100 percent: The Importance of Board Member Giving

“The most powerful leadership tool you have is your own personal example.” — John Wooden

Rande Richardson

It is generally understood that nonprofit board members are responsible for an organization’s success. Our region is blessed with passionate and sincerely well-intentioned volunteers who answer the call to serve as leaders for the many charities that change our world. As board members are recruited and oriented, they should be made aware of the many functions that are part of their responsibilities. Above all, you must be a roaring advocate for your shared work and mission. You are an evangelist in a sense, and your example is a testimony to that passion and an invitation for others to catch that same energy. Yes, board members are volunteers. The best board members give their hearts, souls, and one of the most precious gifts of all: their time. However, as leaders of an organization that relies on others to make a financial commitment, that leadership must not be overlooked.

Anyone who has served on a board quickly gains a keen awareness of the important role donors play in the ability to fulfill an organization’s work and mission. Unfortunately, what is often downplayed is the way board members must be accountable for the financial health of the institution. Board member giving is natural and essential. The strongest and most engaged boards are those where every board member, in some form, participates in fundraising for the organization. A personal gift by a board member of an organization seeking public support is non-negotiable. Without 100 percent participation, a nonprofit is at a major disadvantage when asking others to commit financial support to a mission driven by board leadership. When organizations ask the Community Foundation to financially participate in a certain program, project or initiative, knowing their leadership is not fully invested is understandably problematic. You would be surprised how often board member names are absent from an organization’s own donor list. Somehow, they have not recognized that leadership giving:

• Is a public declaration that the board member has invested in the charity.

• Indicates that the board member has a commitment to the organization and its work and mission.

• Encourages other donors to give and leads the way for others who provide grants or other support.

As they expect others to give, there is simply no way one can be a fully enthusiastic ambassador for the organization they lead without their own multidimensional skin the game. If a board member does not give, how can they encourage staff to effectively partner with them to raise funds? If a board member does not give, how can they expect them to effectively thank and steward existing donors? While the goal is 100 percent participation at any level, board leaders should consider giving a stretch gift that is among their top three charitable gifts they give each year. People are watching. People want to know. Other funders will ask. Give a gift that you are proud of. Give a gift that invites others to join you. Lead, don’t follow.

When you and your organization are recruiting board members, be sure to explain, write down, and clarify these expectations. It is important enough to commit to something as simple as “Each year, I will make, without being reminded, a personal financial contribution to the organization for which I serve as a board member at a level that is meaningful to me.” The board chairman and members should hold one another accountable around these expectations rather than leaving it to staff. Prospective board members should be told whatever expectations exist and be given a chance to bow out of the process if they aren’t comfortable with them.

Would you be less likely to be a passenger on a plane that the pilot is flying from the ground? You were recruited and asked to serve on a board for various reasons and you’re much better able to be a champion for your cause if you serve from a front row seat. You and the board are instrumental in the future of your organization. As a visible and vocal ambassador, you are passionate about the example you set. It creates and reinforces a culture of giving that is not as achievable by volunteering alone. If you don’t feel that kind of drive for your organization, it may be the wrong cause for you. Board service is a joy and a privilege. Done right, you will always get so much more than you give.