One of the biggest red-herrings I see nonprofit boards pursue is a pipe dream of “self sufficiency” for their nonprofit. Rather than pursuing their mission, the board directs the executive director to look at selling things and renting things in a quixotic attempt to be financially independent.

It’s as though they see fundraising as a “stop gap” solution. Something temporary. Something significantly less noble than having other income. As though fundraising were at odds with “sustainability.”

What if this seeking of sustainability were all a waste of time?

“Are the t-shirt sales, the spa product sales, the links to online mall, the bake sales, the raffles and the seeking facility rentals furthering the mission of your organization? Or is it distracting the staff from your nonprofit’s mission?”

Cultural norms toward self-reliance

Self-reliance appeals to many of us in the West. It’s how we were raised, saturates the stories that surround us, and impacts most of our education.

So a board seeking to help a nonprofit become self-reliant simple “feels” right. We should be able to do what we want to do without relying on anybody else, right?


Human Experience & Corporate Structures

Human experience shows that people help people. We are dependent on each other.

Even the most “self-reliant” person on your board still is dependent on the work of others. They likely use cell phones, have trash picked up from their office and home, use electricity…the list of their dependency is long. The fact that our Western cultures systemically do not acknowledge this reliance is a huge issue.

So no nonprofit is “self reliant” – just as no store can exist without customers.

Furthermore, by design, nonprofits are community organizations. By choosing a nonprofit designation, a nonprofit founder gives up their very ability to be self-reliant. They get a favorable tax status but are required to cede control of the organization to a board of directors.

Nonprofits are governed and funded by a community.

Fundraising is a legitimate sustainability choice

Just as sales is a legitimate funding stream for companies, fundraising is a legitimate funding stream for nonprofits. And just having repeat customers seen as a success in business, having repeat donors is a very positive indicator for nonprofits. It’s not “going to the same well again and again” as much as developing mutually appreciative relationships that create needed impact.

Too often, board members’ desire for other forms of revenue isn’t to fundamentally help the nonprofit. This desire is often because the individual board members are uncomfortable being asked for money. And they want to take the pressure off of their being responsible for funding the nonprofit.

If you serve on a board, ask yourself: are the t-shirt sales, the spa product sales, the link to an online mall, the bake sales, raffles and seeking facility rentals furthering the mission of your organization? Or is it distracting the staff from serving the mission?

Done well, fundraising from the community is 100% about furthering the nonprofit’s mission.

Don’t let your discomfort with being asked for money hinder your nonprofit’s ability to fulfill its mission.

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