Fundraising Systems That May be Getting in Your Way

Fundraising Systems That May be Getting in Your Way

The systems you have in place right now either were created or evolved on their own to support the current status quo. If you want to change the status quo, you’re going to need to change the systems that support it – first.

I’ve been saying those sentences for so long, that they just roll off my tongue now. We want our Board members to play a larger role in raising money for the land trust. So we need to look at the systems we have in place that support Board members NOT raising money – and change them.

These systems either get in the way of productive Board member time spent with donors, or simply don’t exist at all.

  • Recruiting Board members who are not themselves donors.

Board members who were not themselves donors first often don’t understand the importance, urgency, or scale of the land trust’s funding needs. They don’t necessarily see the organization from a donor perspective and often understand that they were asked to serve on the Board for other reasons.

  • Explicit fundraising responsibilities for Board members.

It’s hard to hold someone accountable for something they were not clearly assigned to do.

  • Lack of any kind of system for Board/donor interaction training, mentorship, or practice.

By not providing this level of overt support, the land trust communicates that Board level work with donors is neither important nor even expected.

  • Fundraising planning that is done by donor group or segment, and does not include planning for individual donors.

Board level interaction with donors is the highest and best use of Board member time and energy. Not planning it, and not supporting the implementation of those plans, sends the message that it’s not important.

  • Lack of and resistance to term limits.

The important relationship is between the donor and the organization. It is important that the “face” of the organization to the donor remain consistent up to a point, but the donor also needs to understand that transitions are an important dimension of perpetuity. (Some Board members need help understanding this as well.)

  • Focus on “how many” more often than on “who.”

An organizational event should be evaluated at least as much on “who” was there as on “how many.” A small event with several top donors might be as valuable or even more so than a large event which did not attract major gift prospects.

  • Focus on Board member fundraising activities, like writing notes on appeal letters and making thank you calls, instead of on specific interactions with specific donors.

I’ve seen several organizations develop a list, or menu, of fundraising activity options from which the Board member is asked to choose every year. Land trusts will raise more money, in my opinion, when Board members are focused on planning and implementing strategic interactions with specific donors instead.

  • Overdependence on a single person doing the fundraising.

When all or most of the fundraising is done by a single person, and everyone else more or less becomes observers, the land trust is vulnerable when that person leaves.


If you’re going to change the status quo, you’ll need to challenge these systems and replace them with others.


  • Regularly combing through donor lists, looking for those who might make good board members someday.


  • Assigning specific donors to specific Board members and using available software to track their engagement. Regularly communicating information about these donors (including news of any gift they might make) immediately to their assigned Board member.


  • Regular offerings of Board/donor interaction training, mentorship, and practice.


  • Annual donor cultivation and solicitation planning that is donor specific for the land trust’s most important donors.


  • Regular Board level discussions about specific donors and Board member interactions with them. Landowners relations are a regular topic at Board meetings; why not extend that to major gift prospects?


  • Regular, systematic transfer of power at the Board level – using term limits – so that new people are finding their way to the Board and carrying these donor relationships forward all the time.


  • Communicating “who” will be attending specific events more so than “how many” so Board members have a chance to prioritize their time.


  • Tracking who wrote notes or called whom, and then using that information to make writing and calling assignments next year.


  • Regularly hold Board members and staff accountable for introducing key donors to each other, instead of carrying the entire relationship forward alone.



What systems do you need to implement to change your status quo? What systems are you conscious of needing to change?






Photo by Chris Myers courtesy of




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