Author Archives: Abigail Harmon

Do You Need an Endowment?

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Imagine for a minute, that you knew you could 

  • balance your budget each year, 
  • expand programming when an opportunity arises
  • hire the necessary staff to further your mission

This is not just the daydreaming of a nonprofit executive. This is the reality of an organization with a substantial endowment. And it could be your reality too. 

Endowments take time to build

The thing about an endowment is that it does not have to be raised quickly. An endowment is a long-term strategy to ensure your nonprofit’s future. It’s true, you won’t see a new suite of rooms as a result of this fundraising, but you will see financial sustainability. And if the past few years have taught us anything, security for your mission is essential. Knowing you have income that can be used for paying salaries or modifying programming can help you weather everything from economic uncertainty to lapsing major donors. 

How can you raise money for an endowment?

There are a few different ways to create an endowment. The three main ways are: 

  1. Add a Legacy Campaign to your fundraising efforts
  2. Run an Endowment Campaign
  3. Do a Comprehensive Campaign

Note: If you are an organization that gets a bequest or two every year after donors have died, any of the following campaigns may help you identify those supporters who have already put you in their estate.

1. Add a Legacy Campaign.

The simplest way to encourage legacy giving is to integrate a legacy campaign into your fundraising program*. While this idea, inherently, requires the least effort, creating the materials and listing it in your newsletter will only result in a few gifts. To be successful, you need to develop marketing materials, host events to invite your community to understand legacy giving and how it can impact your nonprofit, market the opportunity, and set individual meetings to encourage and explain the possibilities. And don’t forget to create events to thank these special donors. In other words, if you want to truly build your endowment, it will take effort. 

2. Run an Endowment Campaign.

Conducting an endowment campaign is like running a capital campaign. You create a compelling case for giving and ask individuals/couple/families to make a gift as an investment in the future of your organization. This is a individualized effort that can result in a lot of gifts from your long time supporters. Many of whom, might not be major donors. 

3. Do a Comprehensive Campaign.

Some donors like to give annually, some like to give to see a building built, and others want to ensure the nonprofit is around for the next generation. A comprehensive campaign can appeal to all three. It is creating individual asks, as you would in a capital or endowment campaign, but asking for all three gifts at one time. i.e. “would you consider a capital campaign gift of $100,000, a legacy gift in your estate planning of $250,000, while continuing your annual giving of $10,000 a year for the next five years.” This may seem like a big ask, but when laid out on a nice chart showing the impact, the idea of giving a $350,000 gift — with a $350,000 naming opportunity — is often appealing.  


Again, endowment fundraising does not bring immediate money. While you may be thinking, I need it now. If your predecessors had done this campaign, you would not be concerned about weathering future storms.

Life & Legacy assists communities across North America, through partnerships with Jewish Federations and Foundations, to promote after-lifetime giving.   

10 Tried and True Fundraising Tips

When I look back, last week’s eclipse was one part rare astronomical event and one part major hype. I was in DC where it was 87% totality with minimal clouds. I had my glasses and thought it was pretty cool to watch the moon shift over the sun and back again. But really, like so many other things, if I had stayed inside or it had been cloudy, it wouldn’t have changed my life.

We learn from this recent celestial event that people are eager to find almost any excuse to get excited. And getting people excited about your nonprofit is always a good thing, especially when the excitement is self-driven. Think about giving days that challenge groups against themselves or an ice bucket challenge.

While you might not be the next ice bucket challenge or solar eclipse here are some lessons why those worked:

  1. They were free (or a minimal cost, if you bought eclipse glasses).
  2. People wanted to share their experience (see the image above).
  3. People seemed to be curious about how other people experienced it.
  4. They could be done individually or in a group.
  5. They had little to do with the real purpose. That is, few people made a connection between throwing ice water on your best friend and ALS. And few people made a connection as to why there was an eclipse. Both just seemed fun. 
  6. They were viral.

Of course, these two examples were each one viral campaign out of (approximately) one million attempts in any given year.

What does all this mean? 

  1. It’s very hard to go viral. However, if you want to make an attempt, consider visiting 8 Nonprofit TikTok Trends To Elevate Your Cause.
  2. There are more tried and true ways to raise money.

Here are MJA’s top 10 tried and true ways to raise funds in 2024. 

