Posted by GVT Admin on Jan 19, 2022 10:45:00 AM

Nonprofit Trustees In his new book, Effective Fundraising, Harvard Business School professor emeritus, F. Warren Mcfarlan, identifies the board of trustees as nonprofit's core fundraising asset. The book outlines the broad range of roles trustees can play in contributing to the crucial function of fundraising. While some rare souls are enthusiastic about directly soliciting gifts, Professor Mcfarlan says, others may be more effective at expanding networks, making introductions, lending credibility, or providing the coaching and context that contribute to a successful "close".


In a recent interview, professor Mcfarlan explained how a nonprofit governance committee can support trustees on behalf of the organization's mission. The first step is assembling an appropriate board of trustees. Four crucial factors should be considered:

  1. Diversity - Prospective board members should bring a variety of skills and backgrounds to a nonprofit board. Diversity of experience contributes not only specialized skills that can be enlisted to support the mission, but also a diverse network of connections that broaden the donor base.
  2. Commitment - Each new trustee should be encouraged to make a financial commitment to the organization that feels generous according to their needs but giving enough that, as Professor Mcfarlan says, "it hurts". Once a board member has made a financial commitment his passion for the project goes to another level and his ability to raise funds gets more effective. It inspires a passion in each trustee that enables them to ask others for donations without feeling shy or reluctant. "You are not begging, but rather offering an unusual and attractive opportunity to the prospective donor to invest in their passion and to have their name associated with it long term" says Professor Mcfarlan.
  3. Definition - Each trustee brings something different to the table that is uniquely their own. It is the job of the governance committee to find the sweet spot between what the organization needs and what each trustee can distinctively offer.
  4. Size - As organizations grow, to be effective as a fundraising tool, the board must grow as well. "The assembly of askers and connectors in the right numbers and with the right abilities on the board, in the volunteer community, and in senior management, is key." Professor Mcfarlan cites an extreme example of the Dana Farber Cancer Institute in Boston that now has 120 board members. "Larger boards are more effective fundraisers as long as they don’t become too garrulous."


The governance committee is responsible to understand that effective fundraising at the board level must be supported every step of the way. After assembling what you believe is an appropriate board, your organization must support the members by:

  1. Taking time to orientate new board members. This should be a formal exchange on site (a minimum of one full day) that introduces new board members to the committed staff and the mission they are passionate about.
  2. Fostering a deep internalization of the mission. Even when board participation is controlled by "term limits", trustees should be inspired from the beginning to consider their commitment to the organization's mission as lifelong.
  3. Instilling a self-image in trustees that transforms them into passionate fundraisers 24 hours a day, 7 day a week.
  4. Encouraging new trustees by pointing out that fundraising meets with more failure than success. Start new trustees with what Professor Mcfarlan calls, "layups" (contacts already committed to giving) and then letting them move on to more challenging prospects. Every success instills confidence.
  5. Transforming their role as fundraisers by teaching that fundraising is "relational" not "transactional". Effective long-term fundraising requires empathy, sincerity, and deep personal commitment to the mission.

Trustees - Core Fundraising Team

Professor Mcfarlan:

"The board of trustees has three roles:

  1. The definition and approval of the organization's mission and the strategy to achieve it.
  2. The selection, coaching, and evaluation of the CEO.
  3. The securing of the necessary financial resources for the organization.

"Without a sustainable revenue model, even the most exciting mission-driven organization will collapse. It is the unique and special responsibility of its trustees and supporters to help secure resources for an organization."


Topics: Nonprofit General, nonprofit sustainability, nonprofit funding

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