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Insights from Karen Climer about fundraising and nonprofit organizations

Three Thoughts About Board Giving

October 3rd, 2013 by Karen Climer

I just got home from a board meeting of one of my clients.  About a month ago, I had discussed with the board president that we need 100% giving participation from the board.  I explained that some boards have give-or-get policies.  Sometimes there is even a dollar amount attached to it.  For example, you need to give or get at least $1,000.  I told her that I didn’t think a specific amount was appropriate for this particular board at this time, but it was important for all board members to make a significant gift within their means.

Today at the board meeting, she brings this up to everyone.  She ends by saying that we don’t have time today to discuss whether we want to have a specific amount requirement, or just say that everyone should give.  We will have to postpone this discussion until our annual retreat in four months.

Are you serious?!  Why do we have to wait four months to get started?  Is there some reason why we can’t have all board members make a gift before the end of the fiscal year?

Board giving is a topic that has been beaten to death.  It is mentioned in every fundraising book that was ever written.  Some books are dedicated specifically to this topic.   I have three thoughts about board giving that I want to share today.

First, all board members need to make a personal gift.  Corporate gifts don’t count.  It needs to be a personal gift because board members need to be personally invested.  How much do they need to give?  Whatever is necessary to make that organization one of their top three charities.  So, if you give $10,000 to your alma mater and $10,000 to your place of worship, then $10,000 would probably be a good amount.  On the other hand if your situation makes it such that your top gift to anyone is $500 annually, and even that is a stretch, then that is a more appropriate gift.

Second, we need to be upfront with board members about giving and fundraising expectations.  It is not fair to recruit someone to join the board.  Then, once they’ve attended a few meetings, you say, “Oh, by the way, we have a $10,000 give-or-get expectation.”  This bait-and-switch tactic is not going to help you get good board members.

Third, it drives me crazy when the board president makes an announcement in a meeting to the effect of, “Everyone needs to make a gift, so we can have 100% participation.  Please give what you can.”  Can you imagine if we treated all of our donors that way?  (As a side note: usually the organizations that use this approach are the same organizations that are annoyed that most of their board members make only a token gift.)

Board members deserve to be asked for a gift one-on-one by the board president.  An announcement that it is time for your annual gift is not an ask, it is an announcement.  If the board president wants to announce, “I will be calling each of you within the next two weeks to schedule a time to discuss your annual gift,” that is fine – as long as he follows up with scheduling the individual asks.

Board members have made a major commitment to the organization and deserve to be cultivated and asked the same way as any other major donor.  The other reason for the personal ask is that it is not fair to expect a board member to feel comfortable making major gift calls if it was never demonstrated to him.

As nonprofit professionals, we get the boards we recruit and create.  I’ve worked with boards that were great boards and less than great boards.  In all cases, the great boards were ones were every board member made a substantial personal gift, they knew the expectations going in, and they were given the same respect and personal ask as other major donors.

Posted in Board of Directors

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