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James V. Toscano

About James

How Many Board Members Does It Take to Change a Light Bulb?

How many times have we read, heard or said something like, “board members must not only give, they must get” or one of the variations of that message?

I have read it, heard it, said it, taught it, written it a few thousand times in my fifty years in nonprofit management and consulting.

And who listens? Apparently not a lot of board members. In the latest BoardSource survey of nonprofit CEOs on their boards’ performance (see the distribution in the map ), a consistent pattern emerges. Sampling both BoardSource members and nonmembers on a range of their board members’ behaviors, fundraising was at the bottom in terms of performance. Tsk. Tsk.

The BoardSource report card is only one of many reports we see in the nonprofit press, in the popular media and in many boardrooms bemoaning the fact that some boards, and clearly many board members, are reluctant to go out and ask for money.

Having written on ways to get board members to step up and do something, if not everything, in the development process, I have long wrestled with establishing some kind of best practice that optimizes board performance. My most recent article about that is here.

Map of the United States

Reprinted with permission from BoardSource, the premier resource for practical information, tools, and training for board members and chief executives of nonprofit organizations worldwide. For more information about BoardSource, visit or call 800-883-6262. BoardSource © 2012. Content may not be reproduced or used for any purpose other than that which is specifically requested without written permission from BoardSource.

However, are we really just whistling Dixie? Should we concentrate on that subset of board members specifically recruited to raise funds, or that special development board of non-board members, who do the volunteer work in fundraising?

Specialization of the development function, with a highly professional staff trained to work with these volunteers, might reduce the ostensible frustration of these CEOs with their boards.

In other words, recognize reality, make the best of it, adapt to get the job done, and move on.

I’m not saying “give up” as much as I’m saying “get realistic!” How many board members do we really need to raise the funds? This will vary, although it is a definable number in each instance. It can then, perhaps, become the self-fulfilling prophecy we wish for.

While all board members should be encouraged to participate in the process, and all should make a donation, reliance will be on the board development core.

The real surprise is that this is no surprise, because this is the way most boards actually do work. Let’s recognize this and get to the real issue: raising the funds needed to do the job.


The article references The BoardSource Nonprofit Governance Index 2012.


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