Instead of focusing only on how board members can raise individual donations (or not!), think more broadly (and effectively) about how board members can support the key aspects of your nonprofit revenue strategy:
In the quest for funds, there is no shortage of advice given to nonprofits. Start a social enterprise! Get corporate donations! Raffle a house! Perhaps the most frequent and consistent advice: focus the board on getting major gifts; in fact, recruit a strong fundraising board that can get major gifts.
But pursuing a new funding stream for which you may not have the right people and competencies already is usually not the best place to start. Instead, we recommend that you see how you can boost and leverage the funding streams and people you already have in place.
Let’s imagine a community center with five areas of activity:
- An after-school tutoring program
- Memberships from neighborhood residents
- Facility rentals (to basketball teams, Girl Scouts, etc.)
- Annual Neighborhood Congress Day
- Organizing neighbors on issues such as zoning, traffic, police presence, economic development, housing
Then let's see how each of these programs is funded:
Board members will appreciate such a chart, and it leads naturally to focusing on the largest revenue sources. But we also have to consider which are the most important programs for the community center. The board and management team can discuss:
- Which programs add the greatest value to our neighborhood?
- What do we need to do to maintain our largest revenue sources?
- What do we need to do to grow the type of revenue that will support our most important programs?
In this community center, the answers are:
- The Neighborhood Congress and community organizing are the heart of the organization—we are a neighborhood council first and foremost.
- But in terms of financial support, we are a tutoring center.
- We need to have connections to government funders and foundations as these are our biggest funding sources.
- As a neighborhood council, memberships and small business sponsorships are important ways to stay close to our constituents.
Organizing the board around the business strategy, then, means something like this:
- We need two board members who can and will work proactively to stay in touch with government officials (both elected and administrative) and work to keep our county funding.
- We need two board members to help with foundation fundraising — whether making introductions, writing proposals, or joining staff in meetings with foundation representatives. We will try to get foundation funding for neighborhood issues, but also realize that sometimes it won't happen.
- We need two board members who can and will actively recruit members and local merchant sponsors.
Each pair can then develop a workplan for the year. For example, one board member might agree to set up a lunch for herself with the executive director, a city council member, and someone from the Mayor's Office to tour the neighborhood. Another might say he will stop into one local merchant each month to talk about the Center.
This modest process can result in board members who are capable of supporting the key elements of revenue strategy, and, just as important, are organized to do so. In addition, it provides a platform where board members of all economic means can contribute meaningfully to the organization's finances.
Rather than a vague and intimidating dictum like "every board member has to raise money," this approach focuses on the organization's real-life revenue streams and mobilizes board members in support of a strategy for sustainability.
Jan Masaoka is Editor of Blue Avocado, and CEO of the California Association of Nonprofits. She authored The Best of Board Cafe: Hands on Solutions for Nonprofit Boards (Fieldstone) and The Nonprofit's Guide to Human Resource Management (Nolo).