When meeting with a board for the first time, I often begin by asking the members to describe a decision about which they are particularly proud. Most often, the selection of a new president is cited as the board's crowning moment. In other less happy situations, board members comment on hard actions taken in response to a financial crisis. Occasionally I hear about the board's role in the strategic planning process or how they gave the nod to a new degree program. Almost never do board members mention their role in fundraising as something in which they take pride -- at least not without some prodding on my part.

This ambivalence about fundraising also shows up via In Trust's Board Performance Audit. When asked to assess their contribution to the school's development program, board members almost always rate themselves low. Similarly, the Nonprofit Governance Index 2007, a compilation of survey responses from 2,150 nonprofit CEOs and board members, identifies fundraising as the No. 1 area of board performance needing improvement.

And that's a problem, because, as anyone who has been around the block more than once knows, boards are critical to the success of a seminary's fundraising efforts. Quoting from development guru Fisher Howe's now-classic book, The Board Member's Guide to Fund Raising, "If the [organization] is having trouble raising money, don't look at the development office, don't look to the chief executive, first check out the board of trustees."

This may not be what board members want to hear, and most especially those who are reluctant to do more than monitor and approve the work of the fundraising staff. However, as the articles that follow illustrate, when board members are equipped and encouraged to get involved with the development program in ways that capitalize on individual strengths and connections, their comfort with fundraising goes up -- and with it, their effectiveness. Although authors Trudy Bush and Emilie Babcox come at the topic from slightly different directions in the following pages, both their articles point to the benefits that come when presidents and development staff:

  • Appreciate board members for who they are. 
  • Capitalize on individual networks. 
  • Respect board members enough to educate them. 
  • Maximize the board's potential through meaningful and manageable tasks.

Boards can add real value to their school's development program at every stage of the fundraising cycle. Such boards are careful to develop policies that safeguard the integrity of the development program. They know the importance of setting goals that are appropriate to the giving capabilities of the school's constituency and to the staffing of the development office. Board members in these places are first in line with their own generous gifts. And they are more likely to be involved in inviting others to support the school.

I've seen this level of board involvement with my own eyes. But don't just take my word for it. Read on, and be encouraged by the stories of board members and seminary leaders who are enjoying the fruit of their shared work in the fundraising "fields."

Top Topics
Roles & Responsibilities
Board Essentials

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