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Insights from Karen Climer about fundraising and nonprofit organizations

Board Give-Or-Get Policies — Should You Have One?

July 21st, 2014 by Karen Climer

Last week, I met with a colleague who is developing a major gifts program.  She mentioned that her organization has a $2,500 give-or-get policy for board members.  In other words, board members must give $2,500 yourself, raise $2,500 from others, or some combination of the two.  I’ve always found these types of policies to be great ideas on paper, but in practice they don’t seem to work.  Why not?

First, when you set an amount, the floor becomes the ceiling.  On most boards, you have people who are capable of giving 5-figure or even 6-figure gifts.  If you set the minimum at $2,500, it is possible that a board member will step up and give $100,000, but that is extremely rare.  More often, whatever amount you set is the amount you are going to get.  This is particularly true if you don’t ask board members individually, but use the announcement approach.

Second, it does not require a personal gift.  I believe all board members need to make a personal gift.  If the board member arranges for his employer to make a gift, that isn’t a personal gift.  Yes, that is important and something we want all board members to do.  But let’s not fool ourselves into thinking that is a personal commitment.  I believe all board members need to make a personal gift.

Third, this treats everyone the same, which is unrealistic.  Board members bring different strengths to the table.  You might have a board member who knows everyone in town, but the most he can give this year is around $1,000.  There might be a board member who has money growing on trees in her backyard.  She spends all of her time tending to her money trees, so she doesn’t have a huge contact list.  And there is always the board member (or several) who says, “I’ll do anything you need except raise money.”

Does that mean that a board can make a token $10 for the year and be done with it?  It depends.  I like to tell board members that their gift should be a stretch — something that they have to actually think about and budget for.  Furthermore, we expect Very Important Charity to be among their top three charities.  Often, their church or temple is #1, and their alma mater is #2.  Regardless, whatever they give to everyone else, Very Important Charity should be in the top three.  For some people, that might mean $100, which they have to pay in $25 quarterly installments.  For others, that might mean $250,000 annually.

In my experience, I have found that even if the organization has a give-or-get policy, quite often not all board members participate at the appropriate level.  I’ve also found it very rare for an organization to fire the board member because of that.

I’d love to hear what you think.  Are give-or-get policies good?  If not, what do you recommend?  Please share your experiences in the comments section below.

Posted in Board of Directors

5 Responses

  1. Lauren


    I think this post is spot on. Have you seen other boards do something other than the standard “give or get” that would allow those individual conversations to happen? Like having a give AND get policy perhaps?

    Do you think in actuality that many charities are in a board member’s top 3 priorities? Particularly if the charity has a number of “appointed” positions – e.g. XYZ corporation has a board seat they fill annually at very important charity?

  2. Karen Climer

    Yes, I have seen give-AND-get policies. For example, all members are responsible for $2,500. Of that, at least $1,000 must be given personally and at least $1,000 must be raised. One of the problems I have with this, or a traditional give-or-get policy, is that it treats everyone the same.

    Regarding the corporate representative…that is a common dilemma that is usually not handled well. (I’m guilty too.) Most often, the gift from the Big Name Law Firm counts as that person’s gift. What I would recommend is accepting the gift from Big Name Law Firm, cultivating the board member the same way you would any individual donor, then asking him for a gift personally. Let him know that you appreciate the role that he played in securing the gift from Big Name, but you know that the Science Center is important to him personally as well. You know that he is interested in the community, not just because he works at Big Name, but because he lives here and he’s a leader in the community. The biggest thing is to cultivate him the way you cultivate other donors. Too often board members are treated as one large group, instead of as individual people.

    Regarding the top three charities questions…I am working with a board right now that does not have any board giving policy. The only requirement is that board members must give something. If I think about the good board members, yes, I believe the nonprofit is among their top three charities. Now, there are other members of the board who make the minimal contribution both monetarily and otherwise. If it were up to me, those people would be voted off the board. The vast majority of members fall somewhere in between these two extremes. They donate something (but it’s not a stretch gift). They attend the meetings. They may or may not do anything outside of the meetings. I fault the board president for this. It is the board president and the executive director for this. It is their job to meet with these people individually and ask them for an appropriate gift and help them get more involved.

  3. Lisa

    Karen and Lauren…
    Perhaps teaching the corporate world how to match their folks with the right charity board would be a good place to start. Placing someone on a board because the company has a “spot” is not an effective use of time. In my opinion, if a company can’t find the right match… passion with mission, mission with passion…then they should allow the spot to be open to another company.

    Money follows passion. If the right person is matched with the right board then a Give or Get policy would, most likely, not be needed.

    Along the same lines, I overheard a conversation at the AFP Int’l board meeting this past weekend…two members were discussing their policies. I have no idea the outcome of their conversation, however I did hear one of them say…’board members need to be “Donors, Doers and Door Openers.” Well said!!!

  4. Karen Climer

    Thanks, Lisa, for participating in the discussion. You make a good point. I agree that the corporation should try to find someone who is interested in the mission. Remember, the corporation has a mission too. Their mission might be to put emerging leaders on the board to help them develop leadership skills. Or maybe to fill nonprofit boards with their employees so they seem like a good neighbor to the community. Yes, it is possible to achieve both the nonprofit’s and the corporation’s missions, sometimes it just takes more work.

    I think it’s easy to say if we can’t find a match the spot should be open to another company. But what if Big Orlando Theme Park will only donate if they have a board spot? Do you tell Big Orlando Theme Park to keep their six-figure annual gift until they can find someone who is interested in your mission? (I know in fundraising workshops people tell you that yes, you should fire the board member. But in reality, every nonprofit I’ve every worked with will deal with the passable board member.) You can work with Big Orlando Theme Park to try to find the right match, but what if they insist it should be this guy? When this happens, what most nonprofits do is say, “Oh well. He’s the Big Theme Park representative. He’s not going to make a personal gift.” I’m suggesting we engage him the way you would any other major gift prospect? Find out what his interests are. He might be interested in part of your mission. Cultivate the relationship, and eventually ask for a personal gift.

    I recognize your point for sure. It is worthwhile to work with the corporation to find a board member who is interested in your mission, but if that doesn’t work, then what?

    My point is that we need to treat board members as individual people. Too often we say, “Board members know they need to give. They should write us a check without us having to build a relationship or even ask for a gift. He’s a board member. He knows better.” My point is that a good fundraiser knows better.

    Thanks again for your comments. By the way, I also get a kick out of things like donors, doers, and door openers. I have probably heard a dozen different phrases. Everyone uses different words, but it’s essentially the same thing. What’s funny is that no matter what three words people use, it always has alliteration.

  5. Karen Climer

    One more thing … I absolutely agree that the best board members are people who care. I have been working with a board for a few years where every single person on the board is extremely passionate about the mission. Several of them can make large gifts, but several of them can only give a few hundred dollars. This is by far the best board I have ever worked with. This board has no corporate appointments.

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