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6 Steps for a Fundraising-Focused Foundation Board

6 Steps for a Fundraising-Focused Foundation Board

Leslie Bram is a senior consultant with AGB Consulting and the retired COO of the University of Florida Foundation.

Historically, many foundation boards were founded as fiduciary oversight boards – not as fundraising boards.  As state universities needed more private dollars, though, the pressure to focus more on fundraising has increased.  Not surprisingly, many long-time board members may feel that they didn’t sign up to be fundraisers.  And that’s probably fair.  But fundraising isn’t as intimidating as many board members may think – with time and a few specific guidelines, reluctant board members can become advocates. 

Below are six steps to focus the board on fundraising.

1. Make the case why fundraising is so essential to the university. Many board members may only have a high-level understanding of what foundation dollars achieve; more specific examples paint a clearer picture.

2. Create a written job description focused on the fundraising responsibilities of board members.  Example responsibilities might include:

  • Event participation, such as hosting or attending dinners or other activities
  • Stewardship, such as writing five thank you notes to major donors annually
  • Personal philanthropy expectations, such as an annual gift, a significant gift during a campaign, or an estate commitment
  • A fixed number of introductions for the president, vice president for development, or senior development officer to strong prospects

3.  Provide training so board members understand what is entailed in each of these responsibilities. For example, some board members may not realize that they don’t have to ask for the gift, but merely facilitate some steps along the way.

4. Require an annual self-report by each board member that itemizes the points in the job description.  You could consider using that report for an annual “fundraising board member of the year” award.

5. Analyze the current board to see where certain demographics are lacking, considering factors such as gender, age, geographic location, multi-cultural diversity, and ability to give. Then mindfully recruit board members who add to a well-rounded board and are willing to give and assist in fundraising.

6. Be sure bylaws include term limits with a mandatory year off, e.g., after two three-year terms. Even the most persistent fundraisers need time to recharge!

Creating a fundraising-focused board may take time, but many board members enjoy fundraising once they realize the impact their individual actions have on the future of the institution.

For more information, see The Board’s Role in Fundraising by Trish Jackson, who is the chief of staff, advancement division at Dartmouth College.


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