“Should our board members also donate to our organization?”
A common question, with a near-unanimous answer from the top fundraisers and consultants in the sector: YES!
Unfortunately, 100% board giving eludes too many nonprofits, despite it being a basic tenet of a sustainable organization.
Our own Bloomerang survey found that only 59% of nonprofits saw all of their board members pledge or give a gift in the past year.
According to Leading with Intent’s 2017 National Index of Nonprofit Board Practices, the percentage of organizations that require board giving is also 59%. That percentage fluctuates based on organization size and type between 19% and 69%.
It is my belief that our sector’s overall lack of board member financial support is a large contributor to the sector’s low donor retention rates, high employee turnover rate, and overall slow growth in giving (“our stubborn 2% of GDP”).
Writing for On Philanthropy, Tom Watson makes a salient case for 100% board giving:
One of the most basic measures of organizational health is the commitment of every board member to contribute within his or her means. If board members don’t provide regular support, it suggests that they do not understand what it means to lead on the organization’s behalf. It could also suggest that they don’t understand why the organization needs financial support. Among the governance responsibilities of boards is to guarantee that the organization is on sound financial footing. When board members contribute, they demonstrate their understanding that raising funds is essential to the financial stability of the organization.
It makes sense, doesn’t it?
If a board member does not give, how can you expect them to effectively fundraise for you?
If a board member does not give, how can you expect them to effectively thank and steward existing donors?
If a board member does not give, how can they encourage their development staff to effectively raise funds?
Joanne Fritz offers a few tangible benefits for 100% board giving in her article for The Balance:
- It is a public declaration that the board member has invested in the charity.
- It indicates that the board member has a commitment to the organization and its mission.
- It encourages other donors to give and impresses institutions that provide grants or other support. Indeed, many major donors and foundations will not support a charity unless the board achieves 100 percent giving.
As with all fundraising, how you ask for a gift from board members can be the difference in whether you get it or not.
A requirement doesn’t always translate into fulfillment. A study by Marts & Lundy found that “there are no apparent differences in board member unrestricted annual fund giving between those institutions with explicit contribution requirements, and those without.”
Jan Masaoka, Editor of Blue Avocado, suggests not having a set required amount, but rather encouraging board members to give at levels that are meaningful and/or appropriate for them:
For some board members, a meaningful personal donation might be $10, while for another on the same board, a gift of $5,000 would be a reasonable expectation.
Even $150 may be more than some board members can afford to give. Boards that value having members with different income levels and backgrounds may be uncomfortable with requiring any set amount. As a result, language to convey giving expectations may include such statements as:
- “Board members are expected to make an annual financial contribution that would be considered generous for them.”
- “Board members will give annually at a level that is meaningful to them.”
- “Board members will make giving to this organization a priority (or one of their top three donation recipients).”
These are great ideas for new board members, but what about existing board members for whom an expectation has not been sent?
Here are a few ideas to organically ask existing board members for a first gift:
- a new, major fundraising campaign (like a capital campaign)
- a year-end giving campaign
- an online day of giving, like #GivingTuesday
- a new, needed expense (such as a piece of equipment or software)
- the introduction of a monthly giving program or a giving society
- creation of an endowment
These can be excellent opportunities to ask board members for a one-time gift to get a program off the ground, without them feeling like there is a sudden new expectation to give.
The Bridgespan Group recommends tying fundraising and personal board member giving closely together:
Each board member, for instance, is asked to bring in $5,000. It is up to the individual board member to raise the funds or make a personal contribution. Many performing arts boards, besides setting a base contribution level, want board members to purchase season tickets and bring guests to performances. In other types of organizations, board members could be asked to buy memberships for others, subscribe to the organization’s journals, or purchase publications as gifts. Board members could pay their own registration fees for conferences. They could support special events financially by purchasing auction tickets or donating items to an auction or a sale.
Regardless of how much you ask for and for what purpose, Pamela Grow recommends taking an individual approach to the ask:
I’ve found that far too often we treat our board as an entity, rather than wonderful individuals they are. Instead of announcing your policy at a board meeting, make the time to meet one on one with your board members. Spend some time listening deeply. How did they become involved with your organization? What is their story?
It’s likely that the #1 culprit for a lack of board giving is simply because they’ve never been asked to give.
In the same way that fundraisers sometimes hesitate to ask volunteers to also donate, so too can there be resistance to asking board members.
“They already give their time.”
“They already fundraise for us.”
“They already do a lot for us.”
Step back for a moment and think about what you’re defending: you have a board member who is not a donor.
A board member. Who is not a donor.
Doesn’t that seem weird?
You have invited someone onto your board who has not demonstrated prior support to your organization.
That’s weird. THEY may even think it’s weird.
So ditch the excuses. Get to know the board member. Meet with them individually. And then make an appropriate ask.
With all the creative and common-sense ways that board members can start giving combined with the overwhelming benefits to the organization when board members do donate, there really is no excuse for not having 100% board giving.
Is your organization one of the few with 100% board giving? How did you do it? Let me know in the comments below!