nonprofit board giving

“If a board member isn’t passionate enough to give, how can they share their passion for the mission with the wider community?”

“There should be a give or get.”

“If a board member won’t give, then they don’t understand their responsibility as a board member.”

Just Because Everyone Believes It…

In my employee giving survey, 91% of respondents believed that board members should be donors.

Makes sense: You shouldn’t just talk the talk. You also have to walk the walk. If board members are going to be opening doors to new donors, they themselves should be donors.

Board members have a fiduciary responsibility to ensure the overall short and long-term health of the organization. They should have to donate to help those efforts.

Leadership plays a role in people’s attitudes towards nonprofit board giving. Where does giving start? At the top. If the board is giving, then others will give as well.

All of these are well known attitudes and beliefs in the nonprofit sector. You can read plenty of articles on board fundraising which reference mandatory or automatic nonprofit board giving. But after completing my survey, conducting tens of follow up interviews and giving it a lot of thought, I’ve changed my tune and I’d like you to reconsider your opinion on the issue as well.

Bottom line: board members do not HAVE TO be givers. They can be donors but it should not be mandatory.

Does Diversity Matter?

Many nonprofits are financially dependent on the yearly 4, 5 and 6-figure checks they receive from board members. During the interview process, prospective board members will be told how much they are expected to donate annually. If not a “give,” then a “get”: board members will have to fundraise from others to reach dollar amount “X.” 

However, this ensures that only people of means are sitting on the board. Only high-wealth individuals “deserve” a seat around the decision table. That automatically excludes quite a large swath of talented people in your community who could help your organization move forward.

Exclusion means no diversity. Exclusion means publicly announcing that not everyone can participate in helping navigate the organization towards success. A board that is inclusive allows for a diverse set of backgrounds and opinions to be heard. If the makeup of your board is consistently people of means, are you really serving your community in the best way possible?

You are not. Board members should have the best interests of your organization’s mission at heart. They have to be willing to volunteer their time and energy to providing better services and programs for those you assist on a daily basis.

But that should not involve an automatic give. Why? Let me illustrate with two groups of people who absolutely should be on your Board but are quite often missing because they can’t write a large check.

1. Field Experts

One of the ways to differentiate your organization is to become a thought leader in your specific niche. Demonstrate your expertise of understanding the problem your constituents face and how your solution positively impacts them and the community at large. Establishing your knowledge of the subject matter helps shine a spotlight on your mission and work.

What if there was a well-known field expert who brought a certain stature and standing to your organization? Would you not invite them to join your board because of their inability to financially contribute a significant amount? 

Donors want to do good. They want to know that your organization has the solutions to the problems they want to solve. A field expert onboard who helps direct your mission will make an impression on donors.

Not everything should come down to dollars but because it so often does, think about your bottom line differently: You “lose” the board member donation. You gain more potential donors in the community who view you as a leader and expert in your field.

Would you say no to that?

2. Your Service Recipients

I admit I hadn’t really considered this option until I read an excellent post by NPO digital communications specialist Kirsty Marrins. She’s absolutely right: The most effective way to deliver programs and services that move the needle would be to include those you’re serving in the decision-making process!

Quick question: How many organizations do you know that have a service recipient on their board? I’m willing to bet it’s nowhere near the norm it should be.

Those receiving services from your nonprofit are probably not people of means. If all board members have to be givers, you’re automatically removing beneficiaries from that group. Wouldn’t you (and they) be better served if they were in the room when decisions about them were being made?

To borrow the slogan of the disability community: Nothing about us without us.

Give-or-get is not an option for this group but it shouldn’t be the litmus test for board membership. Actively recruiting service recipients should be a norm, not an anomaly.

Time = Money When it Comes to Nonprofit Board Giving

It’s time to reconsider how we decide who should make decisions for our organizations. The expectation of a financial donation is an exclusionary practice. It points a finger at many, many talented individuals in your community and in essence says: “You’re not eligible.”

Or as nonprofit lawyer Jess Birken told me:

“A lot of times requiring financial commitment limits who can be on the board. Someone uniquely talented or with a different perspective may not be a major donor or have the ability to give. If giving is at “a level meaningful for you,” that’s fine. But I don’t like a black and white rule about required giving.”

Time, commitment, and passion can all equal money. The short and long-term overall health of the organization shouldn’t just be in the hands of a few high-wealth individuals. As Jess told me, a nonprofit has no owner. It belongs to the community — it’s an asset of the community that it serves.

All nonprofits should reflect the makeup of the community that owns them. Starting from the very top.

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Ephraim Gopin
Ephraim Gopin is the founder of 1832 Communications, an agency which will partner with your nonprofit to help you raise more money through smart and effective marketing and communications. He is always happy to connect with nonprofit pros on Twitter, LinkedIn, via his daily nonprofit newsletter, YouTube channel or his weekly podcast.