  1. Develop relationships with your donors. 
  2. Invest in year-round segmented stewardship for your donors. 
  3. Segment every solicitation by your donor types (think: members, non-members, volunteers, staff, etc.) as well as their recent giving history (think: current donor, LYBUNT, longer lapsed donor, new donor, etc.).
  4. Ask each person — by name — for a specific amount — 10–50% above last year’s gift rounded to an appropriate amount in each ask.
  5. Have a stewardship and solicitation strategy for each segment of your donor population.
  6. Encourage your volunteers to donate and your donors to volunteer.
  7. Understand your major donor capacity and their interests to encourage additional giving for areas that they are interested in supporting.
  8. Understand your mid-level givers and how you can move them up to the major donor level.
  9. Improve your “new donor” retention rate.
  10. Encourage your senior staff to stand in a circle and bounce ping pong balls at each other with tennis racquets while counting how many balls you can get around at the same time. And don’t forget to film yourself. You never know what will go viral.  

And for the record, I did, accidentally, share glasses and watch the eclipse with the cast of Macbeth. If you are in DC, go see it, it was amazing. 

The 4 Levels of Prospect Research

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First things first. At MJA, we start 95% of our engagements with a prospect research screen. This is not our only diagnostic tool, but for today, let’s focus on understanding the people in your database. And getting to know who your donors are, their estimated capacity, and how much they give, is a good place to start.

Level 1 – The AI Screen

The initial prospect research screen uses AI to scrape the web for public information. We currently use iWave but we have used DonorSearch and they are both good products with different advantages. This is not a review, simply an acknowledgement of what I have found to be two solid products on the market.

A recent iWave client screening returned 167 columns of data for each of the 2,782 names that we screened from their CRM. That is a lot to review.

That’s why I never return the data to a client without a tutorial on how to pare down the columns to discover the findings that I think they will find most valuable. I will delete, highlight, and hide columns and then show them how to find their most interesting prospects. At this point, a large prospect research screen can be a truly useful way to prioritize your organization’s next prospects and donors.

Level 2 – The AI Profile

Both software programs allow you to automatically create an individual profile of each name screened.The profile gives additional information and details on the data in those original 167 columns. This is useful when you want to check for accuracy, or you want to determine whether there is capacity for a major gift or capital campaign gift.

For instance, a profile can provide the specifics of a giving history which would tell you:

  • How much they have donated in recent years
  • How many gifts
  • To whom they have given
  • If there was a planned gift that placed them into a Legacy Society

Or you may want to know more about their house that is worth $2,500,000. Did they buy it

  • for $400,000 in 1985 and it is now worth $2,500,000, or
  • for $2,500,000 in 2019 with no mortgage?

Level 3 – The Deep Dive

This is the research shift from AI to human research. A prospect researcher will take an iWave profile as a base and learn as much as possible about a person/couple/family. This is very useful if you are going to ask someone for a million-dollar gift. Especially if the solicitor(s) don’t know them very well.

This research will include online searches and often follows small trails to learn everything about the immediate and extended family, publications in which they have been mentioned, and specific interests that might help make a connection to your nonprofit.

Keep in mind, this can take hours for a complicated family. This is the reason large nonprofits hire multiple prospect researchers for major donors.

In general, I would use a:

  • Level 1 Screen to determine an annual ask
  • Level 2 Profile to consider a multiyear commitment, or 
  • Level 3 Deep Dive to prepare for a 7-figure or significant ask

Level 4 – Anecdotal Information

With all this data, anecdotal information will often be the key to your success.

Conversations with your volunteers, staff, and board can tell you the essential information that may encourage or stop your ask. Did the person(s):

  • Sell a company or have a company go bankrupt
  • Celebrate the marriage of a child or get divorced
  • Donate $1,000,000 to a different organization or tell someone that your nonprofit is their philanthropic priority right now

You get the idea. There is some information that is too new to be available or too personal to be publicly available. But this anecdotal information will change how, when, and for how much you will ask a prospect.

This means that each campaign for your nonprofit may utilize more than one levels of research. If you do not have a prospect researcher on staff, the key is to prevent yourself from over-researching a prospect for a $5,000 gift when you already know they have the capacity for $500,000. And the data enables you to make sure you don’t miss essential information when you know you are asking for $500,000.

If you need help with your prospect research email me. I love strategically using data to help our clients raise more money. 

Who is Driving Your Development Strategy?

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Quick quiz — Is your development strategy/plan developed by

  1. The Executive Director
  2. Head of Development (Staff)
  3. Development Committee
  4. A board member or two
  5. The Strategic Plan 
  6. Donors
  7. Development strategy? Who has time for strategy? We are just getting by.

If you are trying to raise more money in 2024 — and who isn’t — you may want to consider whether your development plan will help you achieve your goals. And whether that strategy is working for you or against you.

In the past few months, I have seen all 7 strategies in a variety of places. And the right choice is not as obvious as you might think.

It may seem like following a strategic plan is the ideal option. But if the plan was created before the pandemic, a local crisis (think shooting, natural disaster, etc.), or an international crisis (Ukraine, October 7th, etc.) it might not be realistic. Whether funds shifted towards your nonprofit or away in the past few years (or the past few months), priorities, staffing, and costs may have also shifted. And all have to be accounted for in your development plan and strategy if you want to reach your goals. 

