Guides & Resources

Five Things Canadian Boards Need to Know About Fundraising

With respect and appreciation to the many thousands of volunteers who serve on the boards of Canadian charities, large and small, if you were to ask 100 fundraisers about the toughest challenge they face in their job, a majority would likely respond diplomatically that “there doesn’t seem to be much of a culture of philanthropy on my board” or, less diplomatically, “my board doesn’t understand that you need to “give, get or get off.”            

With 85,000 charities in Canada and board volunteers who bring a wide range of governing experience—sometimes limited or non-existent—to the task, it can be hard to create a one-size-fits-all training that works across the board (so to speak).

But there are some rules of the road about fundraising that could apply to any board, whether it is running a small community-based organization or a large multi-level national charity.  To find out what they are, we asked Nicole Salmon, a 25-year veteran of working with charities, especially in the international development sector, as a staff member and as a board volunteer. She is also a volunteer mentor with AFP’s Inclusion & Diversity Fellowship program. Here are the five things she believes Canadian boards need to know about fundraising:

1. Fundraising isn’t the ‘sidekick’ to the real work of the organization.

Fundraising is integral to your organization’s ability to deliver on its mission. It isn’t more or less important than the programs or services offered by your organization; it helps pave the path towards the mission.

2. A strong and healthy organizational environment allows fundraising to thrive.

Fostering and intentionally investing in building a strong organization characterized by a culture of compassion, equity and inclusion, philanthropy, accountability and performance is critical in creating the right conditions for the organization to thrive.  

3. The annual fundraising target should not be set to close a budget shortfall between projected revenue and expenses.

The Board must ensure that the annual fundraising revenue target is based on well- developed, detailed and appropriately resourced fundraising strategy.  Wishing and hoping that the funds will somehow come in lieu of a solid strategy is a road not to be traveled.

4. Fundraising is about connections and relationships.

Fundraising serves as the bridge in aligning the organization’s purpose with those vested and willing to invest in pursuit of its mission. Successful and sustainable fundraising is about building connections and relationships with a variety of funders, volunteers and staff across the organization.

5. Supporting fundraising goes beyond ‘asking’ for financial contributions.

A primary Board function is to steward the organization’s resources. These resources include fundraising. Beyond making a personal financial contribution commensurate with their ability and circumstances, board members serve as advocates and ambassadors. They can help identify and cultivate potential donors, directly solicit contributions, leverage their networks, thank donors, support and attend events, etc.

Working with boards can be challenging, but from a staff perspective, Nicole says the thing she most admires about board members is the level of commitment they can often demonstrate, especially when they come to meetings with materials read and prepared to discuss the issues at hand.

As a board member, she enjoys grappling with questions about organizational relevance and direction. The ultimate board experience, she says, is “hearing presentations from internal and external presenters who would either shed light on programs and services offered by the organization or provide insight on the external environment and how that could potentially affect the work.”

In your experience, what else do boards need to know about fundraising, and what has worked for you in communicating these important needs to the board?  Email us at paffairs@afpglobal.org.

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