Every nonprofit organization relies upon the philanthropic support of others to ensure that necessary resources are available to carry out their mission. Thousands of professionals attend annual conferences hosted by fundraising associations covering a wide range of topics. Hundreds of books and articles have been written about fundraising along with extensive research on best practices of annual appeals, major gifts, capital campaigns, donor software systems and digital media technologies. Yet, despite all the knowledge about fundraising, most nonprofit organizations struggle. One of the major reasons is the inability to engage their boards.


My goal in this article is to provide some answers to one of the questions I am most often asked: How can I motivate my board to become truly passionate about our mission and more actively engaged in our fundraising initiatives? Just because a board member has a reputation for being a successful business or community leader does not necessarily translate to success in the world of philanthropy.

During the board recruitment process, many organizations do not even bring up the subject for discussion. Yet, they expect their boards to have self-confidence about fundraising and become disappointed when their results are less than stellar. In addition, constantly reminding someone about their fundraising role and responsibility as a board member is like reminding your kids to clean their rooms. It rarely works (perhaps your kids, but not mine).

We need to continually help board members become more self-confident. The more knowledgeable and confident they become, the more their level of engagement will increase. In addition to well-known reasons that people give money – they give because they have been asked, they give to someone they know and respect- these are two additional key reasons why people give money that are rarely discussed and understood with board members.

Many people’s concept of fundraising is the “tin cup theory of fundraising.” Growing up as a young boy, I can always remember the sloppy uncombed old man with one hand holding up a tin cup with pencils in front of the Port Authority bus station when I went with my mom and siblings to visit New York City and attend the Radio City Christmas Show at Rockefeller Center. I saw him as a beggar.

Many of us perceive fundraising as begging, too, when asking for help for our organizational needs. It feels personal and the clear majority of people serving on your board avoid it because they do not want to feel personally rejected. They may not always be conscious of this feeling, but it is true. Who would want to feel rejected?

Far too many organizations approach their fundraising with the “tin cup theory.” Though your organizational needs for facilities, staffing, operating support, etc. are important, donors today rarely give to organizational needs or the perception of distress any more. They give to those who have demonstrated results and achievements in making a difference in the lives of others. Your fundraising efforts will become more successful and your board will become more engaged when you begin to frame your discussions on “investing in your success.”

Those organizations who have transitioned their fundraising away from the “tin cup theory” to the “investment theory” have far more success in raising money. Their board members ask people to invest in their success, to produce positive results and outcomes, to continue their achievements and to make a difference in the lives of others. Board members no longer feel it is personal to ask someone for money because they are seeking investments in your organizational success. These board members are externally focused on what they do for others and not on what the needs of the organization are.

Nonprofit organizations that develop a culture where board members fully understand the two new reasons why people give money -to success not distress and to the needs of those you serve, not the needs of your organization, will dramatically increase their level of success in today’s fierce competition for the donor dollar. They have created a more meaningful and fulfilling board experience that taps into each board members unique experience and knowledge. Their board members no longer leave their talents and common sense at the board room door.

Want to learn more? Join our live webcast with Dennis C. Miller on December 16, 2016 @ 1:00 Eastern.  REGISTER HERE for free!