The Fundraising Committee Experience

Abigail Harmon - head of the fundraising committeeLast week I took the helm as the head of the fundraising committee of a nonprofit board on which I serve. That makes it sound like a much bigger deal than it is, but as I sat down last week with 4 of the 5 committee members and 1 staff person, I thought that this was the start of a new chapter for me. And, with permission from the co-presidents of the board, perhaps, you could learn along with me.

The Board

I have served as one of 39 board members on the Needham Education Foundation for one year. The organization is celebrating 25 years this winter and that translates to 25 years of providing our town with additional resources for the school system. Funding ranges from author visits, performance art and iPad pilot programs to a new technology lab and an innovative interdisciplinary learning initiative in the high school.

But enough bragging. From a fundraising point of view, it means we have to continue to raise money in order to continue granting out money at the same pace. And did I mention fundraising has been down slightly in the past couple of years?

Our First Steps

I am lucky to have other development professionals (as well as successful volunteer fundraisers) on the committee. We started by looking at our current practices. Even a long-standing, strong organization can let best practices fall away over time.

  • Set a fundraising goal. Study after study has shown that writing down goals helps us achieve those goals (this is not a just in fundraising). Instead of using previous years as a vague ideal, we wrote down a goal (close to the fundraising high of 2011-2012) and then listed ideas on how we would get there.
  • 100% board participation. This may not get us much closer to our fundraising goal but it seems an obvious place to start. I think this was probably overlooked because we never applied to other foundations for funding; money was raised through individual and corporate giving, a large spelling bee fundraiser and strong financial investments. It is a working board that includes teacher representatives – should teachers have to give? We don’t know how they, or many of the board members, feel about donating because we never asked them. Bottom line? Best practices say that if the board doesn’t feel like this is a good investment of their own money – why would anyone else?
  • Find New Donors. Residents with public school children can personally reap the benefits of the organization for all thirteen years of each child’s experience in the school system. But, as a group of 6, we realized that even we were unaware of how many dynamic elements of the current curriculum were started as NEF grants. Will a brochure mailed to the town help us reach more families? What else would help us gain exposure?     *** Please note that in 90% (or more) of nonprofits, the best place to start is with current and former donors. Look for more details of why we made this choice in a future article.

First steps, are, just that. We brainstormed a lot of ideas but these are the first we are acting upon. Stay tuned for future updates.

Thank you to the NEF for allowing me to share this with the MJA learning community. If you would like to learn more about the NEF including how to donate, please visit us at

For more learning on nonprofit committees consider reading one of these articles:
Assuring the Best in Nonprofit Management: The Committee on Governance and Leadership Development
Assessing the Current Makeup of Your Nonprofit Board
Nonprofit Finance Committee 101