Pop Art What I wish My board knew

Things You Wish Your Board Knew about Fundraising


Your Board matters. What they know or don’t know, understand or misunderstand, can make the difference between results that take you to new heights — or systemic failure that you can’t overcome.

The challenge is that there’s no knowledge requirement for joining a nonprofit board. No standard course for learning the basics of being an effective board member.

They’re good folks, standing up to do more than their share — without much guidance.

Sometimes they’re great anyway. Other times … well, not so much.

We asked members of The Fundraisingology Lab what they wish their boards knew about fundraising. Here are some of the things they said…

I wish my board members knew that fundraising is not a bad thing!

This was the most common wish our members expressed. It comes from the unfortunate belief that donors are annoyed by us when we ask for money. Or the even more unfortunate belief that taking our donors’ money is somehow ethically questionable.

It’s really too bad that these beliefs live in the hearts of so many board members (and, frankly, many others in the nonprofit world). Because the truth is, giving to charity deeply blesses our donors. They do it because they want to. Because it empowers them and puts their values into action. And it feels good to give!

Boards members who understand the beauty of fundraising are far more effective than those who don’t. They just get it. They make better decisions, bring in more revenue with their personal fundraising, and love their jobs as board members a whole lot more!

Here’s a post you might consider showing recalcitrant board members to help them see why fundraising is not just a necessary evil, but a good thing for everyone:

5 Ways Charitable Giving Is Good For Donors

I wish my board members knew we should not rely on events to raise money

I used to think events were a “lazy” way to raise funds. Then I saw up close how much work it was to plan and run an event. They’re way more work than the more effective forms of fundraising! They eat up unbelievable amounts of time and suck the life out of those who do the work.

Events are the opposite of lazy fundraising!

And they’re almost always a poor way to use time, energy, or budget. 

There are two main problems with events:

  1. They are far less effective at raising funds than they seem. Most event budgets don’t take into account the people time it takes to put on an event. If organizations put monetary value on staff time, they’d see immediately what a bad investment most events are. Every hour spent on that event is an hour not spent doing something more effective and sustainable.
  2. They are not as effective at building ongoing relationships with donors. Event donors require events in order to give. They are less motivated by the cause, so they donate less often, are less likely to upgrade, give monthly, or make a charitable bequest. 

Sure, events are fun social times. That may be enough reason for some.

But if you really need revenue to fund your organization, focus on sustainable direct-response fundraising!

I wish my board members knew that “Bill Gates” is not the answer to our financial challenges

Stop me if you’ve seen this at a board meeting:

“My second-cousin’s hairdresser used to work for Oprah Winfrey’s brother-in-law. Let’s get Oprah to support us!”

Guess what: Oprah is not going to support you. Neither is Bill Gates, Warren Buffett, or anyone else you’ve heard of.

The people who will support you are people who know you and your organization.

Okay, those people aren’t likely to drop a nine-figure donation on you every year, but if you go to them and ask, they will form a corps of loyal, connected donors who fund you for years to come.

Forget the “Bill Gates will fund us” fantasy. You might as well make buying lottery tickets your funding strategy.

I wish my board members knew that we can’t just shift all our fundraising over to digital

“Nobody reads their mail anymore. Let’s just cancel it all and do email and social media fundraising instead.”

Not so fast. By far, the largest share of charitable giving in every country around the world is still non-digital channels, like direct mail and telephone. 

A decision to go all-digital is a decision to go bankrupt.

Digital fundraising is important. And it’s growing all the time. But the most recent US fundraising figures show that digital fundraising accounts for less than 9% of fundraising revenue. (I suspect that in 2020 it has surged into double-digit territory, but we are still far from the paperless future!)

The all-digital future may come someday. 

It’s not here yet.

I wish my board members understood that I know what I’m doing

This is another painful area for many fundraisers. They have board members who are experts in all kinds of things — but not fundraising.

But they don’t realize that. They think their off-the-top-of-their-heads fundraising ideas are brilliant.

And, somehow, your professional expertise is bogus.

Every time I’ve addressed a nonprofit board on the subject of improving their fundraising — and I mean every time — one or more board members confidently tells me that those long, emotional direct mail appeals with underlining and ugly fonts won’t work.

This would be like me going into the airplane factory and proclaiming that these planes would fly a lot better if you left off those stupid wings.

I hope I’d be laughed out of the room if I did that.

Unfortunately, a lot of nonprofit boards are making those kinds of calls.

What do you wish your board members knew? Share your thoughts below. We’d love to learn from your experience. 

Want to join the amazing community that shares wisdom like this? Check out The Fundraisingology Lab by Moceanic. You’ll immediately connect with a worldwide network of the coolest, most amazing, most sharing fundraisers. It will change your life!

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3 Comments. Leave new

  • Susan Sheldon
    January 28, 2021 8:00 am

    Big anniversaries do NOT motivate donors to give. They are a sign of the stability of an organization but no one looks at a fundraising ask and says, “It’s XYZ’s 40th Anniversary, I’ll make a donation in honor of that right now.” Donors give because of what their dollars accomplish RIGHT NOW and what they can accomplish in the future. Board’s need to have a vision of where the non-profit is going and what we will accomplish in the near and more distant future.

  • Benjamin Gonsher
    January 28, 2021 7:39 pm

    This is a fabulous post, and while 4 or 5 years ago, i’d have read this and sympathized, becuase i’ve followed your work for so long, i no longer feel this way about them! You guys are amazing, and thank yo ualways for sharing such great insights!

  • All of this is so true, Jeff, though I must say the last one is really the gut-punch I get most often.

    Whenever I’ve been interviewing for a development job or contract, the Board always talks about how they want my “fresh approach” or they need the “new blood” and “real world expertise” that I can bring them.

    I get hired, and then about 7 minutes after I’m hired, all of the sudden, EVERYONE ELSE ON THE BOARD AND MANAGEMENT TEAM IS AN EXPERT ON DEVELOPMENT. And magically I am supposed to take THEIR guidance, instead of going with what I know works (after literally raising over $1.1 billion in my lifetime.
    I kid you not.) It’s mind bending.

    Thank God for Moceanic and the Fundraisingology Lab. For the most part, we “get” each other, we all openly share with one another, and everyone is game to learn, all the time. Among the members, we know that success is not a zero-sum game, and when we support and enrich each other, not only do we do better as individuals, but most importantly, the missions we serve all benefit immensely.

    Thanks for all you do, Jeff, thanks to the whole Moceanic team, and many thanks to the whole tribe of Fundraisingology members. It’s just a win-win-win-win-win-win-win…(x 2,000 or so?…how many of us are there now?) 🙂

    See you on the inside…..

    Pax et Bonum!


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