Is it important, even necessary, for your board members to contribute to your organization’s annual appeal?
Yes, for several reasons:
It increases the level of “ownership” the board members feel towards your organization.
It shows others that your board members are good stewards.
It enables your organization to raise funds from foundations and other entities that ask, “How many of your board members have given?”
It makes them feel good about their involvement with your organization and enables them to ask others for money!
While there might be some exceptions to this rule (a professional association that does not do fundraising, one that has a single source of funding such as a major grant, or one where board members serve on the board by their position in another organization) in most nonprofits board giving is essential. A board member who has made a financial commitment to your organization, regardless of the dollar amount, can then invite others to “join me in supporting this wonderful cause.”
Okay, so now that we all agree it is important and necessary for the board to give, we are faced with several questions. How much, when, and how does this all happen?
How Much Should the Board Give?
I always discourage requiring board members to give a set dollar amount each year for several reasons—it limits you in recruiting board members who may have a lot of talent and skills but may feel hampered by the minimum level of giving. On the other hand, board members who could easily give more, tend to give at the stated minimum level because that is how they interpret the expectation for giving and assume that is what others are giving. Therefore, it is better to stress in the board’s position description that all board members are required to give at a meaningful level. The two key words are all (100 percent of the board should be giving annually) and meaningful. A good way for each board member to determine what is a meaningful level for them is to include in the board position description that the organization expects each board member to include it as one of the top two or three charities to which each board member will contribute each year. Board members should be rated by staff and a committee of the board individually for an appropriate “ask” amount.
When Do We Approach the Board for a Gift?
The board appeal should be completed before asking others to contribute. The best time to do the board appeal is at the very beginning of the fiscal year. For many organizations that are on a July-June fiscal year, summer is a good time to “gear up” for the fall campaign and having the board appeal out of the way during July and August put your organization in a good position to launch its annual appeal to the public. Just as with capital campaigns, annual giving should start “from the inside out” and “from the top down.”
How Do You Get Started?
Start with a board appeal committee—the chair of the board, the chair of the development committee and as many other board members as are needed to personally solicit the board, keeping in mind that one solicitor should be responsible for no more than five calls. Committee members should be selected from those board members who are regular, generous givers themselves. The chief development officer should be part of the committee but, in general, should not solicit board members, except for the board chair who is often solicited by a staff person before the committee is appointed.
The committee should conduct a screening and rating session of the entire board. Treat the board appeal as you would treat any major fundraising appeal; make it personal, challenging and exciting. The committee should develop a proposed board goal after the screening and rating session and have the board approve this goal with a formal vote. This will enable the entire board to take ownership of the appeal. You will not need glitzy campaign material for the board appeal; after all, board members should know the “case,” but a one page summary of the case and a graphic showing the importance of the board appeal can be very effective. This fact sheet should contain a pie chart with the annual fund broken down by categories, i.e. how much comes from grants, events, mail, board appeal, corporate, etc.). Another helpful tool a list showing board members various ways their support will be needed throughout the year. Most board members get annoyed at being “nickel and dimed” to death for every special event that comes along. A menu of options for how they can direct their support will be helpful, but should always include unrestricted board giving. It could also include things like purchasing a table at an annual dinner, sponsoring a golf tournament, etc. Board members will appreciate knowing up front what activities they will be expected to support throughout the year and that they can make their commitment as a part of the board appeal.
The board appeal committee may need training in how to schedule the appointment and how to make an ask, but remember that the board appeal should be a serious effort with personal visit to the board members, not just having the board chair hand out pledge cards at meeting and say, “Okay everyone, make your commitment now.” This method usually offends board members and results in a much lower gift than allowing the board member to feel special enough for a personal visit and a face-to-face opportunity for them to ask questions and share their interests.
What if Board Members Do Not Give?
Regular reporting of results at board meetings is critical and if there are board members who have not made their commitment by the end of the appeal, it may be necessary for the chief executive officer and the board chair to meet with these board members to determine if there is a problem that might require action. You should offer the board member options such as monthly giving, offering a one year pledge period, and suggesting that matching gifts from their company can help them give at a more significant level. Unless board giving has not been part of the expectations of board members, those who absolutely refuse to give should be asked to step down from the board and accept some other volunteer role within your organization. Explain to these board members that 100 percent giving from the board is essential to successful fundraising.
This article was one of my contributions to YOU and Your Nonprofit, available at www.LindaLysakowski.com.