The Importance of Board Giving

Feb 22, 2021

There are several reasons board giving is critical to your organization:

  • It increases the level of “ownership” the board members feel toward your organization.
  • It shows donors and prospective donors that your board members are good stewards.
  • It enables your organization to raise funds from foundations and other entities that ask, “How much has the board given?”
  • It makes board members feel good about their involvement with your organization and enables them to ask others for money!

How Much Should Board Members Give?

Requiring your board members to give a set dollar amount each year is discouraged for several reasons: It limits you in recruiting board members who may have a lot of talent and skills but are not able to give at the required level. On the other hand, board members who could easily give more tend to give at the stated minimum level. 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. Board members should be rated individually for an appropriate “ask” amount.

Reword your board position description, under the area of board giving, to state that board members are expected to make your organization one of their top-three priorities for charitable giving. This makes it clear that you expect them to give at what they would consider to be a meaningful level.

When Should You Ask Board Members for Their Gifts?

You should ask board members to make their contributions before asking others to give. For the annual appeal, the best time to do your board appeal is at the very beginning of your fiscal year. If your organization is on a July-through-June fiscal year, summer is a good time to “gear up” for your fall campaign, and having the board appeal out of the way during July and August puts you in a good position for your annual appeal. If you are on a calendar year, you should approach your board in January. If you are engaged in a capital campaign, you will want to make sure 100 percent of your board members have made campaign pledges before you begin soliciting any major donors or the public. Likewise, with your planned giving program, the first people you should approach to make a bequest or other type of planned gift are your board members.

The Wrong Way to Do It

Make Your Pledge Now!

A colleague called me shortly after accepting a new development position. He sought advice about how to handle his organization’s approach to board giving. He had just come from his first board meeting in his new position, and he said the board chair started the meeting by saying that board members were expected to contribute to the organization, handed out pledge cards, and said, “Fill out your pledge card and hand it to me before you leave the meeting tonight.” Not exactly a well-planned, thoughtful approach to board giving!

So, How Do You Approach Board Members for Their Contributions?

Begin by appointing a board appeal committee. Members of this committee should include the chair of your 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. You should select committee members from those board members who are themselves regular generous givers. Your chief development officer should be on the committee but should not solicit board members. Although you will need to solicit the board chair before the board chair can ask others to join in giving.

This committee then does a screening and rating session of the entire board. (This concept will be explained in the chapter on soliciting individual donors.) Treat the board appeal just as you would any major fundraising appeal. Make it personal, challenging, and exciting. You won’t need glitzy campaign material for your board. After all, they should know the “case.” But you might want to put together a one-page summary of the case and a graphic showing the importance of the board appeal. (A pie chart with the annual fund broken down by category is helpful in doing this, i.e., how much comes from grants, events, mail, board appeal, corporate appeal, etc.)

A Helpful Tool for the Board Appeal

A tool that can help with your board appeal is a list showing board members various ways you need their support throughout the year. Most board members get annoyed at being “nickeled and dimed” to death for every special event that comes along. A menu of options as to how they can direct their support will be helpful, but it should always include unrestricted board giving.

Your 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 that involves personal visits to your board members, not just having the board chair hand out pledge cards at a meeting and saying, “Okay, everyone, make your commitment now.” This method usually offends board members and results in much lower gifts. The board members should be made to feel special enough for a personal visit and a face-to-face opportunity to be thanked for their past support, to ask questions, and to share their interests.

If you want to learn more about building your board and about board giving, take my course, Build a Great Board, Sign up here

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