build your board

“A good Board is a victory, not a gift.”

– Cyril Houle, Governing Boards     

Good boards, like victories, rarely come together by chance. Rather, they are the product of shared commitment to the mission (and to each other), thoughtful planning, and critical processes. Among their many responsibilities, board members are charged with ensuring the organization has the resources necessary to accomplish the mission. For many board members, fundraising is the broccoli in their entree of responsibilities — that part of the meal we know is good for us, but we would just as soon avoid (apologies to all the broccoli fans).  

The good news is it doesn’t have to be that way. It is possible for even the most reluctant boards to develop a team culture that embraces fundraising as an essential ingredient in mission success. Here are a few key steps to help transform your board into a championship fundraising team:

  1. Train like a champion.

Fundamental to the success of board members in fundraising is a solid understanding of the basics. For too many individuals, reluctance to participate in cultivation or stewardship activities is rooted in a lack of familiarity with critical elements of the organization. Orientation and training programs for board members must go beyond mission and vision to include discussion of the vital community need being addressed, the gap that would exist if the organization ceased to exist, basic fund development skills, and stories of success.     

  1.  Envision… and define… victory together.  

One of the most frequent sources of conflict between and among nonprofit board members and Chief Executives stems from divergent understandings of what constitutes fundraising success for the organization. Is it a particular dollar amount? Growth in number of donors? Retention? We won’t even discuss the overhead myth here. Championship boards share a common understanding of fundraising success because they helped define it together as a team.  They can all verbalize it. It is their north star when it comes to this board responsibility and they know how close to or far away from victory they are at any given time. Leonardo Da Vinci said, “The noblest pleasure is the joy of understanding.”  

  1.  Learn the strengths of your team.  

A team is a group of individuals with complementary skills who come together for a common purpose. It’s important to remember that board members bring varied skills and talents to their fundraising role. I often ask board members to complete a brief fundraising culture assessment. This allows them to self-identify their fundraising talents and provide tangible information as to which tasks they are willing to complete. Just as importantly, it expands the vision of fundraising beyond simply soliciting money, while providing a snapshot of the current board team’s fundraising confidence and potential.

  1.  Put team members in position to succeed.

Equipped with the assessment results, board leaders honor that feedback by putting members in position to succeed. What does this mean? Every board member should have a role somewhere in the fund development cycle, but that doesn’t mean every board member has to be an “asker.”  In volleyball, the thunderous spike draws most of the applause. However, that spike never occurs if another team member didn’t begin the point with an effective serve, and another teammate wasn’t positioned effectively to set up the spike. Nonprofit board fundraising is no different. Use the unique skills of team members to discern where in the cycle of cultivation, solicitation, and stewardship that board member is most likely to be successful.

  1.  Celebrate the journey.  

The temptation exists to resist celebrating until the ball crosses the goal line and victory is secured. While this might be wise advice in some arenas, it doesn’t work in board fundraising. Championship boards celebrate progress, which includes the ups and the downs of the journey. They are a team after all and there is tremendous value in the support and encouragement from their board peers and organizational leaders. Intentionally seek out opportunities to recognize board members for their efforts in fundraising throughout the year and highlight the stories of progress that inject humor, positivity, and mutual support into the board room.  


Highly effective boards create a culture of philanthropy throughout the organization, fueled by the profound impact of the mission, compelling nature of the vision, and commitment to the values. It requires a team approach, with thought and intentionality at each step along the journey. By equipping board members with vital information, establishing a common definition of success, assessing and utilizing strengths, and celebrating progress, your board can be the champions who propel the organization toward mission success.   

As part of Bloomerang’s Content Donation Program, $100 was donated to Alley Cat Advocates.

year-end fundraising

Gregory Nielsen
Gregory Nielsen, President and CEO of Nielsen Training & Consulting, is an experienced nonprofit CEO and consultant committed to helping leaders and organizations excel. Gregory has earned the prestigious BoardSource Certificate in Nonprofit Board Consulting. He is also a frequent speaker on nonprofit leadership and governance and hosts the podcast “Nonprofit Vision.”