Nonprofit leader, fundraising isn’t your board’s problem.

Just once, I’d love to pick up a report citing CEO support for boards doing what boards were created to do. That is, to govern — preferably well. Better yet, in an exemplary manner.

Sadly, the 2012 Governance Survey from the Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability isn’t it.

Despite ECFA’s valiant efforts to steer ministry heads in the direction of good governance (see this and this,), CEOs identified fundraising as the area of performance in which their boards fall short. As in 2011, the leaders who responded to the ECFA study are sticking with the old notion of how boards should function – give, get, and then get out-of-the-way. And it seems they’ve convinced chairs and rank and file members.

When asked to list the 5 areas where the organization needed to improve, CEOs, board chairs, and board members all put fundraising at the top of the list – by a resounding margin. In fact, out of 933 board members, 778 listed fundraising as the organization’s #1 need.

Governance squeaked in at 5th place for board members. It was second on the list for board chairs, but failed to make the top 5 cut for CEOs.

Which is too bad, because behind every money challenge is a governance problem. That I guarantee.


The first and most important job of the board isn’t fundraising. Rather, the board’s chief (some would say, sole) responsibility is to create the structures, policies, and environment in which the organization (including the fundraising program) can flourish. In other words, to advance the organization through governance.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m thrilled when individual board members volunteer for active duty on the fundraising front. In fact, I wish more were willing to be all they can be for the organization’s they profess to love. But I’m 100 percent against a mandatory draft to fundraising. Try it and watch board members run for the border.

At the end of the day (or the fiscal year), legitimacy is the most precious gift the board – corporately and as individuals – can give. Committing to good governance is the most important work of the board. It’s every organization’s single greatest need.

So nonprofit leader, fundraising isn’t your board’s problem. You are, by continuing to act as though fundraising is.

Here’s another guarantee. If you put good governance first, fundraising and money won’t be problems in the long-term.

Then maybe, sometime down the years, I’ll pick up a report citing CEO support for boards doing what boards were created to do – govern.

For a counter view on boards and fundraising, check out this article from BoardSource. 


  1. Just found your blog through link at ECFA. You are right on with your comments. Confidence in leadership is essential to giving.

  2. Thank you, Walter, for adding your thumbs up in support of organizational worthiness as key to success in fundraising. And as I stressed in this article, it’s the responsibility of the board to ensure that worthiness. If you’ve liked what you’ve seen so far at Generous Matters, I will be delighted to welcome you as a subscriber — and as a frequent commenter.

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