Updated: Jul 20, 2022
If you've ever served in a leadership role at a nonprofit, you know that working with a Board of Trustees is a significant part of your job description. Serving with both advice and oversight, your Board can and should offer your nonprofit resources and connections that can take your organization's mission and your fundraising efforts to a level that you could not manage on your own. Ideally, a Board should be an extension of your leadership team and your champions in your community.
Not only should your Board make connections for you within the community and seek ways to increase fundraising revenue, they should also be financially contributing to your nonprofit on a personal level. I'll say it louder for those in the back: Every member of your Board of Trustees should and must make a personal donation to your nonprofit annually. And there's a critical reason why...
However, we've all worked with those people who are "serving" your nonprofit for personal reasons. Maybe it's a means of bolstering a resume or making professional connections for his or her personal gain. Maybe a supervisor requires community engagement, or he or she simply needs something to do outside of the office. Or maybe he or she has just been a part of your organization for so long that a role on the Board was awarded as a recognition for his or her commitment. Or, in some cases, you may have stepped into a role where the Board has simply been in adviser mode, not ever really engaging in the 'boots on the ground' fundraising and networking a true Board should be providing.
If any of these scenarios sound familiar, it's time for you to explain the true role of a Board member and the expectations that come with that role. In the best-case scenario, you can have this conversation before new members commit to joining. But, if you've inherited a complacent Board, it's up to you to reinforce the primary reason Board donations must be required.
Grant writing is one of the most critical reasons your Board must make financial contributions. Most grant-making organizations want to know the percentage of your Board that makes gifts to your nonprofit. You have a problem if you have to say anything less than 100%. Why? You cannot expect any organization to support your nonprofit with a gift/grant when the people closest to your mission and programs do not. It's that simple.
Your Board is there, watching your work and witnessing your impact on your clients' lives. They can see it firsthand. With grant-makers who are often not even in your community, you're working hard to convince them that work is worthy (in most cases more worthy than others) of financial investment. The best-written, well-developed proposal loses momentum and competitiveness when the answer to the Board participation question is less than 100%. In several instances, I've discovered grant-makers that will not support organizations with less than 100% Board participation or who share with me that those applications typically are declined regardless of the merits of the program or the request.
I've been in your shoes. I've deflected responses like "Well, my contribution is my time and expertise" or "My company gives, so I give." And, of course, those things are valuable and appreciated. But, they aren't personal support. And the best part is that most grant-makers don't ask about each gift amount. Your Board members can make a gift of $1, and they're participating. And don't think I haven't suggested that to a Board member who was holding out on me. I asked if he had a dollar bill in his wallet. Of course, he made a larger contribution, but the visual helped make my point.
PUT IT IN MOTION: If any of your Board members are not making financial contributions, make 100% participation your goal by the end of this year. Bring it up at every Board meeting. Meet personally with those who are not contributing to explain why it is an important part of your overall fundraising success. Get your Board chairperson to champion this cause and to come with you to those meetings. Hold an annual Board retreat and schedule a session to discuss Board giving and its importance and value. Make Board giving an understood expectation from Day One. And, if push comes to shove, extend your gratitude to those Board members who will not donate and do not renew them once their current term expires.
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