sub committee participation offers board members the opportunity to deepen their connection by being a key contributor, beyond their general board responsibilities. Your board is most likely made up of diverse professionals, who should be looked at as resourceful consultants. Ask your members to lend their expertise to an event committee, marketing strategy, expansion/construction project, fundraising initiative, financial planning and more. Involving your board on a variety of levels will enhance their personal investment, as well as their desire to promote your mission.

- Recruitment and advocacy help position your organization as an invaluable asset in the community. This requirement is essentially P2P fund—and friend—raising; and in many ways is creating a mini fundraising office, without an added expense. It is tapping into your board members’ personal and professional networks with the goal of educating their contacts, engaging them and--hopefully—converting them to donors. An example of recruitment could be a board hosted dinner, where each member is responsible for the guest list. Once there, you will have the opportunity to share your mission and engage with an audience that you otherwise would not be in front of. Since funding comes from a variety of sources, introductions should not be limited to individuals, but also include corporate and foundation prospects.

Cultivation and Board Engagement

Creating and implementing fundraising-related requirements for your board, such as the ones mentioned above, will only be received well if proper cultivation of each board member has been made a priority. It is important that your board becomes knowledgeable, comfortable and deeply committed to participating in your organization’s philanthropic endeavors.

Establishing a solid foundation with the ability to grow successful fund—and friend—raising begins with thoughtful engagement. You may be thinking to yourself that you already have a great relationship with your board; but more often than not, professionals with a secondary role of fundraising tell me that they rarely see or speak with their board members outside of meetings, events or in settings that are generally related to their organization. It is common practice for fundraising professionals to send handwritten thank-you or holiday cards, schedule coffee-catch-ups, lunches or dinners, and tailor conversations to be more about their supporters, rather than the organization that they support. It is these impactful, casual and thoughtful interactions that allow fundraisers to capture important information, build rapport and lead to fruitful introductions and philanthropy.

During the cultivation—or engagement—process, it is your job to ask questions, listen and analyze. You need to establish a trusting relationship so that just like with P2P fundraising, your board members will want to tap into their networks and ask that they support your organization. Through cultivation, strive to learn the following information about each board member so that you know what those networks include:

- What other boards/committees do they sit on?

- What other organizations do they support?

- What special skill sets do they bring to the board?

- What is their community involvement?

The questions above should be used as general guidelines to gain insight into how your board members think about his/her philanthropy, if they are stretched too thin and to assist in identifying connections to philanthropic prospects.

Board Management and Fundraising

Board members are often successful business men and women with limited availability. Although they genuinely want to be supportive of your organization, fundraising on your behalf may be placed on the back burner due to other commitments. It is essential to manage and foster these important relationships, all the while being respectful of their time. I often find myself writing solicitation emails for my volunteer leaders and sitting with them in their office to strategize who in their network should receive one. These interactions offer me face time with my organization’s biggest cheerleaders, advocates and donors, all the while enhancing the relationship, discovering new information and ensuring that the work that both of us are passionate about will get done.

The key takeaway from this post is to think outside the box! Your board members want to help, but they may not be thinking beyond their own personal financial contributions. Engage with them, brainstorm new funding opportunities and ask for their help. Successful fundraising is directly tied to the ability to secure a meeting with a prospect. Utilize your closest allies to identify potential sources of funding and allow them be the door opener for you. Once inside, it's your job to sell your mission.

Interested in how you can enhance your committees, board and donor base? Contact Amanda Ravens at or 508-274-4739.

Check out my full series on Nonprofit Fundraising:

  1. Five Steps for Successful Nonprofit Fundraising
  2. Sources of Funding & Trends in Philanthropy
  3. Developing Your Nonprofit Board
  4. Year End Giving—your Final Push 
  5. How Social Media Can Help with Fundraising

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