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Recruiting with Fundraising in Mind

(Adapted from Zimmerman Lehman's book, Boards That Love Fundraising: A How-To Guide for Your Board.)

An effective recruitment process is vitally important to ensure the strength and comprehensiveness of your board of directors. Any professional recruiter will tell you that, when designing a recruitment strategy, the first thing to do is to identify the required skills and traits. The board nominating committee must take a close look at what is missing from your current board that will help it implement its mission and vision. Someone with fundraising experience should serve on the nominating committee.

When scouting for new members, many boards give first consideration to individuals with expertise in the substantive work of the organization but with few other requisite skills. A small theater company, for example, stocks its board with individuals who have a solid grounding in theater (actors, stage designers, directors) and who can thereupon offer valuable assistance with program planning and oversight. A youth program looks for social workers and teachers; an environmental group considers people already involved in the environmental arena. This strategy is grounded in the understandable desire to gather like-minded people together in support of the organization, and this is all to the good. These board members must, however, be balanced with individuals who can play leading roles in the fundraising effort (and who, of course, are committed to the work of the organization and ready to address other board responsibilities). After all, is it fair to expect an accomplished stage designer to be an expert in fundraising and fiscal management?

Many organizations engage in what we call "anecdotal board recruitment"-that is, current board members encourage their friends and colleagues to join the board without regard to the skills these folks possess, particularly their ability to raise funds.

Many organizations do not make the effort to convince members of the business community to become board members. They think of themselves as doing good, not making money. Yet running a nonprofit organization-be it a school, social service agency, cultural organization, or church-means running a business, though one with a community benefit purpose. Raising funds is critical to the success of every business.

Let us add immediately that every board member, regardless of his or her background, can and should play a role in the fundraising effort. If a youth services agency includes a few young people on the board, they may have the capacity to move a major donor to tears by reciting their stories and showing how the agency turned their lives around. All board members can be fundraisers, but moving into fundraising high gear requires the participation of board members with money, connections, and the determination to ask.

In addition to its other responsibilities, your board must ensure that the organization has sufficient funds to carry out its mission, oversee financial record keeping, guarantee financial accountability, and promote a comprehensive program of public and media relations. We recommend that you recruit individuals from certain professions and walks of life to guarantee the success of your development efforts.

  • Fundraising. People who have served as professional fundraisers or have worked as fundraising volunteers at other organizations are obviously invaluable.
  • Sales. Salespeople make great fundraisers; they know how to make a pitch and close a deal.
  • Other kinds of businesses. Folks in the business world (including small businesses) have skills that are useful to nonprofits, particularly if your organization engages in income-producing endeavors or charges a fee for service.
  • Public relations, marketing, and advertising. If your organization is a well-kept secret, you won't raise much money. Folks with backgrounds in these professions will awaken your community to the importance of your work and will get you on the front page.
  • Law. An estate planning attorney can help jump-start your planned giving effort. Partners at big law firms are also well positioned to ask their colleagues for contributions.
  • Accounting and finance. People from these professions understand sound record keeping, can read financial statements, and appreciate the fine points of budgets and financial plans.
  • And of course, the rich and famous. Individuals who are movers and shakers in your community, be they entertainers, high-powered professionals, or simply people of great wealth, are central to your organization's fundraising.

You should also keep a keen eye on diversity as you develop your board, including gender, race, ethnicity, age, sexual orientation, religion, and physical difference. We feel strongly that nonprofit boards should be as diverse as the communities they serve. Diversity is also essential if your organization is to succeed with fundraising; more and more foundations, for example, fund only organizations that demonstrate diversity. This needs to be more than a token effort.

To ensure fundraising success, prospective board members should understand their responsibilities prior to signing on, which can best be done by giving them a board member job description that includes the necessary fundraising responsibilities. Savy nonprofits now make members sign a contract or commitment agreement to be sure members understand all thier responsibilities. If, for example, a prospect bridles at the idea of giving money and soliciting colleagues for contributions, he or she probablymay not belong on your board. Think of board recruitment as you would if you were filling a top-level position in any organization, and give it the time and focus necessary.

For more information on board members' fundraising responsibilities see, "Boards That Love Fundraising: Specific Responsibilities."

Copyright 2016 Zimmerman Lehman.

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Copyright © 2005, Zimmerman Lehman