The Annual Board Appeal

Is it important, even necessary, for your board members to contribute to your organization’s annual appeal? 

Yes, for several reasons:

  • It increases the level of “ownership” the board members feel towards your organization.

  • It shows others that your board members are good stewards.

  • It enables your organization to raise funds from foundations and other entities that ask, “How many of your board members have given?”

  • It makes them feel good about their involvement with your organization and enables them to ask others for money!

While there might be some exceptions to this rule (a professional association that does not do fundraising, one that has a single source of funding such as a major grant, or one where board members serve on the board by their position in another organization) in most nonprofits board giving is essential. A board member who has made a financial commitment to your organization, regardless of the dollar amount, can then invite others to “join me in supporting this wonderful cause.”

Okay, so now that we all agree it is important and necessary for the board to give, we are faced with several questions. How much, when, and how does this all happen?

How Much Should the Board Give?

I always discourage requiring board members to give a set dollar amount each year for several reasons—it limits you in recruiting board members who may have a lot of talent and skills but may feel hampered by the minimum level of giving. On the other hand, board members who could easily give more, tend to give at the stated minimum level because that is how they interpret the expectation for giving and assume that is what others are giving. Therefore, it is better to stress in the board’s position description that all board members are required to give at a meaningful level. The two key words are all (100 percent of the board should be giving annually) and meaningful. A good way for each board member to determine what is a meaningful level for them is to include in the board position description that the organization expects each board member to include it as one of the top two or three charities to which each board member will contribute each year. Board members should be rated by staff and a committee of the board individually for an appropriate “ask” amount.

When Do We Approach the Board for a Gift?

The board appeal should be completed before asking others to contribute. The best time to do the board appeal is at the very beginning of the fiscal year. For many organizations that are on a July-June fiscal year, summer is a good time to “gear up” for the fall campaign and having the board appeal out of the way during July and August put your organization in a good position to launch its annual appeal to the public. Just as with capital campaigns, annual giving should start “from the inside out” and “from the top down.”

How Do You Get Started? 

Start with a board appeal committee—the chair of the board, the chair of the development committee and as many other board members as are needed to personally solicit the board, keeping in mind that one solicitor should be responsible for no more than five calls.  Committee members should be selected from those board members who are regular, generous givers themselves. The chief development officer should be part of the committee but, in general, should not solicit board members, except for the board chair who is often solicited by a staff person before the committee is appointed.

The committee should conduct a screening and rating session of the entire board. Treat the board appeal as you would treat any major fundraising appeal; make it personal, challenging and exciting.  The committee should develop a proposed board goal after the screening and rating session and have the board approve this goal with a formal vote. This will enable the entire board to take ownership of the appeal. You will not need glitzy campaign material for the board appeal; after all, board members should know the “case,” but a one page summary of the case and a graphic showing the importance of the board appeal can be very effective. This fact sheet should contain a pie chart with the annual fund broken down by categories, i.e. how much comes from grants, events, mail, board appeal, corporate, etc.). Another helpful tool a list showing board members various ways their support will be needed throughout the year. Most board members get annoyed at being “nickel and dimed” to death for every special event that comes along. A menu of options for how they can direct their support will be helpful, but should always include unrestricted board giving. It could also include things like purchasing a table at an annual dinner, sponsoring a golf tournament, etc. Board members will appreciate knowing up front what activities they will be expected to support throughout the year and that they can make their commitment as a part of the board appeal.


The board appeal committee may need training in how to schedule the appointment and how to make an ask, but remember that the board appeal should be a serious effort with personal visit to the board members, not just having the board chair hand out pledge cards at meeting and say, “Okay everyone, make your commitment now.” This method usually offends board members and results in a much lower gift than allowing the board member to feel special enough for a personal visit and a face-to-face opportunity for them to ask questions and share their interests. 

What if Board Members Do Not Give?

Regular reporting of results at board meetings is critical and if there are board members who have not made their commitment by the end of the appeal, it may be necessary for the chief executive officer and the board chair to meet with these board members to determine if there is a problem that might require action. You should offer the board member options such as monthly giving, offering a one year pledge period, and suggesting that matching gifts from their company can help them give at a more significant level. Unless board giving has not been part of the expectations of board members, those who absolutely refuse to give should be asked to step down from the board and accept some other volunteer role within your organization. Explain to these board members that 100 percent giving from the board is essential to successful fundraising.

This article was one of my contributions to YOU and Your Nonprofit, available at

Building a Fundraising Board Parrt 1

The key to getting your board members to embrace fundraising lies in three simple steps—the recruitment process, ensuring that board members are committed to your organization, and removing the fear of fundraising that is inherent in most people.

In Part 1, let’s talk about the recruitment process.

For most nonprofit organizations, building an effective board is one of the greatest challenges. How do you find good board members? How do you get them to join the board and become active in fundraising? And how do you keep them involved once they are on the board?

Often good board members are hard to find, and sometimes it is difficult to assess their commitment to the organization until they are on the board, when it is then too late! Some boards flounder because there is no clear direction for them and they haven’t bought into the vision of the organization. Finding committed, dedicated board leadership is often a challenge. Board members are often reluctant to fundraise because they have not been recruited with that purpose in mind. Even if you originally intended for your board to be involved in fundraising, many times board recruiters are reluctant to use the “F” word for fear of scaring off potential members. Many well-intentioned organizations operate under the noble idea that “once they get on our board and see the great work we are doing, they will want to go out and ask for money.” Wrong! If board members have not been told up front that fundraising is a part of their role, they will not embrace it later when you decide to “slip it into” their job description.

