Having 100% of board members make personal donations is a cliché we don’t like. It’s not a meaningful measure of board member commitment, and typically creates a situation where even the best board members have to be nagged. BUT, if you do have this requirement, here’s how to make it as easy as possible.
1. The annual basket pass – At the same board meeting each year (Thanksgiving is easy to remember), pass around a basket or box. The board chair (or fundraising chair) announces: “As this basket goes around, everybody has to put something in it. You can put in a check. You can put in a piece of paper with a pledge amount that you will give by December 15 of this year. Or you can put in a piece of paper that says you’ve already given this year.” This really works.
Nice variation: buy some little bags of cashews or high quality lollipops and put them in the basket. When a person puts in their check or pledge they can take one out. That way it is visible to everyone that everyone has participated at the end and it just feels good.
2. Make a donation for them, if they won’t: Take a tip from the big arts institutions. If you have three board members who haven’t given, have the board chair, fundraising chair, or executive director call them up. “I know you haven’t gotten around yet to making your annual donation,” you say. “Would you allow me to make a donation in your name?” This always prompts the procrastinator to say, “I’ll do it right now!” So finish the call with: “Thank you so much. If we don’t get a donation from you within a week, I’ll go ahead and make one in your name. I’ll be very happy to do that.”
Alternatively (but not as good): simply make a donation in the name of every board member who has not given.
3. Give them guidelines: An overlooked reason some board members are reluctant to give is awkwardness about how much to give. “If I give $50 will I look like a cheapskate?” muses one board member while another wonders, “If I give $5,000 will I look like I’m showing off?” (Even if donation amounts are private, the executive staff and the board chair will know.)
Help these folks out with some guidelines without calling them guidelines. “One year we had a board member give $20,” you can say. “That was a lot for that person and it is one of the most meaningful donations we’ve ever gotten. And once we had a board member give $25,000 (or whatever was the high amount for your organization),” you add. “I suspect she’ll never know how much impact that gift had on our work.”
4. Put it in their job description: If you have a “board member agreement” or “job description,” be sure you have something in it like this: “Each year I’m on the board, I will make a personal financial contribution — at a level that is meaningful to me — by Thanksgiving of each year.”
In the recruitment process, such a requirement to give often fails to get mentioned. By having a job description that includes this responsibility, even the shyest board member can communicate this expectation. (It’s extremely irritating to join a board only to hear about requirements that were not mentioned ahead of time. You all know what I mean.)
5. Put it on their to do list: At a board meeting, pass out a checklist to each board member so they can check off items they will do. Examples:
- I will make a personal cash donation of _____ before Thanksgiving.
- I will sign up to make a monthly donation having my credit card charged automatically.
- I will help on the following fundraising/community events: Annual Gala / Theatre Party / Street Fair Booth
- I will make introductions to the following foundations, corporations, or individual donors:
- I will help with obtaining non-cash donations:
___ free printing for the annual report
___ one large copying job done at my office
___ free dry-cleaning for costumes
___ case of wine for silent auction
___ used good-condition pet carriers
___ good-condition sofa
___ airline miles for two round trips
You get the idea!
The next time a funder asks you the meaningless question, “Do 100% of your board members give?” answer in an enthusiastic voice, “Almost 100% and we’re working on it!” Then pull out this article.
Jan Masaoka is publisher of Blue Avocado. She aspires to be on a board that has 125% board giving. 🙂
I often tell groups that, just as purple-is-the-new-black (or whatever they're telling us this year), that 85% is essentially 100%. This usually comes up when boards are in a time of culture-shift and there are board members who came onto the board with one understanding, which is changing beneath their feet. For a few laggards, it may not be worth beating them over the head to change their behavior if they're clearly unwilling to do so. But I believe, if the requirement is stated as "providing what for you is a significant gift," that it is morally imperative that all board members (with the 85%=100% understanding) give if the organization is asking others to invest as well. Having a few that don't come to the table (or loudly stand back from the table, as the person who wanted to sue the organization, above, seems to have done) feels, and is, unfair to the others who are doing their part. How come some folks get a "free ride" and others pour their heart and souls (and hard-earned cash) into ensuring the nonprofit's viability?
Can purchasing tickets to an organization's event count as a board contribution?
That should be a board decision (or agreed upon board culture) whether or not that is acceptable as a 100% give.
The oldest axiom in Board Membership is "Give – Get – or – Get Off" If Board members don't support the cause how can you expect others to do so ?
Great suggestions. Thanks for taking this issue on.
Many years ago I lived in a town where the latest rich person to move in gave the town a million dollar donation. He’d just sold his privately owned oil company. We calculated his annual income based solely on that sale, at a modest return for investment, and realized that compared to my income, I could match his gift proportionately by giving the town about a dollar. Sometimes, you need some creative math to see how much a gift really is. Our first year of operation, our board gifts ranged from over $500 from someone on a small fixed income to $50 from a board member who had just remodeled her kitchen for $50,000. It’s all a matter of heart. Nowadays we encourage people to sign up for $5 per month on Pay Pal. It keeps them involved and doesn’t hurt too much every month. I’m not sure what the minimum is that PayPal will process, but this is a great system for low income people.
