Should Board Members Be Required to Donate?

by Joan Garry

Is your board of directors required to donate? In this post, I dive into why giving back to your organization is one of the best practices of highly effective nonprofit boards.

In my non-existent spare time, I engage in fundraising work for my alma mater, Fordham University. I’m planning to sit with a Dean and make a very significant ask to an alum to name a scholarship in honor of a dear friend who recently passed away.

On a planning call with the Dean, we discussed the ask “choreography” (that’s what I call it :))

“Would you like me to make the ask?” the Dean said.

“No,” I replied, “I should.”

There were two important reasons: First, my brother and his friend battled the same illness (actually they both lost the battle). But more importantly, my wife and I are donors. And if you’ve been interacting with me for a while, then you know that the two most powerful words in “ask choreography” are…

Say it with me now…

“JOIN ME.”

As a board member, you are responsible for inviting people to know more and do more for your organization, right? You are responsible for increasing the financial resources of your organization so that it can have a greater impact, right?

For me, it’s a no-brainer. The most powerful way to ask someone for money is to talk about why you do it and lead with “Would you consider joining me…?”

“Join me,” says: I am in this. I have skin in the game. It says I am not asking you to do anything that I do not do myself.

So to answer the question: Should board members be required to give?

ABSOLUTELY.

Perhaps this can be the shortest blog post ever because this story pretty much tells you what you need to know about where I stand on this subject. But I think you need more.

I’ve been around nonprofits long enough to know that not everyone agrees with having a nonprofit board giving policy (also known as a give and get policy). And even if a board chair or executive director agrees, there is a board to convince.

Today, when it comes to a nonprofit board giving policy, I’m going to make the case for ABSOLUTELY.

BOARDS THAT MAKE A DIFFERENCE GIVE MORE THAN JUST TIME…

Ok, so you read my story and you’re thinking I made a pretty good case. You may also be thinking, “Joan, you are donating time you really don’t have to this work — isn’t that commitment sufficient?”

No. And in fact the closer to the work you get, the more of an appetite you will develop to want to support it.

That’s what happens for volunteers at all levels. Bet you didn’t know that your organization’s volunteers are the biggest source of donors in your organization.

Here’s some compelling data from my pal and volunteer expert Tobi Johnson.

She cites a study that reports that nearly 70% of Americans who have volunteered in the past 12 months say they make financial contributions to the same organization where they volunteer.

Consider how a lower-level volunteer might feel to know that she makes a gift every year but there is a board member not on the donor list…

FUNDERS ACTUALLY CARE ABOUT THIS STATISTIC…

I wish funders cared about a lot of other board metrics but they sure do care about this one — it’s a hoop that organizations are asked to jump through — 100% board giving. It is a litmus test for commitment.

And they are not wrong.

How many board members toss a buck to a homeless person on the street or throw $5 in The Salvation Army’s red kettle at Christmas without thinking and then come up with a big old goose egg for their own organization? Answer: far too many.

SO WHY IS THERE EVEN A DEBATE ON THE GIVE AND GET MODEL?

There are two main reasons why I think boards and nonprofit organizations push back against creating a nonprofit board giving policy:

  1. Lousy board recruitment. Far too often, we approach recruitment with a ‘butts in seats’ strategy and avoid clarity around any issue that could cause a prospect to say, “No”. We soft-pedal fundraising as an obligation (that’s if we even mention it at all). So new board members are ill-informed or misled and they rightfully balk at responsibilities or obligations that were unclear or unstated when they were recruited.
  2. Highly problematic thinking about diversity. Here’s where we find ourselves over troubled water with no bridge — the assumption that you can have some kind of diversity but that this must come at the expense of financial commitments. Ouch. Many of these conversations are ill-informed at best and downright racist at worst.

THE SOLUTION IS EASIER THAN YOU THINK.

  1. Recruit with more clarity. Tell every prospect this: every single board member is expected to give an amount that is meaningful to them and is one of the top three gifts they make each year. It is important to illustrate our collective and individual commitments — we must show we have skin in the game.Now, these top three gifts of which I speak do not have to be big fat gifts. Let’s say I really have very little disposable income. Then I look back over the year and realize that over 12 months I have given $250 to my house of worship or $50 to a school fundraiser for my kid. And I see that those are the biggest gifts I made because I wanted to and those gifts are meaningful to me given my financial situation. If I join your board and I know I can pay over 12 months, can I commit to $100? $50? I bet I can.
  2. There is an obligation to do your best, through giving and “getting” a total of approximately X. We rely on the board to be a resource engine. We are aware that some folks’ networks do not include folks with capacity or folks who are “wealth adjacent”. We all work together, sharing contacts and engaging in donor and prospect stewardship, and we are confident that our organization will introduce you to folks you can steward and ultimately steward. Very few folks on our board can give or get X and it is our role to set you up to succeed. And we do.

DO THIS RIGHT AND…..

  • You will recruit board members who understand and are enthusiastic about joining a board with a strong culture of philanthropy. No more surprises!
  • The board chair ensures that every board member makes an annual contribution. The Executive Director can be involved in these conversations if it feels important but it is not the job of the E.D. to make the ask.
  • The development committee and the development staff work to help all board members nurture and steward current donors up for renewal, lapsed donors, etc., making all board members feel like they can reach their target in spite of what may be limited personal resources.
  • You end up with a collective of enthusiastic ambassadors who give according to their ability and feel supported in their efforts to spread the good word and invite folks to know and do more for the organization.

Getting the right folks in the right seats on the bus and educating them about the vital nature of their work following the above path may be the most valuable move a board chair makes. It really is something that separates boards that underperform from boards that make a difference. Try it. See what happens. Create a nonprofit board giving policy.

Here’s another blog post I wrote on how to get your board to approve a Give or Get policy. Maybe it’ll help.

In the meantime, if you want to dig deeper into what it takes to have a board that is involved, engaged, and fully ignited, check out my latest free workshop. It is jam-packed with everything you need to build or revamp your board from start to finish. Click here to save your seat and join me.

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