What Makes A Great Board Fundraising Committee?

by Joan Garry

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First, a shout-out to a reader who asked me this question through my blog.  (I set up a way on the homepage of my website for you to tell me what you’d like me to write about. You can even do that anonymously, if you want.)

Truth is, I get this question A LOT.

I have not yet subjected my readers to a quiz –  this seems like the ideal opportunity.  Here goes!

1)  If you are a development director, do you often feel like you work for the chairs of the Development committee?

2)  Are the chairs of the Development committee enthusiastic fundraisers?

3)   How’s attendance at Development committee meetings?

4)  Do you spend more than 50% of each meeting talking about your organization’s upcoming special event?

5)  Does your Development committee truly promote fundraising by the entire Board of Directors?

Ready for the answers?


1. Do you often feel like you work for the chairs of the Development committee?

Common answer:  Yes.

Correct answer:  “NO, I partner with my Devo committee chairs.  We work together to set agendas.  I feel like we are a team.”

2.  Are the chairs of the Development committee enthusiastic fundraisers?

Common answer:  “Are you kidding me? Their arms got twisted b/c no one else would do it.”

Correct answer:  “My ED and I worked with the Board Governance Committee to identify the best organizational champions and one of them actually asks for money!!!!

3. How’s attendance at Development committee meetings? 

Common answer:  Low. The agenda doesn’t really allow for much discussion, except around the design of the damned invitation or an individual board member’s concern about her table placement.

Correct Answer:  No.  The committee has a few task forces and subcommittees and they report out on their activities.

4. Do you spend more than 50% of each meeting talking about an organization’s upcoming special event?

Common answer:  Are we supposed to be talking about anything else?

Correct answer:  Nonprofits should not be overly reliant on special event revenue. Very risky for the overall revenue portfolio.  Your board development committee should be invested in the entire portfolio, discussing how the board can help identify new major donors, new corporate sponsors, possible foundations.

5) Does your Development committee truly promote fundraising by the entire Board of Directors?

Common answer:  You are kidding me, right?

Correct answer:  You bet because this is what a fundraising committee does!


  • Provide reach. Your board is an extension of your staff. It provides your organization with more horsepower than it can afford financially.
  • Cheerlead. The point of the committee is not to ‘check up on’ the Development staff; it exists to build a culture of enthusiasm for fundraising on the board.  Its work is to cheerlead and to hold the board accountable to its fundraising obligations. You can’t expect the Development Director to do it. The power dynamics are all wrong and the board won’t listen.
  • Provide accountability. The Board Fundraising committee (listen closely – here’s the answer) provides peer-to-peer accountability to ensure that board members are fulfilling their fundraising obligation.  The committee partners with the staff to develop tools, trainings and ideas to give board members what they need to be effective fundraisers.

When the board meets its give/get at the end of the fiscal year, it’s the board fundraising committee that gets the standing ovation.


1. Devo Director (and ED if available) meet with Development co-chairs regularly.  In person if possible. Lunch if possible. Wine if applicable. Propose a new primary role for them – to be cheerleaders and catalysts for board fundraising. Explain why this is so important.

2) Agree that each board member will fill out a fundraising plan for the upcoming fiscal year – to be returned to the Devo director. The plan should cover all areas of fundraising and should total up all sources.

3) Agree on a strategy for the annual ask for each board member. Who is the best person to ask (often the board chair and not often the close friend who may have recruited her/him).

4) Devo staff pulls together, compiles all fundraising plans, de-duplicates corporations / donor prospects and comes up with an overall board goal.

5) Board goal is shared by the Devo Co-chairs at upcoming board meeting. Discussion follows about what the board will need from staff and/or external sources to meet/exceed this goal.

6) Board Fundraising Committee meetings change.  The agenda covers the entire spectrum of fundraising opportunities and small task forces work with a major gifts officer on key prospects to be assigned to staff and board for asks / renewals. Consider assigning a group to research new corporate prospects. The meeting is no longer a report by the Development Director about how his/her staff is progressing against goals.

7) You CAN talk about Special Events. But you cannot be consumed about it, especially if the Devo team has special events staff. A board fundraising committee is ineffective if it is simply one big special events committee.  Should not work that way.

8) Provide constructive feedback to Development. Share with the staff how the board is doing, and ensure that trainings and materials requested by the board are delivered in a timely fashion.

9) Check Status at Every Board Meeting.  Devo co-chairs should meet ahead of board meetings with Devo Director and talk about not only what the board needs to know but what they all agree that the board needs to do.

10) Celebrate Success.  Be sure to identify success anecdotes and include opportunities to highlight great fundraising efforts on the part of particular board meetings. Celebrate successes large and small.

When there is a lack of clarity, Fundraising chairs move to a fall-back position, a passive one in which they see their role as checking in with and checking up on the work of the Development staff.

Remember: That’s what you have an executive director for.

If you have additional suggestions for improving your board fundraising committees, please tell my readers in the comments below.

17 thoughts on “What Makes A Great Board Fundraising Committee?”

  1. Joan – Do you have a template you could share for a Board Member Fundraising Plan? Or a suggestion for what should be included in the plan?

  2. Kate, Sorry it took me so long to get back to you – was having some Disqus tech issues. I have a few templates I am looking at and creating a new one that is the best of all of them. Stay tuned.

  3. Hi Joan, this post was an “aha” moment for me and I’m on the tail end of implementing these changes–which have been enthusiastically embraced by my board. (Lucky me!) We do have an annual plan for board to sign up for fundraising commitments, but I’d be very interested to see yours.

  4. Then your board and your development committee are even more important. Your board needs to be more of a ‘working’ board, partnering with the executive director to get out there and raise money for your worthy cause.

  5. Amen sister! Those questions, with the “wrong” answers, are what drove me out of fundraising. That, and the pointing of fingers to everyone but themselves, when things went wrong. So many great reasons to be in development – but too little training and communication when it comes to the volunteers of a NGO.

  6. I’m confused by #2. What do you mean by fundraising plan that covers all “areas of fundraising” ? Does this just mean a list of prospects (capacity included) with a plan of how to cultivate/steward/ask?

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