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Why and How Nonprofit Boards Make a Difference for Fundraising

Study Shows Active Boards Help Nonprofits Reach Giving Goals

By

Engaged board members.
David Lees/Getty Images

Most nonprofit professionals believe that their organizations will be more successful when their boards are active in fundraising.

That correlation was proven through recent research by the Nonprofit Research Collaborative (NRC). It found that active fundraising by nonprofit board members is positively correlated with organizations meeting their fundraising goals.

Board engagement does work. But, here's a myth buster.

Defying a common belief that the chief contribution of board members to fundraising success lies in their own giving, the NRC research found that other activities accounted for much more.

Although board member donations were required at 57% of the charitable organizations participating in the research, only 10% or less of total charitable receipts at the majority of the organizations studied was made up of nonprofit board gifts.

What was the most important thing that board members did? Request donations to their organization from family and friends.

James D. Yunker, Chair of the Giving USA Foundation and a member of the NRC, said, "That simple step is probably the single most important thing an organization can do to engage board members in fundraising. It is associated with meeting fundraising goals for all sizes of organization, proving again that fundraising is all about relationships."

The proof lies in the numbers within the research. Sixty percent of the organizations where board members helped with fundraising met their fundraising goal, while just 53% of those without board engagement did so.

Some other findings from the study included:

  • Only 13 percent of the smallest organizations surveyed required a minimum gift from board members. Of those organizations with expenditures of $10 million, only 27% require a minimum gift.

  • Having a board-level development committee increased the chances that an organization met its fundraising goal (63% vs. 52%).

  • When board members were asked to make requests to friends or business associates for financial contributions, those organizations met their goals more frequently than did those that did not ask board members to take these actions.

  • Organizations that participated in this study named 11 different board member engagement methods that they use.

    Those methods ranged from the easy, such as thanking donors or sharing a mailing list, to more taxing activities such as participating in face-to-face meetings with donors, making personal introductions, or hosting small get-togethers for prospective donors.

    The most successful methods typically allowed the nonprofit to expand its list of prospective donors.

  • Larger boards are not necessarily better. This research showed that boards of 30 or more were no more effective, when it comes to fundraising, than smaller boards of 21 to 30.

  • Of those organizations that required minimum donations from board members, the median amount was $1,000. Arts organizations required a median of $2,000 minimum donations, while educational organizations had a median minimum of $2,500.

Overall, successful organizations used an array of ways board members could participate in fundraising and focused on expanding the pool of prospective donors through the existing contacts of their board members. Other research, cited by the NRC, has shown that board member engagement provides credibility for the organization and access to networks and resources.

The researchers suggested these actions for better board engagement:

  • Require a minimum donation from board members. The amount is less important than that everyone gives.
  • Set up a development or fundraising committee made up of board members. Involve the group in planning and monitoring fundraising efforts.
  • Give every board member a fundraising task. Especially important, and something anyone can do, is asking friends and family to donate.

The full study can be found at NonprofitResearchCollaborative.org.

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