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Andrea McManus, ViTreo Group Inc
October 1st 2019

It’s hardly breaking news that many if not most nonprofits struggle with their boards. The converse is also true. The rules of engagement for both are often murky. Boards are not often certain what their role is. Not for profits often have unrealistic or even wrong expectations around what the board of directors and its individual members are and aren’t responsible for — is it any wonder there are issues?

As Simone Joyaux reminded us last week, “boards” are responsible for governing, and governing only takes place when the board operates as a collective. And of course, one of the big roles nonprofit organizations frequently expect their boards to undertake is to give personally and to engage in encouraging others to give. For most, if not all, raising funds and increasing donations is always critical to achieve their missions - even if it is not part of the board’s governance responsibility. Why wouldn’t they want their boards to pitch in?

And therein lies the rub. Or conundrum. The intricate and difficult problem this week’s blog is tackling.

An excerpt from a chapter I contributed to in 2011 in the book Governance & Boards, Excellence in Fundraising in Canada:

“One of the real and most challenging issues in fundraising is the involvement, engagement and interaction with boards of charitable organizations. It seems to be such a natural assumption that your board will be involved in fundraising activities, and not just involved but actually exercise its “ownership” and “responsibility.” The reality is usually much more of a mystery and, in fundraising, probably the one single area that presents fundraisers with the most frustration and a never-ending discussion topic.”

- Civil Sector Press, Excellence in Fundraising in Canada: Governance & Boards, Andrea McManus, Edited by Guy Mallabone, 2011 do you get your board to take ownership and responsibility for fundraising activities. How do you get them involved? You could just ask them. They signed up to be on the board, after all. 


Probably not going to work. The answer is… engagement. Not that kind, the other kind. We are trying to raise money here, not spend it. And that engagement must happen on an individual basis, not as an expectation of “the board.”

And as gratifying as it will be to have engaged and committed board members that help with the bottom line, it’s not quite as simple as it sounds. Engaging your board members in fundraising can be challenging, frustrating, time consuming and exhausting. But when you work with board members that are truly engaged it will be exciting, exhilarating, gratifying and the peak of your fundraising career. Anything that good is surely worth the hard work you must put in.

To backtrack a little here, before we talk about how to set the stage for all of this, let’s talk about the board and why it exists. The overarching role of any board is governance:

From the third edition of The Effective Not-for-Profit Board: 

“All publicly accountable organizations, including NPOs, face numerous critical challenges in responding to the growing expectations of their stakeholders in an increasingly complex operating environment. Under these conditions, well-governed organizations have proven to be more effective, and more likely to succeed, than poorly governed ones.

To accomplish their goals successfully, NPOs require a robust system of governance, at the head of which must be an effective board of directors.

What is governance?

Governance refers to the processes and structures used to direct and manage an organization’s operations and activities. It defines the division of power and establishes mechanisms to achieve accountability among stakeholders, the board of directors and management.

Good governance systems are designed to help organizations focus on the activities that contribute most to their overall objectives, use their resources effectively, and ensure that they are managed in the best interests of their stakeholders.” (Deloitte LLP, The Effective Not-for-Profit Board A Value-driving Force, Chantal Rassart and Hugh Miller, 2013)

Your organization must understand the role of the board and what governance means in the context of your nonprofit. From that first step, you can begin to strategize to achieve engagement.

These are my top strategic tactics to drive engagement in fundraising with your board:

Photo Credit:  Freepik

Photo Credit: Freepik

  1. Understand your board’s legal and financial governance requirements. These do not include fundraising but they do include fiscal oversight and financial sustainability. That is your springboard to engaging individual board members.

  2. Develop your approach to engagement based on how it fits within and for your organization - there is no one size fits all.

  3. Know why your board members are on your board and use that information to their and your organization’s benefit. There are a variety of reasons to sit on a board. They are all valid. Understand what they are for each individual board member.

  4. Work with board members one-on-one for personalized support and maximum engagement. Don’t expect the same thing from every board member. Listen to what they want to do and engage them in ways they will be successful.

  5. Make sure that fundraising is part of board member responsibilities and communicated to them during the recruitment process.  

  6. Be involved in the recruitment process – get the board members you need. 

  7. Use your Development Committee to access the full board. Make them your champion.

  8. Encourage your board members to fully discuss and adopt a board member giving program that will allow them to proudly give within their personal capacities.

  9. Present fundraising strategically and don’t box yourself into being measured simply on the basis of raising $XXX. Use business language and philosophies to speak to them in their language.

  10. Build a philanthropic culture that overlays your internal fundraising culture. 

  11. Make sure your board members understand why people give and are able to relate that to why they personally give - to your and other causes. Bring donors to board meetings and create those all-important “mission moments.”

  12. Build a web of engagement opportunities that encourages each and every board member to be involved according to their individual skill sets and comfort levels.

Fundraising is hard enough. Ask any fundraiser or charitable organization. Undertaking it without the involvement of a fully engaged board, who advocate on your behalf, just makes it that much harder.

And that’s not always the easiest thing to do - and is a significant part of the work we do at ViTreo. Nonprofits often spend a lot of time in the trenches and these days, many struggle at a deeper level than seen before. Carrying out the organizational mission, fundraising, managing staff, etc., etc. and more often means the effort to engage the board on top of all of that is too great and it falls by the wayside.

Bringing in outside resources in the way of consultants with fresh eyes and deep expertise can mean your people can focus on what they need to do, and with the right assistance, your board can support and advocate for your mission, and fundraise for it.

Refining their skills and expertise in the nonprofit sector, our partners and associates specialize in a variety of essential leadership and fundraising services. This combined experience enables our new and existing partners to draw upon centuries of expertise. 

Use your board, engage it. Don’t let it be a board in name only. Which sometimes happens. Correct!? You need to have a board. Why not have a great one?

Boards are a big topic. So we’re not stopping here. We’ll be back next week to talk about the difference between for profit and not for profit board governance.

Donors invest in organizations that demonstrate visionary leadership – starting from the very top. Check out ViTreo's Board Development and Governance services to learn more about how we can help your nonprofit align your governance with your mission



Andrea McManus, Chair, Board of Directors, Partner
ViTreo Group Inc

Andrea McManus is a Partner with ViTreo with over 30 years’ experience in fund development, marketing, sponsorship and nonprofit management. A highly strategic thinker and change maker, Andrea has worked with organizations that span the nonprofit sector with particular focus on building long-term and sustainable capacity. 

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