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Top 3 Board Member Excuses Not to Give

“Why don’t my board members help more with fundraising?”  We get asked this question almost daily at BoardAssist.  For some guidance on how to answer this question and better engage your board with fundraising, we turned to fundraising pro Amy Eisenstein for advice.  Thanks Amy for a terrific guest post.  

Top 3 Board Member Excuses Not to Give

Whether I am working with a client or speaking at a conference, the most common complaint I hear every day from nonprofit executive directors and development professionals is that their board members are not helping with fundraising. My first reaction is to ask, why not?

To answer the question, “Why don’t my board members help with fundraising?” ask yourself the following questions:

1. Do they give?

Do all of your board members give to your annual operating fund? In other words, do you have one hundred percent participation? Sadly, many executive directors and development professionals struggle with the fundamental issue of how to get all of their board members to contribute each year.

The first mistake made by many nonprofit organizations is that they don’t have formal board member expectations or job descriptions. Therefore, board members are recruited with no real understanding of what they are expected to do. Do you have written board expectations? Do they include making a personal donation to the organization and helping with fundraising?

The second mistake is that many organizations don’t have a formal asking process for their board members. Board members may receive the same appeal letters or phone calls that all other donors and supporters receive, but are not solicited personally and individually. Sound familiar? Do you have a process to ask each board member for their gift, or are they asked as a group or by mail?

Both of these mistakes have simple fixes for your organization.

First, create written board member expectations. Great examples can be found on many board governance websites.

Second, implement a plan to ask each board member for their gift individually. If you would like help creating this plan, I offer nonprofit consulting services and I’d be happy to discuss it with you.

The reason that I asked if they give first, is that if they don’t personally give to your organization, then they can’t ask others for money and help you fundraise. How can they ask others to invest in a cause that they’re not willing to invest in themself?

2. Have you asked them?

Many board members don’t help with fundraising because they haven’t been asked. I’ve spoken with development staff who say, “they know we need them to help” but when it comes down to it, board members haven’t been formally asked to help or been given specific tasks.

If you want board members to help with fundraising, make sure you are providing them with specific tasks and instructions. For example, if you want them to make a phone call – provide them with the name and contact information, but also with talking points, donors history, etc.

3. Have you trained them?

Most board members are not professional fundraisers and many even hate the idea of fundraising. If you expect them to help, you will need to provide them with formal, ongoing training. In order to turn your board from a “governance only” board into a “fundraising machine”, you will want to invest time and resources in an annual fundraising retreat, plus regular mini trainings at each board meeting. It is not enough to train them annually and then assume they will retain what was said. They will need ongoing training and encouragement. You can provide the training internally or hire a consultant. Alternately, do a swap with a development professional in your area, so each board gets trained by an outsider for free.

If you answered “no” to the above questions, then you know the answer to why your board members don’t give or help fundraise.

It’s critical for your board members to give first, before they can even consider asking others.

So how can you get your board members to give? Below are the top 3 excuses board members use for not giving:

1. I give my time (therefore I don’t have to give money).

To me, this excuse is the worst of all. Board members are the closest people to your organization, other than staff. They should be passionate about your mission, have a deep understanding of your programs and services, and have intimate knowledge of your budget and needs. Therefore, they should be the first in line to give.

Many of the most generous donors to philanthropic causes are also actively involved and engaged with the organizations that they give to. If your board members are the closest people to your organization and still don’t feel compelled to give, then you probably haven’t done your job.

In addition, if board members aren’t moved to give, then why should anyone else? Board members who don’t give are damaging your opportunity to fundraise from others.

2. Our board members are teachers/ direct care workers – they don’t have any money.

(Likewise, our board members are our clients – they don’t have any money.)

These are excuses I hear from staff members, generally not from board members. My response is that everyone can give something, even if it’s only a dollar. If you have a client representative on your board, then that’s a fine contribution from that individual. However, there’s generally no reason to have more than one client on your board as a representative of that population. And, if it’s true that your board is filled with teachers and social workers, then your board is not professionally diverse and you will want to work on that issue as well. If you’ve filled your board with people who don’t have the capacity to make any sort of meaningful gifts, then activate your board nominating committee and work on getting new faces on your board – some with deep pockets, if possible!

3. Nobody asked me.

Need I say more?

How many of the above apply to your board? What are you doing or going to do to turn it around?


Amy Eisenstein is one of the country’s leading fundraising consultants. She’s raised millions of dollars for dozens of nonprofits through event planning, grant writing, capital campaigns, and major gift solicitations. She has a real talent for making fundraising simple and accessible for her clients and followers.  This post originally appeared on Amy’s blog and is reproduced here with her permission.  Amy can be reached through her website at