Take a New Look at How You Recruit Board Members

You may need to rethink who does the recruiting of your board members. Instead of a nominating committee that meets once a year to fill vacant seats, you should appoint a year-round board resource committee. This committee can also be called the governance committee or the committee on directorship or any name with which you feel comfortable. Whatever the title, following are the key functions to remember about this committee:

  • It needs to meet year-round

  • It should be chaired by the one of the strongest members of your board.

  • It should assess board performance, both the board as a whole and individual board members.

  • It is responsible for developing or refining board position descriptions.

  • It evaluates the needs of your board and develops a profile of the kinds of people needed to fill vacancies on the board.

  • It works with your whole board to help find the right people to fill vacant board positions.

  • It ensures diversity on the board (remember that diversity includes more than just ethnic diversity—it should include age, gender, and geographic diversity as well as a diversity of skills and talents your organization needs).

  • It works with staff to plan and implement board orientation.

  • It is responsible for planning and implementing ongoing education for the board.

Your board resource committee, working thoughtfully, diligently, and on an ongoing basis, can make all the difference in the world between an effective, enthusiastic, and inspired board and a lackadaisical board that does not understand its role in advancing your organization's mission and is reluctant to get involved in the fundraising process. One of the key roles of this important committee is to develop a board position description that includes a required financial contribution from each board member as well as the expectation that each board member be involved in your fundraising efforts through attending events, planning development activities, and helping identify, cultivate, and solicit potential donors.

Learn more in Fundraising for the GENIUS ( and watch my new book, co-authored with Dr. Victoria Boyd, Board Bound Leadership: The Four Essentials, a book written for board members.

The Planning Retreat

Okay, I know what you’re thinking! “Our board is sick of retreats, they just want to get the plan done.” “We cannot afford the time or money to do a retreat.” “We don’t need a facilitator, we can do a retreat ourselves.” “Do we really want to “retreat” from our planning duties?”

A few years ago, it became quite popular to refer to the annual board retreat as a “board advance” to put a more positive spin on the process. After all, we want our board to advance don’t we, not to retreat from its duties?

Yes, we do want the process to help advance our mission, our vision, our programs. But, I still like the term, board retreat. Here’s why.

The retreat is an occasion to get your board and staff away from your usual meeting space, to take the time to really think about where the organization is going and how it will get there, and to get to know each other better. So, retreat, rather than being a negative word, can be almost like a spiritual retreat—a time to take stock, to be inspired, and to move towards a more positive future.

So, is the retreat a necessary part of the planning process? I say, yes!

How Long Should the Retreat Last?

As long as you need! Okay, that might be too broad an answer. I find that most groups need at least two sessions to get everything done. Some groups opt for a two-day retreat, maybe a Friday evening and Saturday morning. Others do an intensive all-day retreat, perhaps all day on Saturday if most of the board members cannot get away during the week.

Ideally, the first session is held to solidify mission, vision, and values, and to determine goals. After giving the planning cabinet/committee an opportunity to review what was accomplished at the first session, a second session is held a few weeks later. Sometimes even a third session is necessary.

Where and When Should the Retreat be Held?

A retreat should be exactly what the name implies—a getaway from your normal routine. A place to step back and look at your organization with fresh eyes. Timing will depend on the schedules of board and staff members and possibly other stakeholder groups you might want to invite to at least part of your retreat. You may, for example, want to invite community members to come in and help you conduct the SWOT analysis. Fresh eyes and fresh ideas from people not intimately connected to your organization help shed light on areas you might not think are important, but which the community feels are vital aspects of your programs.

One organization that served adults with developmental disabilities, for example, invited parents of the people they served to come in and talk about what they saw as the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats of the organization. The input of these parents was invaluable in helping the organization craft its plan.

Important: Do not attempt to do planning at a regular board meeting. There are too many other items of business that need to get done, and too many distractions such as board members arriving late, leaving early, staff members being sidetracked by routine office duties, and staff being interrupted by other staff members.

If yours is a national or international organization, scheduling might be a bit more challenging. I’ve been involved with several national and international groups that held a special planning session before one of their regular board meetings, since getting people together for another special session would be challenging due to costs and travel time.

Location, Location, Location

Where to hold your retreat? As I’ve said, not in your office, please!!!

I’ve done retreat in interesting locations such as:

  • a museum

  • a country club

  • a bird sanctuary

  • a board member’s office suite

  • an environmental center

  • an arboretum

  • a hotel

  • poolside at a board member’s home

You might even plan an outing along with the retreat, and invite spouses of staff and board members to attend the social part of the retreat. One group, for example, held its retreat at a museum, and asked the museum director to take the participants and their spouses on a private tour of the museum after the session. Another group arranged a tour of local historic sites for spouses while the board and staff was tied up in the retreat, and then everyone had dinner together.

More in a future blog about running the retreat! More about the strategic planning process in general in the book, Nonprofit Strategic Planning: