Main Body

Chapter 5: The Board’s Role in Fundraising


Effectively performing the board’s role in fundraising is one of the most common challenges reported by both board members and those with whom they have relationships. Dissatisfaction in this area comes in three forms:

  1. A lack of clarity about the board’s role in fundraising relative to that of paid staff and/or professional fundraisers.
  2. A feeling of dissatisfaction with the board’s activities related to fundraising.
  3. Individual board member reluctance or lack of knowledge about how to engage in fundraising.

High levels of agreement with the following statements indicate challenges in this area:

  • The board seems confused about its role in fundraising for the organization.
  • The board has not approved an overall strategy for fundraising.
  • The board has problems engaging in actual fundraising activities.


The main reasons for dissatisfaction with the board’s role in fundraising are:

  • Criteria used (formally or informally) in selecting board members do not include checking for a prospective recruit’s willingness to help with fundraising or experience with this activity.
  • Potential board nominees are not informed beforehand regarding expectations of board members in the fundraising area.
  • Differing expectations exist between the board’s understanding of what its role in fundraising should be and those held by the CEO and/or professional fundraising staff.
  • Orientation and training of new board members does not include coverage of the board’s role in fundraising.
  • There is a lack of a clear overall fundraising strategy for the organization and/or a clear structure indicating who is responsible for what in implementing the fundraising plan.
  • There is lack of awareness of the range of roles and responsibilities that board members may play in fundraising.
  • There is a lack of leadership within the board that helps members accept a more active role in fundraising activities.


The first step in optimizing the board’s contribution to the generation of financial resources for the organization is to understand the full range of roles and responsibilities it could undertake. Table 4 illustrates the potential board roles and responsibilities in fundraising.

Table 4: Board Roles and Responsibilities in Fundraising





Individual Board Member

Approve strategy developed by others




Participate in developing strategy




Help implement strategy




Oversee implementation of strategy




It can be seen from Table 4 that there that there are three possible roles for board member involvement:

  1. As part of the board acting as a whole in the same way it does during official board meetings.
  2. As part of a special fundraising committee containing board members. Note: It is important to understand that fundraising committees do not have to be committees of the board and, if they are, they can contain some members who are not board members. Such committees should normally only help develop plans and policies to recommend to others for approval or assist in actually implementing fundraising activities.
  3. As an individual acting alone, for example as one does when making a donation to the organization or visiting a potential donor.

Down the left hand side of Table 4, it can also be seen that there are four possible levels of responsibility that can be taken up by the board:

  1. Responsibility for reviewing and approving fundraising strategies, plans and policies developed by others such as fundraising professionals, a fundraising committee, etc. This is usually done at official meetings of the board as a whole.
  2. Becoming involved in the creation of fundraising strategies, plans and policies, often within a fundraising committee.
  3. Once plans are in place, there is the hard work of actually raising the money—holding special events, soliciting corporate sponsorships, applying for grants, running mail campaigns, asking potential big donors for support or just giving fundraisers contacts to approach. Insofar as these tasks involve the board (as they might in the case of a working board for example), they would usually be carried out through a fundraising committee or by individual board members volunteering their time.
  4. Finally, there is the job of developing systems for obtaining valid data on how effective fundraising activities are, tracking the results—receiving and reviewing reports and suggesting changes if needed. This responsibility is often the job of a board fundraising committee but could, in some circumstances, be carried out by the board as a whole.

It is important to understand that there is no “one best way” when it comes to the board’s involvement in fundraising. The content in each of the boxes in Table 4 represents common practice and should not be taken as the way it ought to be in all cases. Each organization must decide for itself which responsibilities should be carried out by whom and at what level—that of the board as a whole, a committee or the individual board member. Where the board belongs on the fundraising involvement continuum depends greatly on a few factors:

  • The ability of the organization to employ professional fundraisers. Such people are experts in developing plans and leading teams who will implement them. Small, new and low budget nonprofits can rarely afford this kind of support so the work has to be undertaken by volunteers and staff usually working in a committee structure. Board members can sit on committees and contribute as individuals.
  • The level of commitment and experience/knowledge about fundraising among board members.
  • The availability and expertise of other volunteers, external supporters and potential partners who could provide assistance in this area.

Once it is decided who should play what roles in doing what, the next job is making sure everyone is capable of performing those roles. In the case of fundraising, this can involve making the following changes:

  • Developing criteria for the kind of person you want to recruit to your board so as to increase fundraising competency. If members will be expected to play a role other than general oversight, they should be ready and willing to do so. Note: It is not necessary for all board members to be fundraising whizzes but, if you want involvement, some should be.
  • Provide training and development. Much of fundraising consists of learnable skills. Orientation and training for board members should address them.
  • If the analysis of possible roles carried out in Table 4 reveals that a committee should be involved, be careful and thorough in defining its terms of reference so it does not tread on the toes of fundraising staff or take over the job of the board as a whole which is responsible for policy decisions made in this area of board responsibility.

For further information on the board’s role in fundraising, see the useful websites in Table 5.

Table 5: Additional Resources on the Board’s Role in Fundraising



Source Website

The Board’s Role in Fundraising


Nonprofit Research Collaborative

Georgia Center for Nonprofits

Streamlink Software

Zimmerman Lehman, Consultants

Guidestar: Five fundraising mistakes we make with our boards

Guidestar: Myths and realities of board members and fundraising

Guidestar: Preparing your board members for fundraising

Guidestar: Four steps to take board members from fear of fundraising to enthusiasm



Fundraising Fundamentals


Andrew Olsen

National Council of Nonprofits

North Carolina Center for Nonprofits

Ter Molen Watkins and Bandt

U.S.A and Canada


Redbird Communications


KnowHow NonProfit