nonprofit board fundraising

Get 100% of board members to give at a passionate level.

This should be your pre-eminent goal as you enter into year-end fundraising season –the time of year when most folks feel peak generosity.

However, just feeling in a giving mood won’t necessarily translate to philanthropy. Most significantly, it won’t necessarily translate into philanthropic gifts to your organization.

Because, humans are a “monkey see, monkey do” species. We look to others to see what they’re doing. It’s a way to minimize risk, and is the principle behind Yelp and word of mouth. Robert Cialdini famously termed it the persuasion principle of “social proof,” and it acts as a decision-making shortcut.

Because… where leaders lead, others follow.

If you can get your board members to lead by example, you’re in an excellent position to do everything else you must do to have a successful campaign.

Begin By Getting Board in Touch with Their Passion

Passion is key.

If board are not passionate about your mission, why on earth should anyone else really care? So take some time to connect/reconnect board members to the reasons they became involved with your cause.

This is a fundamental pre-condition to getting your board to give and get.

TIP: I recommend scheduling some time at your next board meeting to have board members share their passion with each other. Out loud. With the full group, or one to one. If your board is small, simply go around the table and have each board member tell their own story. If your board is larger, pair folks up and have them tell their story to each other. You can actually pair folks up two to three times, in different couplings, so folks get to (1) hear more than one story and (2) tell their own story more than once. The combination of hearing and telling solidifies their values and renews their commitment – making them ready to act on their passion!

Passion is a Strong, Barely Controllable Emotion

Don’t make the mistake of equating passionate giving with major giving.

Not everyone on your board will be capable of giving at your major gift level. However, they can and should make a gift that is passionate for them. A stretch gift. An emotional gift.

Too often boards give up on the notion of 100% giving because they think they have “community boards” as opposed to “fundraising boards.”  

TIP: Whatever you call your board, all boards should be “giving boards.” Everyone can afford something. The something they give to your cause, if they sit on your board, should be among the highest philanthropic gifts they make anywhere.

Organize a Board Giving Campaign

If you want folks to act passionately, you must ask them passionately.

You can’t just mention to folks they should give, and then sit by the phone or mailbox wishing and hoping. If you do this, trust me, you’ll have board members who think they can “get away with” not giving at all or simply making a token gift. [Note: Board members who do this generally don’t think they’re being ungenerous; they justify their actions by telling themselves their volunteer service is their gift – and, really, it’s so much more valuable than money].

To get more board members to give — not just thoughtfully, but passionately — you need to shine a light on the subject.

You need to make it feel essential to their board service. Not just in the sense of “important,” but also as being a true reflection of their being. Their essence. When board members give passionately, they’re screaming to themselves and others: “I am a [name of your organization] evangelist!

TIP: Just like you do with any other fundraising campaign, formalize your board giving campaign using a written plan with goals, objectives and strategies.

  • Encourage 100% board participation.
  • Set an overall goal for board giving.
  • Suggest expected and appropriate contribution levels for each member.
  • Meet personally with each board member to elicit their most passionate gift.
  • Set a deadline for receiving board giving commitments.

Recruit a Board Giving Advocate & Champion

It’s not always easy as a staff member to persuade the board to do anything.

Because folks naturally look to, and are guided by, their peers.

But don’t give up!

Even though it’s difficult, it’s your job to guide your board to assume their natural leadership role. You see, most board members have no real idea what their role is. It’s not something we’re born knowing, and it’s not something (sadly) most board members are taught.

So begin not only by getting board members in touch with their passions (a key portion of donor engagement), but by getting one or two leaders (e.g., the president and/or development committee chair) to help you persuade the entire group to get on board with what I call the “passion triad” – (1) connect with your passion; (2) act on your passion; (3) ask others to join you in your passion.

Remind these board leaders there’s a science to persuasion and the best board giving campaigns use many of the key principles of persuasion in Influence, by Robert Cialdini. These include ‘liking,’ ‘authority,’ ‘social proof’ and “commitment and consistency.’

TIP: Board members will give to other board members they like, especially if they are perceived as authorities. They will give to their peers in order to be perceived as fitting in. And once they’ve committed, they will be more likely to follow through. Get key advocates on board with the notion that all board members should make a considered gift that demonstrates:

  1. Passion for your cause, and
  2. Commitment to their role as a board leader.

Coach Leaders to Spotlight Board Giving on the Board Agenda

If part, or all, of your work would cease to exist absent philanthropy, then philanthropy must be on your agenda.

