Should Board Members Be Required to Give?
At this point, it’s practically an unspoken rule. For the majority of nonprofit organizations, 100 percent of boards should be contributing financially. Chances are this includes your board.
Despite being aware of what should be, evidence actually points to the contrary happening. In fact, a Small Shop Fundraising survey that I conducted a couple of years ago revealed that an astonishing 55 percent of organizations claimed that they did not have 100 percent board-giving. Yes, more than half! Think about it. How can you reasonably expect others to contribute financially to your organization if the members of your board do not?
Yes, I know—there are plenty of reasons for why not. You have members who contribute in-kind services, volunteer or bring in new donors. They already are doing stuff to help out and you just don’t feel right about asking them to contribute financially in addition to what they already do. Plus, if they were to contribute, how much should they be giving? Would it make sense to enforce a minimum-giving level?
The reality is that more and more grant-making foundations are making it a component of their criteria to fund only organizations with 100 percent board-giving. I’ve even come across the far end of the spectrum, where a funder requested a notarized statement attesting to attendance at board meetings. Again, it makes sense if you really think about it. How can foundations reasonably give to your organization when there are members of your board who aren’t even giving?
While I don’t recommend setting giving amounts, every member of your board should be contributing financially at a level that is personally meaningful for them. Understand that generosity is a flexible, relative thing based on each individual member. Together, your board has the power to do a world of good and place your organization in the running for the next step: Foundation funding.
My friend Debra Baker Beck, from the Laramie Board Learning Project, said:
“My counsel to nonprofit boards, when it comes to a policy on member giving, is to do what is best for your organization. That right choice may very well be not requiring contributions from board members. However, that approach could ultimately have very real financial consequences, as more foundations and more major donors ask and expect to hear that you have 100 percent participation from your board members. This very tangible demonstration of commitment is increasingly important to those we ask to support us via grants and personal gifts.”
What’s that, you say? You don’t currently have a policy on board-giving? What are you waiting for? There’s no time like today to start.
The key lies in how you approach your board members. I have found that far too often we treat our board as an entity, rather than the generous, compassionate individuals they are. Instead of announcing your policy at a board meeting, make the time to meet one-on-one with your board members. Spend some time listening deeply. How did they become involved with your organization? What are their stories?
When I was an in-the-trenches fundraiser and handling everything from writing a grant proposal, to putting up a website, to loading the dishwasher, I typically included board-giving with my first fundraising appeal of the year and sent a letter written specifically for board members. You can download this sample template letter. Still awaiting a response from one or three board members? Try using this follow-up appeal or invite the board member to coffee. Still holding out? A gentle follow-up phone call from your board chair will do the trick.
Keep in mind that monthly giving offers the opportunity for board members to make a bit more of a stretch gift. When I have started monthly giving programs for clients, I’ve always begun with the board. Members, who ordinarily made a $1,000 gift, were delighted to give monthly at the $150 level.
Oh, and don’t forget to celebrate every little success. When you reach 100 percent board participation, celebrate it—perhaps with a pizza party at your next board meeting, or by breaking out a bottle of champagne. A board member has brought in three new donors? Send them a thank-you gift or present a token of your gratitude publicly at your next board meeting.
"Celebrate what you want to see more of." – Tom Peters
Pamela Grow is the publisher of The Grow Report, the author of Simple Development Systems and the founder of Simple Development Systems: The Membership Program and Basics & More fundraising fundamentals e-courses. She has been helping small nonprofits raise dramatically more money for over 15 years, and was named one of the 50 Most Influential Fundraisers by Civil Society magazine, and one of the 40 Most Effective Fundraising Consultants by The Michael Chatman Giving Show.