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Should Nonprofits List Board Members In Their Letterhead?

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Impact of Listing Board Members on Nonprofit Letterhead

Nonprofit organizations often list their board members on their official letterhead. On the surface, this seems like a very minor thing. But as you dig deeper, it can cause a few hiccups when generating appeal letters, gift acknowledgments, and other types of communications.

Expert Opinion on Board Listings

Legendary direct response fundraiser Mal Warwick comments in Nonprofit World magazine:

“It depends how well your directors are known. In a small community where the board consists of the best-known names in town, a charity might well benefit by displaying its board list on the side of its direct-mail appeals. The same goes for a national organization that sports a truly star-studded board. But in any other circumstances, I believe that listing the board on the letterhead used in appeals is a mistake and is very likely to depress response.

The reason this is usually a poor idea is that lists of names invariably distract most readers. Lists get very high readership, and if your list isn’t calculated to increase the credibility of your appeal, you’re well-advised to leave it off. Many potential donors, seeing no names they recognize, will read no further.”

Donor-Centric Communication: Focusing on the Donor

Additionally, listing board members on letterhead takes away from one of the most foundational elements of good donor communications: making your letters and emails all about the donors. In the context of a letter to one of your donors, you want the donor as the hero, not your board. You don’t want to communicate: “Look how cool we are!” Instead, you want to communicate: “Look at how cool YOU are!”

Logistical Challenges and Exceptions

Think about what you are communicating when you list all of your board members prominently on your organization’s letterhead. Who are you making the focus? Additionally, whenever you have a change to who is serving on your board, you have to go out and print new letterhead or change all of your templates. The one potential exception, as Warwick says, would be if your organization happens to have nationally recognized figures on your board. But even then, your donor probably already knows this. Why put the focus back on your nationally recognized board?

Best Practices for Fundraising

Removing the names of your board members from your letterhead is a good first step in following proven fundraising best practice. Always remember to put the donor first, make them the hero of your story.

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  • Susan Jacobson

    Does CEO get listed above or below the board members?
  • Elizabeth mcLellan

    this is helpful We list CEO and Founder at the top (same person) but should the COO also be listed and under that name the board officers and memebers/
  • Ken Wyman

    Charities and non-profit groups that are not well known should list board members on the letterhead in acquisition mailings - going to people who are not sure this whether this is an organization they trust. By borrowing credibility the organization signals that they are reliable. What do you do when your board members are not famous celebrities (at least locally)? Add credentials before and after. "Jane Doe" may not be a known name. But Dr. Jane Doe PhD, chair of environmental studies at Local U has higher credibility because of her title, education, position, and institution. If you have a lawyer and an accountant on the board (and you should) show their credentials. The same goes for clergy, business people, health care professionals, and others with prestige. Even if you are opposed to putting people with privilege into power, you can spin that to your advantage. List "Jane Doe, Welfare Mother; Jo Roe, Psychiatric Survivor; Ananada Huzzini, Refugee Activist" and similar qualifications. This show your organization is run by people who walk the talk. Keep the list up-to-date by printing it on demand. Instead of keeping expensive letterhead on the shelf until the information is stale, print a fresh batch only when needed. Nothing is more embarrassing than letterhead that includes board members who have since left, or died! After donors have decided to support you, you can remind them that this was a good decision by showing the list of board members on your thank-you letters, and in your annual report. If you are not a brand name, this helps donors know they are making the right choice.
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