9 Tips for Recruiting a Fundraising Board

Fundraising Boards are the Work of Strategy Not Luck

No one joins a board because it is a great opportunity to raise funds. People join for a myriad of reasons—from a love of your mission, simply being asked by a friend, or having their arm twisted by an employer. Regardless of the motivation for service, a board member is different from other volunteers. A board member is morally, legally, and fiscally responsible to carry out the mission of your organization, which means that making sure there are adequate resources is part of the job. Not everyone understands this before taking on the responsibility of being a board member. To get the right people in your boardroom, you need a recruiting plan that both clarifies these potential misunderstandings and targets the individuals who will best help you achieve your goals. Competition for funds and talent are greater than ever. Here are nine tips to recruit the board you need:

  1. Start with a clear fundraising strategy and recruit board members who coincide with your plan. If you plan to raise money from a tax levy, recruit members with political clout. If your plan depends on major gifts, look for members who have affluence and influence. If you have a special events strategy, include people who are gifted party givers with large groups of friends.
  2. Have a letter of commitment that outlines financial expectations, meeting dates/times, and what you expect from board members in terms of attendance and participation in signature events. Some boards expect a specific gift amount, others ask for “a generous gift” or “a meaningful gift.” Whichever it is, be clear about what you expect. If you have a yearly event such as a golf outing or a gala and expect your board members to bring a foursome or purchase a table, include that in your letter of commitment. If you find potential members who cannot attend meetings, look for another place in your organization that best fits their availability and talents. They can chair a gala or a strategic plan or a committee. Board members show up at board meetings. Finally, you might want to ask for a planned gift in your letter of commitment.
  3. Choose your nominating committee wisely. The people who serve on your nominating committee should be people who are “connectors.” They should be the kind of people to whom others go to find out about what is going on. In small towns, they might be called “The Pot-Bellied Six,” in Jewish communities, “The Yentas.” Every group has them. And here is the surprise: they don’t need to be on your board. You can have people who love your garden serve on your nominating committee—these may be snowbirds, major donors, or those who are overextended elsewhere and may not have time to commit to your organization but will introduce you to their friends and colleagues who may be perfect for your board.
  4. Never be afraid to cold call a community leader. Lead with their skills, not your needs. They will never be insulted. The call will go something like this, “I am on the board of XYZ Garden. I have been following what you have done for the Junior League and am wondering whether you would have coffee with me to discuss becoming involved with the Garden.”
  5. Create a list of potential board members and keep it going all year. Sometimes it takes years to get people on your board, especially those with high profiles. Invite them to events, and steward them. If they are on another organization’s board, find out how long their term is. Ask them, “Are you interested, but not now, or are you not interested at all?”
  6. Recruit a diverse board. Diversity means both skills and demographics. You don’t need eight botanists or nine educators. You could have committees of eight botanists or nine educators with one of each on your board. Be aware that the more diverse your board is, more team building is required, more time will be needed for them to bond, and decision making will be slower. Ultimately, they will make better decisions.
  7. Do not make deals. If you have someone who cannot come to meetings or meet the minimum requirements to be on your board, then that person should not be a board member. That person could be on a committee or serve as a volunteer. If a longtime board member can no longer meet your expectations, you might consider making them an ex officio board member. You need 100 percent of the board actively involved. It is both an honor and a responsibility to serve.
  8. Promise and deliver on fundraising training. You wouldn’t let an untrained volunteer loose with a hoe in your garden. Don’t let an untrained board member loose on the public to solicit funds on behalf of your garden. You have recruited people who are experts in their fields—accounting, banking, law, strategic planning, and education—who care about your garden. That doesn’t mean they know anything about fundraising. Teach them.
  9. Clearly define fundraising. Fundraising is a process and not an event. Fundraising is not asking for money. It is the process of identifying potential donors, cultivating them, asking for funds, and stewarding them. Board members can be involved at any step in the process. Some people are great at asking. Some folks are terrific at bringing people to your garden. One size does not fit all.

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