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The Role of Nonprofit Board Members in Donor Stewardship

Create a comprehensive donor stewardship program that involves your board and creates lasting relationships with your supporters.
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You’ve built an amazing nonprofit board for your organization, packed with influential movers and shakers, but there’s still a problem: The dollars aren’t coming in.

A strong donor stewardship program involves more than recruiting; it’s part of a longer-term strategy that encourages and facilitates giving among key players. A solid program will involve and motivate your board while creating lasting relationships with supporters.

Creating a successful board that fosters donor relationships involves clear roles, a fundraising plan, and making members feel like they are part of the process and mission. If your board members aren’t helping raise the donor base in the way you’d hoped, it’s not too late to create a new strategy and get it off the ground.

What is a Board Member’s Role in Fundraising?

The role of a board member can be a little different for every organization. It is common for board members to play a role in fundraising.

The challenge is often that board members don’t fully understand this responsibility before taking on the role. You can help them get comfortable in a position of asking for money – it may be new to them – and recruiting supporters.

It’s a good idea to have an orientation for all new board members – or for the full board – at the start of each year to outline goals and expectations when it comes to fundraising. This can help lay the foundation for success.

FiredUp Fundraising developed a list of six powerful roles for board members in major gift fundraising that can help you shape your idea of engagement.

Board members can help you:

  • Identify other potential donors, particularly major donors within their networks
  • Host or attend fundraising events on behalf of your organization
  • Serve as a liaison between major donors and the nonprofit team to ensure that everyone feels involved
  • Work as a point of contact for asks when the time comes
  • Make phone calls, write letters or emails, and help thank donors for gifts with a more personal touch
  • Help donors understand the impact of their donations by connecting gifts to goals or the greater mission of your organization

What’s important about each of these roles is that they help expand the reach of your organization as a whole. Board members can be your greatest brand ambassadors and champions.

A board that’s made of influential community members can help bring in new donors and create a larger connection between their networks and your organization.

When it comes to fundraising as a whole, only your organization can outline what you expect from board members. If you set the stage for donor stewardship as part of the job, you’ll likely recruit more board members who want to push fundraising efforts and help solicit funding.

That’s not a natural or easy role for everyone. Making it clear from the start that your board does play a role in that space can help you and board members establish a strong relationship as well as push fundraising forward.

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The Do’s and Don’ts of Board Engagement

Knowing you want to engage board members to be better donor stewards is one thing. Doing it is another.

Establishing the right connection with board members so that they want to raise money and connect your organization and their networks takes cultivation.

Do ask board members about their interest in fundraising. It can be uncomfortable asking for money; give board members the tools to make it easy. This could include helping them pick programs that are important to them or offering a tip sheet with potential ask scenarios.

Don’t be pushy about it. Give each board member time to figure out a personal plan for success.

Do set goals for board members. Consider grouping them in a team or giving circle to push fundraising forward without relying so heavily on individual efforts.

Don’t give anyone a pass. If fundraising is an expectation of the board, everyone should carry their weight. Develop a plan for board members with levels of donor success that include everything from personal donations to total gifts from their referral network to number of new donors or increased participation from those already on the donor list.

Do share information with board members about programs, changes within the organization, successes, and challenges. Make them feel like a partner in the organization, not just someone who writes checks.

Don’t tell board members who to contact or how to solicit funds. Give them all the tools and opportunities they need to do it on their own. Create packets – physically or digitally – that give every board member access to your mission and goals, fundraising letters, social media channels, online donation forms, and elements that they can share.

Do give top fundraisers a voice. When board seats open up, go to these individuals and ask them if they want to be more involved. Working with top givers from the start can help establish a culture of giving on the board where members help push each other to be better stewards for your organization.

Don’t forget to give board member fundraisers the recognition they deserve. Honor them on donor rolls, a board membership page on your website, or through personal stories or testimonials about why they believe in – and donate to – your organization.

Create Your Donor Stewardship Plan

The best donor stewardship plan isn’t rooted in individual donations. While donations are important, the bigger goal is to empower board members to create relationships that connect more people to your organization.

More connections will result in more donations over the long term.

Help board members shape their roles so that everyone buys into the overall mission. Active participation should be a measure of success.

Then provide the tools board members need to share your organization with their networks.

Your donor stewardship plan includes goals, research and information, donor tools, and a feedback loop for board members to continue to evolve the program.

Goals may change annually as board membership changes, but the big-picture mission never changes. Each board should have an overarching, and collective fundraising goal. This goal can be in dollars, number of donors, or any other piece of data that works for your team. Institute a method for reporting and data collection with milestones to showcase success.

Arm board members with all the research and information they need to make valuable asks. This can include historical information with analytics about who made donations and when. That can help establish a why, to better understand the donor relationship and make the fundraising ask more effective.

Give board members tools to facilitate giving. Connect those tools to incentives or individual strengths. Some board members might be more suited for helping solidify existing donor relationships or write letters of thanks while others are better at lead generation or helping turn prospects into donors.

Schedule regular checkups and meetings with the board to ensure they have everything they need from the internal organizational team. Listen to their concerns and use what they say as opportunities to improve processes, the donation experience, or community-building efforts.

A board that’s involved in the strategic plan of a nonprofit organization will feel more tied to the mission, making it easier for them to help elevate your fundraising efforts.

Maintain Healthy Donor Relationships Year Round

Finally, you want to keep board members involved in the organization all the time, not just for quarterly meetings or events.

A lot of that can hinge on giving cycles and feedback opportunities. It also creates an opportunity for you to incentivize donor stewardship with gifts.

No matter how you plan to do it, one thing is constant: an active and engaged board can be your strongest set of advocates and help bring in more donations than almost any other group.

Plan for year-round giving. You may create and distribute an annual calendar for board members marked with key giving dates and campaigns. (Include campaign specific dates as well as broader donor opportunities such as Giving Tuesday or end of the year donations).

Set a clear path with goals for board members, give them the tools to be successful, and remember to celebrate victories to keep the momentum going throughout the year.

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