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.

Giving, Sharing, Makes Lives Better

Rande Richardson

BY: Rande Richardson
Nonprofit organizations across the country are looking at the implications of the tax reform bill on the work they do and those they serve, including operational and compliance issues, potential related state and local government changes and the impact of the increased standard deduction as it relates to charitable giving. Changes in laws that affect nonprofits have direct impact, and make a statement on how we view their role in our society and the value we place on them.

    At the same time we were hearing about tax reform, media retrospectives were reminding us of lives lived and lost. The year-end summaries honor those who have left an imprint on our world. It is in those moments that we have a heightened sense of the way others affect our lives and shape us. The most profound legacies are those that reach deep into our collective, human souls and the heart of our communities.

    There are diverse ways others touch us and leave their mark but there is a common theme. As a society and as individuals, the greatest meaning comes from that which makes us uniquely human. Throughout our lifetimes, the things that become the fabric of our culture and heritage are the expressions of the essence of our humanity.

    Each December, the Kennedy Center recognizes those whose talent and ingenuity have enriched and shaped cultural life in America. The Library of Congress Gershwin Prize celebrates the work of artists whose careers reflect lifetime achievement in promoting song as a vehicle of musical expression and cultural understanding. There are numerous other awards that we bestow that affirm the values and ideals we hold most dear. It is through these that we celebrate and uphold what matters most to us.

    What this has to do with nonprofits? When I hear acronyms such as NPOs, NGOs and NFPs to generalize the nonprofit community, I cringe. When I see legislation enacted that devalues charitable investment and its role in our country, I am disheartened. Somehow, in the generalization of “nonprofit,” something gets lost in the translation. If you take the time to think about the way nonprofit organizations have become part of all of our lives, you realize that they are simply a formal expression of our humanness. They embody the values and beliefs that make us human. They represent the best in the human spirit that demands that living life by simply existing is not enough.

    Our nonprofit organizations are a primary mechanism through which we make a difference in the lives of others and express our values. They are the way our own lives are made more enriched and fulfilled. Their importance goes beyond a classification.

    Our community’s nonprofit organizations not only provide a tangible link to the golden rule, they also are the way we sustain things government and the private sector should not or cannot alone provide.

    It is natural to generalize when we place groups in a sector. In doing so, however, we must not lose sight of what the sector actually is. In a world where over-generalization happens too often, we should pause and see nonprofits as an extension of our human existence and our love for the things that make life worth living.

    As long as there are good people in our world, those organizations providing the most value will find the support needed to continue. If you found a way to make a difference in 2017, congratulations. You already know how it feels to experience something so fundamentally human.

    Use 2018 to find more opportunities to express what matters most to you. It is in this way, that nonprofit organizations quickly become more than a sector, more than an acronym. They are an essential part of our lives, they are worthy of our care and nurturing. Ultimately, they are a clear reflection of ourselves. When you look back on the retrospective of your own life, may it have had meaningful moments that are consistent with the core of the beliefs and values that our nonprofit organizations embody.

    So what are nonprofits really? They offer us opportunities to surround ourselves with things that really matter, and, in the end, help ensure that we have more happiness and fewer regrets through this transitory experience called life. Giving, sharing, volunteering and working for a better world makes our lives better, tax deduction or not.

Rande Richardson is executive director of the Northern New York Community Foundation. He is a lifelong Northern New York resident and former funeral director. Contact him at rande@nnycf.org.