The parable of surfing dogs, your board, and fundraising

Topping the list of most often asked questions from frustrated nonprofit CEOs and ministry heads is “How do I get my board to grab hold of fundraising?” I long for curiosity about the basics of good governance. But given the financial situation (miserable) of the majority of small to mid-size nonprofits, a shift in focus isn’t likely anytime soon.

For years now, leaders within the nonprofit sector have voiced frustration about board members’ reluctance to pitch in with fundraising. So much so in fact that the willingness to both give and get is the assumed definition of an exemplary board member.

Oh sure, there’s the occasional nod to wisdom and work, but mostly board members are valued for the wealth they bring – either personally or through their fundraising prowess – to the organization.

Which explains my laugh-out-loud reaction to the headline, “California Surfing Dog Raises a Cool Half-Million for Charities.” In my mind’s eye, I picture nonprofit folk tripping over themselves to recruit the philanthropically inclined pooch to their boards. And why not?

Other than that she’s a dog (literally), Ricochet (her name) is a dream board member. She’s smart. She’s a worker. And she brings in the money. Who could ask for better for their board?

I jest, of course. But wait. There’s more to this tale than a poke at fundraising-obsessed organizational heads. Ricochet’s transformation from failed service dog to fundraiser extraordinaire is a useful parable for board developers.


Judy Fridono, Ricochet’s owner, was about to give up on the pup who had been recruited as a service dog in the making. Although a prodigy in many ways, Ricochet’s instinct for chasing birds couldn’t be trained out of her, making her a seeming failure. Fortunately, Fridono noticed Ricochet’s talent on a boogie board and wisely chose to “focus not on what she couldn’t do but rather, on what she could do,” which was surfing.

Set free from one-size-fits-expectations, Ricochet became a different dog, “totally joyful and 100 percent committed to her new direction.” In Fridono’s words: “When I let go of who I wanted Ricochet to be and just let her be, Ricochet flourished. She’s perfect just the way she is.

The moral of the tale from a board perspective is obvious (at least to me), and this is it.

The surest way to encourage the best from every member of your board, including in fundraising, is to notice, nurture, and maximize the unique gifts, strengths, passions, and skills that each member brings to the board.

The outcome of doing so likely won’t be what you expected. But follow the example of Ricochet’s wise trainer and I’m betting you’ll come to see the board members you’ve gathered in as perfect just the way they are.

Remember. Not every old dog needs to learn a new trick.

For more about valuing board members for who they are, see:

Board development and bread on water

If I had a rich board, deedle, deedle, dum

IF you want to change your board, THEN . . .



  1. This was a terrific story. And very encouraging too! Thanks for your sharing your creative insights. Now, we need to consider how to best apply them?????

  2. Ah, application. That’s always the kicker. Thank you for reading and commenting, Karen.

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