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Fundraising Training Exercise: Building a Board Fundraising Ladder

Excerpted from Train Your Board (And Everyone Else) to Raise Money

This activity is designed to generate a long list of board fundraising opportunities. When it's over, you'll have a rough step-by-step plan for increasing board engagement that you can refine as you go along.

Why Do This Exercise?

Everyone can find a fundraising role, even (especially) those who find fundraising scary or distasteful

Use This Exercise When

You're trying to alter the "culture of fundraising" on your board to make it more comprehensive and inclusive

Time Required

About 30 minutes, plus 10 minutes for preparation


The leadership team for your fundraising campaign: some combination of board, staff, and volunteers. This activity can be done with as few as three people and as many as a dozen. In general, the more people involved, the more productive the exercise.


A private room with enough wall space to hang eight sheets of flip chart paper in four separate locations—the more space between these locations, the better


  • Bell or whistle
  • Flip chart paper and markers
  • Tape (unless you're using selfstick flip chart paper)
  • Stopwatch or timer

Facilitating the Exercise

  1. fundraising-training-exercise-building-board-fundraising-ladder-image1.jpgTo prepare the exercise, tape two pieces of flip chart paper side by side (see illustration to the right) at four locations around the room; these locations should be as far apart as possible.
  2. Across the top of the first two side-by-side sheets, write the headline Easy. At the second location, write the headline Medium. At the third, Challenging. And at the last location, Leadership.

    Circle back to the first location. On the left sheet, below the headline, write Activities. On the right sheet, write How to Move Board Members Up to the Next Level (see illustration). Repeat at the remaining three locations.
  3. Divide your colleagues into groups of three to five and ask each group to start the exercise at one of the four flip chart paper locations.
  4. Hand out a few markers to each group with the following instructions:

    "When I say go, brainstorm and write fundraising activities on the page where you're standing, paying attention to the level: easy, medium, challenging, or leadership. For example, an easy activity might be addressing envelopes for your fundraising mailing.

    "A challenging activity, on the other hand, might be meeting with a donor and asking for a big gift.

    "It's worth noting that what one person considers easy another person might consider challenging. Because this is a brainstorm, don't worry too much about this—we can always move the pieces around when we're done.

    "Also brainstorm and write notes on the second sheet: How to Move Board Members Up to the Next Level—for example, moving them from the easy level to the medium level. What strategies can we use to encourage a board member to take on more difficult fundraising tasks? You'll find that many of your answers will be general, such as training and mentoring, but you might come up with more specific suggestions as well.

    "After three minutes, I'll ring the bell [or blow the whistle]. At that point, all groups rotate clockwise to the next station. You can add to the work of the previous group and amend any ideas, but you can't cross out anything. By the end of the exercise, you'll have had a chance to work at all four locations.

    "Questions? Please begin now."

    Three minutes per location is an estimate—if groups are being productive, you can give them another minute or two, but don't let things drag.
  5. Once the exercise is complete, ask everyone to circle the room one more time to review the completed sheets.
  6. Gather the full group together to debrief using some combination of the following questions:
    • When you take a look at everything we wrote, what themes or common threads do you see?
    • Let's go around and everyone tell me one thing you learned from this exercise.
    • When you look at these four stations, at what level do you see yourself: easy, medium, challenging, or leadership?
    • Name one activity you would be willing to do.
  7. Recruit a volunteer to gather the flip chart paper—or use a smartphone camera—and type the notes for discussion at your next board meeting.

Training Tip

If you're working with a group for a long time, schedule this activity when their collective energy is likely to be low—for example, right after lunch (trainers call this "the dead hour") or at the end of the day. Activities that require people to move around can raise the energy level high enough to add 30 to 60 productive minutes to your training.

Other Excerpts from This Book


Andrea Kihlstedt and Andy Robinson

© 2014, Andrea Kihlsted and Andy Robinson. Excerpted from Train Your Board (And Everyone Else) to Raise Money: A Cookbook of Easy-to-Use Fundraising Exercises. Excerpted with permission of Emerson & Church, Publishers.

Visit the website for this book

fundraising-training-exercise-building-board-fundraising-ladder_Andrea-Kihlstedt.pngAndrea Kihlstedt is author of How to Raise $1 Million (or More!) in 10 Bite-Sized Steps. She has served the nonprofit sector for more than 30 years as a fundraiser, trainer, consultant, teacher, writer, and speaker. She has trained nonprofit boards and staff throughout the United States on effective major gifts fundraising, capital campaigns, and how to ask for gifts. Kihlstedt is cofounder (with Gail Perry) of Capital Campaign Magic, providing online learning about capital campaign fundraising.

fundraising-training-exercise-building-board-fundraising-ladder_Andy-Robinson.jpgAndy Robinson provides training and consulting for nonprofits in fundraising, grantseeking, board development, marketing, earned income, planning, leadership development, and facilitation. Andy has worked with organizations in 47 U.S. states and Canada and is the author of six books. His latest include How to Raise $500 to $5000 from Almost Anyone, The Board Member's Easier Than You Think Guide to Nonprofit Finances, and Great Boards for Small Groups.

Topics: Board Development