Board Members Role in Fundraising – Maybe Not Asking

Board Members Role in Fundraising – Maybe Not Asking


23 May 2023


By David Allen, Development for Conservation


All Board members need to be involved in fundraising. Not all Board members need to be involved in asking. Perhaps as much as 90% of fundraising is building relationships with donors – without asking.

Pretty words that are arguably not true for many organizations.


The truth is: that’s the way it should be.

The truth is: these organizations would be stronger and more resilient – and would raise more money! – if it were true.

The truth is: many organizations don’t even think of donors until it’s time to ask for money. Thanks for your support of OUR work. Please give. Then leave us alone so we can get back to doing OUR work.

No wonder Board members find this distasteful.

Time to change the paradigm.


How can Board members get more involved? One answer for some is to open up their contact lists.

Welcome to the Board. Now hand over your mailing list so we can send solicitation mail to everyone you know.


How do you spell Dead on Arrival?

As an alternative, why not ask new Board members to review a list of all current donors, looking for people who they already know? Who also appear in their contact list?

An important concept in fundraising is that of “access.” Access in fundraising means that if you send someone an email or leave a voice message, it will be returned. Each of us has a circle of friends, family, business colleagues, and so on that we have “access” to. We bring that access along with us to our jobs and volunteer activities. However, that access isn’t automatically transfered to the organization; it needs to be exercised by the person it belongs to.

Organizational access is represented to a large degree by the collective sum of the access the staff and Board members have. Consider this as another rationale for having a Board that is as diverse as possible.

When we recruit from our existing circles of friends, these new Board members often have “access” to the same people we do. The opportunity to grow organizational access is lost. On the other hand, when new directors come to the board adding substantially new access – access into parts of our communities that we have been unable to reach with our current contact lists – our organizational access gets larger and becomes measurably stronger.


Access can be abused, of course, and eventually lost completely. Relationships can be squandered, bridges burned. And they can take years or even decades to restore. Furthermore, access is not automatically transferred to the organization. I have met many otherwise successful organizations that are ultimately vulnerable because the collective organizational access is really controlled by one person – usually a founder or an Executive Director who has been in place for a long time. When that person leaves, access to those donors could leave as well.

Conversely, organizational access can also be cultivated and developed. It can grow and flourish. Relationships can be cultivated over time, by encouraging Board members to write thank you notes to people they know and to write “lift notes” on appeal letters to the same donors year after year. And introducing people you know to other organizational leaders is an important cultivation strategy.

So an important aspect of “access” is that it grows and flourishes by sharing. The person with access openly shares it with other staff and/or Board members.


As a general rule, Board members will collectively have greater access to donors than staff. They are “peers”. (The Executive Director may be an exception to this rule and often has access equal to or even greater than other directors.) In seeking to raise money in ever larger amounts from high-capacity prospects, staff can get frustrated that they cannot get an appointment, or sometimes even a return call. They don’t have sufficient “access.”

This can lead to an unfortunate negative spiral: fundraising staff who understand their job is to raise money see their inability to gain access to donors as a sign of professional weakness. Consequently they are slow to ask for help.

Meanwhile Board members are equally slow to offer help. Some did not have a clear expectation that they would help raise money, but rather see their jobs as helping spend the money wisely. Others may be reluctant to exercise the access they enjoy to address the needs of the organization.

Staff members begin to spend more and more time protecting their jobs. Directors grow increasingly frustrated that staff members aren’t getting the job done. Eventually staff find greener pastures or are dismissed.


Both groups need to change their paradigm. Board directors need to accept fundraising – building relationships with donors – as their job and hold each other collectively accountable for using the access they have to getting it done. Development staff need to take advantage of the access that opens up for them, but to otherwise see their job as facilitating the work of the directors and helping them to cultivate and develop the donors to whom they have access toward the highest organizational benefit. The Executive Director can and must do both.


For more information on ways to think about Board members cultivating donors, see The Triple “A” Board from a year ago.


Cheers, and have a great week!




PS: Your comments on these posts are welcomed and warmly requested. If you have not posted a comment before, or if you are using a new email address, please know that there may be a delay in seeing your posted comment. That’s my SPAM defense at work. I approve all comments as soon as I am able during the day.


Photo by FOCA Stock, courtesy



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