Excellent math skills.
I have served on 2 boards and also served as prsident of both – in each case, a financial committment from each board member was expected. We did not set a minimum amount as everyone's financial situation is different however, we were very clear about this expectation in our initial contact with prospective board members. We also developed a Boardmembers Roles and Responsibilities that included this expectation as well as attendance at meetings, committee expectations, etc. This was presented each year to each board member, signed by them, and filed. Our goal to was to have a working board with a good understanding of their responsibilities and it worked very well. Our goal was 100% of our board members financially supporting the organization as this was a strong indication of their committment to our cause. This worked very well for us.
If you are willing and able to provide a specific amount to the board and the rest as an In-kind commitment for working on fundraising projects which take time and help the organization’s staff out. Then your time can be valued for the hours you give at either your state value or national level of $21.79 an hour. If the board agrees then you can feel you are meeting the one expectation of the board as well as your work during board meetings and providing positive morale to staff that board members support their work and care about the mission.
I’m not a fan of #2 Make a donation for them, if they won’t. is this a common practice? Do you have examples boards that have done it without causing problems among board members? Do boards do this so they can tell funders that they have 100% giving? It seems unethical to me. Why should anyone make their annual contribution if they know that it will done on their behalf? If I’d made my contribution and found out that other board members were having their donations made on their behalf, I’d be angry.
I am directly aware of at least two large civic arts organizations where this is a regular but very quiet practice. On one of them, a friend of mine was a board member (they call them trustees), and she was asked in part because of her stature in the arts community and because they needed more people of color. When she was recruited she told them she could not make the fundraising requirement and they told her, no problem, the board president would make an annual donation in her name, which is exactly what continued to happen. No one on the board knew about it.
In the other instance, an acquaintance of mine was on the board of a big arts institution and he was in a dispute with the staff. According to him, he had arranged for several cases of wine to be donated to a fundraising event. The staff felt that THEY had arranged for the wine donation, so they refused to "count" the wine donation towards his fundraising requirement. Angry and to spite them, he then refused to make a single donation that year. He was surprised to discover his name on the board giving list and asked the staff about it who told him that a donation had been made in his name. When he confronted the board chair he was told that there were actually three members of the board for whom this was regularly done.
(He got in touch with me because when his board term was over, he was not recommended for renewal, and he sought my feedback on whether he should sue them. He recognized the irony of suing a nonprofit in order to volunteer for them. As it turned out, the threat of suing them made them agree to renew his term, during which he continued not to donate anything — still angry — and the board chair made a donation in his name every year.)
Since these incidents many years ago I have confidentially asked quite a few executive directors about this practice and found that while it is not widespread, it is not rare.
I don't like this practice either, but I hate the rule of 100% giving. If this distasteful practice is what it takes to work around an even more distasteful rule, it should be recognized as a practical workaround.
I’m on a board that expects giving or fundraising. It’s difficult for me because I live on a fixed income – medically retired – and can’t give from my pocket, but I give tons of my time and energy. I know I’m appreciated for all I do, but I am trying to make the stated goal and I’m sure I won’t get there. If not, our BOD won’t make it’s annual fundraising goal. I am feeling pressured to act, but I don’t have the resources to ask for donations to our organization. That would satisfy my part of the donation.
I wonder if you could volunteer your time specifically with the fund development team in helping to reach out to donor prospects on their list. Direct contact from a board member could make a great impression on potential donors (especially if you share personal stories about why you care so much about this cause), and they might donate after hearing from you.
Could that help close the gap? Just a thought!
I love the ideas in this article. I am definitely going to try these things, as this is one of my goals to have 100% board giving! Thanks.
30% of our board consists of low-income members who are often residents of our Section 8 housing complex. I appreciate the feedback and involvement from these members, and want them to feel comfortable serving on the board. For this reason, I haven’t not felt uncomfortable asking these members who live paycheck to paycheck, to give right along with other members who are bankers and attorneys. Your thoughts?
-Love your newsletter. Thanks.
This stat comes to mind: “people who can least afford to give are the ones who donate the greatest percentage of their income.” (Here’s my source: http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2013/04/why-the-rich-dont-give/309254/)
You never know until you ask — I wonder if it’s more uncomfortable for them knowing that they are not being held to the same standards as wealthier board members. Maybe they give less by comparison, but if it’s meaningful to them, it’s a meaningful contribution to the org, I think.
As demonstrated by the thought you’re clearly putting into this issue, I’m sure you will think of a genuine and respectful way to ask them, and they will give what/if they can!
Thank you! -Very interesting article. I agree that avoiding the alienation of any group is priority, so I think I'll continue as we have: encourage 100% giving by Board members at any level, and not sweat it if it doesn't transpire. Thanks again!