The Dos and Don’ts of Asking Nonprofit Board Members for Gifts
Board giving is a dicey subject! And more organizations do it wrong than right. Here are some key dos and don'ts of board giving. Following that, you’ll have a chance to quiz yourself by attempting to solve a real-world board giving dilemma, where the organization wrestled with how to ask their nonprofit board members for gifts.
Inevitably, they got it right. Let’s see if you can, too!
5 Dos and Don’ts of Board Giving When Asking Board Members for Gifts
Read through these five dos and don’ts of board giving. They may help you figure out the predicament further down.
- DON’T tell board members that they don’t really have to make a financial commitment to your organization.
- DO talk with people about about the financial responsibilities of being a board member before they join your board. Be clear and specific about what is expected of board members—including their giving.
- DON’T leave it up to the board members to figure out when and how much to give. Many organizations simply pass out pledge forms in the board packet and hope that board members will fill them out. That doesn’t work well.
- DO discuss and determine a board giving goal at a board meeting and set up a process through which every board member will have an opportunity to talk with another board member about their giving.
- DON’T let board members off the hook when they don’t make their gifts.
- DO hold board members accountable. If a board member is not making a financial commitment every year, you should discuss directly the possibility that they might serve the organization in other ways but not stay on the board. A small board of highly committed people is far better than a big board of laggards.
- DON’T set a one-size-fits-all giving level for every board member. The number will be too high for some board members and too low for others.
- DO ask board members to make a gift that is for that board member a meaningful gift. Ask that every board member gift a gift that is among the top three gifts they make.
- DON’T downplay board giving. That’s a sure way to get lackluster results.
- DO make a big deal of the generosity of your board members. Add a specific category for board giving in your budget. Set a board giving goal that every board member knows and celebrate when the board has reached it.
Solve It: A Board Giving Puzzle
And now, here’s a board giving puzzle that’ll require some clever thinking. Can you figure it out?
A small but mighty organization had a situation with their board that they weren’t sure how to handle.
Board giving had gone down for three years running, from $150,000 to less than half that amount. The budget included $100,000 for board giving this year. But now, in the middle of the year, board members collectively had given only $17,000 and the board chair was concerned.
So the board chair decided to do something about it.
He called the development director and told her that he had decided to make a $20,000 challenge gift to boost board giving. The development director called me for help. “How should we handle that?” she wanted to know. There was a board meeting coming up the next night and she was in a tizzy.
How should they position the chair’s challenge so it would have the maximum positive effect?
Here are some of her questions…
Put on your thinking cap and see if you can come up with good answers to following questions.
Should the board chair’s gift be presented as a matching gift or a challenge gift? That is, should he say that he would match all new board gifts dollar for dollar up to $20,000? Or should he say that if the board raised $20,000 in new money he would kick in his $20,000?
Should the board chair just announce it at the meeting and let people respond then and there? Or should they plan some sort of follow-up?
How could they keep the $20,000 challenge from taking people’s focus off the larger, pre-existing $100,000 board giving goal?
How could they avoid what the development director called the “crickets” moment at the board meeting when everyone sits there in silence and feels uncomfortable?
We came up with a great solution that strategically answers all four questions. But before scrolling down beneath the box below, think about how you would handle it.
Board Giving Puzzle Solution
So after a little thought, were you able to come up with a solution to the predicament above that was similar to ours?
Should the board chair’s gift be presented as a matching gift or a challenge gift? At the board meeting, the development committee head highlighted the board giving goal and what it would mean for the organization if the board could raise $100,000 from current (and former) board members before the end of the fiscal year.
Should he just announce it at the meeting and let people respond then and there? Or should she plan some sort of follow-up? The board chair chimed in, saying that he’s so committed to that idea that he’s decided to match dollar-for-dollar the first $20,000 in new money that current board members pledge between now and July 31.
How could she keep the $20,000 challenge from taking people’s focus off the larger, pre-existing $100,000 board giving goal? They had called another board members before the meeting and asked him to make a new gift right there at the meeting to get the ball going and eliminate the “crickets” moment.
How could she avoid what she called the “crickets” moment at the board meeting when everyone sits there in silence and feels uncomfortable? The development director said that she’d like some help calling every board and former board members. She told people that if they were willing to help make the calls, they should let her know after the meeting. This too avoided the “crickets” moment.
All went as scripted. When the challenge was announced and the next board member announced his gift, two other board members followed suit.
After the meeting, three board members offered to help the director of development follow up with all of the board and former board members.
Last I heard, they were well on their way—not only to making the challenge, but to their total goal of $100,000.
Not bad for a bit of carefully thought out strategy.
What might’ve you done differently in this situation? Leave your thoughts in the comments below.
Andrea Kihlstedt is an innovative leader and expert in capital campaign fundraising. She wrote "Capital Campaigns: Strategies That Work (4th ed)," often referred to as the “bible” of capital campaign fundraising. She founded Capital Campaign Masters and co-founded Capital Campaign Toolkit, an online capital campaign resource and platform.