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The Board Give or Get Quandary

Amy Schiffman
August 31, 2017

One of the most common questions I receive about board leadership relates to the board’s role as fundraiser (for) and donor (to) the organization: Should my board have a personal fundraising minimum? What about a give/get? Should they be required to solicit a minimum amount each year? If so, how much? Can board fundraising replace a personal contribution? Does the minimum giving requirement easily become the ceiling? Should board members be required to participate in all fundraising campaigns, like capital and endowment efforts? All great questions.

Start here: It is your board’s job to ensure the organization has adequate funding. The board ensures that organizational assets are used responsibly, approves annual fundraising plans and plays an active role in meeting fundraising goals. It is considered good practice for every board member to make a personally meaningful contribution to the organization (for every campaign line – meaning annual, capital and endowment when applicable) and help the organization connect with individuals and organizations who can add their support.

Leadership from the board and other key volunteers is the single most critical factor affecting the success of any campaign. Without visible commitment from the board, it will be difficult, if not impossible, to motivate others to participate. Board members should be clear that the majority of the money to be raised will come through the efforts of board members and other lay leaders, even if they never actually solicit a gift themselves.

In successful nonprofit campaigns, 30-60% comes from board members and their connections or outreach. 100% participation should be non-negotiable. After all, if an organization’s own directors choose not to meaningfully invest in its efforts, why should anyone else? The dedication of board members and other key volunteers is often a primary indicator of success.

So…back to the question of a give or get. I like the concept of a board minimum giving requirement for organizations that need assistance either a) pushing its current board member giving up to a leadership level, or b) setting a standard for the type of giving commitment they are seeking from new board members. It’s not wrong to hope that every board member will invest in the organization’s efforts at a personally meaningful level.

The minimum gift, however, need not become the ceiling if board members are solicited properly. Every board member should be solicited face to face (not as a group and not within the context of a board meeting) and asked for an amount that is appropriate based on prior and capacity giving. I have never mentioned the minimum gift within the context of a solicitation conversation. Typically, this is unnecessary because board members are aware of the expectation, and the minimum serves only a baseline for those who are giving at this level for the first time.

Instead of a minimum giving requirement, some organizations request that board members make the nonprofit one of their top 3 philanthropic priorities for the year.  This too seems to work well in setting a standard around giving to the organization and calling attention to the importance of a leadership gift to an organization for which one serves as a director. Most organizations do not bother verifying that board members actually include the organization in their top 3 gifts, but rather feel satisfied with the message this standard sends.

And finally, the issue of a fundraising minimum (or the “get” part of a give/get requirement) is at hand. I believe that board members should not look to substitute gifts they solicit for their own gift, so I am not in favor of a give OR get. That said, I am strongly in favor of setting very specific expectations around board fundraising.  Tying this expectation to a specific dollar amount seems to matter less than one would think (although there are organizations that ask board members to purchase at least one table at their dinners and this seems to work well. I would, however, hate for the minimum to become the ceiling in this case).

Instead, I recommend sitting down with every board member and working on a personal fundraising plan for the year. Board members appreciate help in thinking through their prospect lists, creating cultivation plans for each prospect, and assigning a possible ask amount (or rating) to each person on the list. These goals and strategies tend to work well to motivate board members to do their best to advocate on behalf of the organization.

We’ve included a sample board commitment letter as this week’s freebie to help you consider your organization’s formal expectations around board member giving and getting. I hope your board will give careful thought to both their own giving this year, as well as to the gifts they secure on your organization’s behalf. After all, we need their help and generosity in both areas!