At every meeting.

If this is not currently your practice, coach your board president and/or other key advocate to talk about the reason why the board needs to become actively invested in fundraising – giving and getting – at an upcoming board meeting.

TIP: Endeavor to hold this meeting prior to the meeting where you kick off your campaign. Also talk about the proposed financial goal and timeline, and have your board vote on this to establish their buy-in to both the campaign and the goal (you may want to do this first in an executive committee session to get your key leaders invested). Encourage your board president and executive director to schedule a time for the board to collectively engage in fundraising training (I actually prefer to reframe these sessions as “Inspiring Philanthropy” workshops that help folks become more comfortable with their leadership role in facilitating philanthropy to assure adequate financing to move the mission forward. Generally, the key here is to share lots and lots of inspiring stories).

Make Personal Asks of All Board Members

Before you can expect folks to give, and ask others to join them in their giving, you have to show them how it’s done.

Role modeling is key.

Only after board members have made a commitment about which they feel proud will they be able to effectively ask others for generous support.

TIP: Have the board president ask other officers and the development committee chair to help make personal, face-to-face asks of all board members. Have the executive director or another officer make the personal ask of the board president. Remember your principles of influence: people will respond most favorably to those they like, perceive as authorities or consider as peers. It’s worth taking the time to show your board members how much you value their commitment. They deserve more than a group ask at a meeting, an email appeal or even just a letter. Talk to them!

Create Board Giving Momentum

Hold board members’ feet to the fire.

You’re going for two things:

  1. Get board members who have assigned calls to make their asks of other board members.
  2. Get board members who haven’t yet pledged to make their personal commitment.

For board solicitors, don’t accept an unconcerned “I’ll certainly get to my calls by the end of the month.” You need them to make their calls now, because board members who haven’t yet committed can’t effectively solicit other donors for gifts. And you’re going to want them to help with donor meetings, calls or, and the very least, written personal notes on appeal letters.

For board solicitees, coach your askers not to accept a dismissive “I’ll definitely give before the end of the year.” Make sure your answer is not simply “okay,” but “Great! I’ll give you a call next week when you’ve had time to consider your pledge. As you know, we’re going for 100% commitment so we can report this back to our funders and other donors. Others in the community look to see what the board is doing to make their own giving decisions. So your commitment has a ripple effect!”

Building momentum is especially important during your year-end giving campaign, because this is make or break time. Be sure to schedule campaign reporting and follow-up on every single board meeting agenda. Don’t give names, assign blame or try to shame folks. This negative re-enforcement doesn’t work well. Keep things upbeat and positive, giving the message you assume those who’ve not yet committed have just been too busy.


  • Create a deadline for board commitments (this is super important if you want your board members to go on and ask other donors for their commitments).
  • Send emailed progress reports during the heated part of the campaign.
  • Announce the results of the board campaign (#s of gifts; % participation and $$ raised to-date), and encourage those who’ve not yet committed to do so.
  • Have board leaders make follow-up calls to any slow pokes.

Achieve 100% Passionate Board Giving

Be sure to include this in your written board member job description.

If you have a minimum gift expectation, include that as well. If you don’t, still provide some guidance about the level of expected philanthropy (e.g., “make ours your top philanthropic priority” or “Make us one of your top three philanthropic priorities” or “Give at one of our leadership giving levels”).

The real bottom line here is to make a shift from pussyfooting around the subject of fundraising to embracing it warmly. The first attitude comes from a place of fear and loathing — and our deep cultural antipathy towards the subject of money. It’s not about money. It’s about what’s in your board members’ hearts.

Come from a place of love, remembering that the word philanthropy translates to “love of humankind.”  

year-end fundraising

Claire Axelrad

Claire Axelrad

Fundraising Coach at Bloomerang
Claire Axelrad, J.D., CFRE is a fundraising visionary with 30+ years frontline development work helping organizations raise millions in support. Her award-winning blog showcases her practical approach, which earned her the AFP “Outstanding Fundraising Professional of the Year” award. Claire runs “Clairification School” online, teaches the CFRE course that certifies professional fundraisers, and is a regular contributor to Guidestar, NonProfit PRO and Maximize Social Business.