Ask Our Consultants: Board Members with Fundraising Expertise
You asked, and we answered. This series features real questions from nonprofits across the country and advice from BoardSource’s best and brightest governance consultants.
Our board is considering the candidacy of a development expert who could really pep up our board’s fundraising efforts. She is currently the director of development of a local nonprofit whose mission is very different from ours, although our organizations do pursue some of the same donors. Is there a conflict of interest if she serves on our board (she is committed to our cause) while fulfilling her other professional obligations?
Michael Daigneault, former BoardSource senior governance consultant
This is the classic case of a potential conflict of interest that could become an actual conflict of interest. The “conflict” occurs when a person or professional interest competes with and interferes with an obligation to serve the interests of another, such as an employer, a board, or even a client. Is this likely to occur in this case? Will the interests of the two organizations collide at some point to the detriment of both? The board and the candidate should talk freely about this to uncover any inherent conflicts of interest.
In this instance, the development expert has a clear and unambiguous professional obligation to the local nonprofit that employs her. Merely asking her to serve on your board does not create an incurable conflict of interest, however. For example, if she limits her board activities to helping create a development plan, rather than actually doing the solicitation, she can avoid a direct conflict of interest. But this situation is a slippery slope with the potential for conflict due, in part, to the difficulty of keeping her fundraising activities and contacts completely separate. A circumstance could arise when she would fail to fulfill an obligation to act in the interests of either your organization or her employer.
If you ask this director of development to assist with your fundraising, you may create a situation when she is raising money from a donor who has supported or who might support both organizations. She would be bound to try to maximize the money given by this donor to both her employer and to your organization. She may not be able to do this, to the detriment of one or both organizations.
If your intention is to have her fundraise by identifying and calling on prospects, you would be better off looking for a board member who can give your organization unconditional loyalty. You don’t want to be in a position of securing less money for your organization than you would have with someone who is dedicated to only your organization.
101 Resource | Last updated: December 30, 2019