Was Deeper Engagement your priority? 

Let’s take an example that deeper engagement with your members, donors and volunteers was a strategic priority. Engagement may still be important, but now you must consider what kind of engagement you want and need. Do people who come to a lecture feel the same as someone who walks in your door and sees the artwork from your members on the wall?  Does someone who attends a class on Zoom feel like they are a part of a cohort? Did you lose or gain volunteers based on your current model? 

The Right Answer

I want a show of hands for everyone who wants to combine the executive director, head of development, the development committee, and the strategic plan. That kind of thinking will help you develop a sound and strategic development plan for 2024. 

If the past few years have taught us anything, financial stability is best achieved by being nimble yet steady. Find your balance by using every resource at your disposal while remaining strategic. And that ultimately stewarding and retaining donors—the essential element of a successful development plan—are only accomplished with careful forethought and detailed execution or not at all. 

The rest of the answers?

Ideally, board members who want to get involved in development will join the committee to help in a structured way. Board members who demand change or constantly make suggestions to staff don’t realize that they are making things worse. That is not how strategy is developed, and, frankly, it creates an awkward situation due to the imbalance of power — even if the suggestions have merit. 

Donors should be able to give where they want to give. But they don’t get to blackmail an organization into shifting its priorities based on their preference. Even for seven figure gifts. However, if there is no strategic plan or defined strategy, there is no way to defend your decision that their suggestion does not fit into the plan. However, if you decide their suggestion could fit in to the organization’s mission, make sure you also soliciting funds from them for existing programs as part of their gift. Shifting their giving away from what you already do to a new program will likely yield a budget shortfall, along with a new program to create, staff, and fund into the future. 

Organizations can get caught up in being reactive for many reasons. Large growth, staff turnover, and lack of strategic planning are a few that pop into my mind. But that is not sustainable. Continuing down the path of keeping up without a strategy will allow frustration to fester from donors, staff, and leadership. It’s time to step back and see what you can do to switch back into proactive mode. 

Of course, if you are interested in learning how we can help guide you along the path, email me.

Analyze Your End-of-2023 Data

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Last month, my blog post on how to analyze #GivingTuesday resonated with many people. So many, that I thought I should follow it up with how to analyze data for the end of the calendar year.

It’s January, so first things first. Breathe. Congratulate yourself, your co-workers, your volunteers, and, above all, your donors and funders for helping you end 2023 strong. There were many challenges that you had to overcome but you did it and raised money that will help you achieve your nonprofit mission in 2024! 

Next, please join me in wondering who started this confusing mess by having fiscal years that can start and end at any time in the calendar year. This was obviously not a development department decision since the most common nonprofit fiscal year-end is June 30th. Since that is not something we can spend more than a minute considering, let’s move on to where we should focus our time this month.

End of Calendar Year Data

I have seen statistics that say anywhere between 25–30% of an annual fund is raised in December. I have also heard that another 10–15% comes in November (thank you early birds!). But how do your end-of-year totals help you predict whether you are on track to reach your Annual Fund goal?

Someone recently told me they estimate giving by December 31st should be approximately 60% of your total annual fund goal if your fiscal year ends on June 30. Many think it should be 70 or 75%. With the organizations I am currently working with, I think that tracks. but I would love to know what you have found.

What Data Are You Tracking?

Here is a list of what you could be considering when looking at your year-end:

  1. Total Giving from the beginning of your fiscal year to Dec 31 (assuming you are not on a Jan 1 fiscal year)
  2. Total Giving comparing last year and this year’s FY to Dec 31 (pre-Covid we would compare the last five years of data but 2020 and 2021 are not good predictors for future giving)
  3. New Major Donors
  4. Major Gifts that were renewed, not renewed, upgraded, or downgraded
  5. Segmentation results based on your criteria for your appeal strategy. For instance, you might ask:
    1. What was the response to the targeted letter to your first-time donors?
    2. Did your first texting campaign increase Millennial and Gen Z gifts? 
    3. Were you able to upgrade donations by increasing the asks in the letters you mailed?
      1. What percentage upgraded compared to previous years?
      2. Did you notice a difference if your emails offered the same increased asks?
    4. Did the stewardship calls to 60 people in the fall cause them to increase their donations compared to those who did not receive a call? Was there a difference if someone had a conversation vs. leaving a message?
  6. Were there external factors that may have impacted your giving? While they are not simply excuses for not reaching your goal, you do have to include these factors in your analysis. Will those factors continue through this year and/or beyond? If so, what will you do to make up the difference and reach your annual fund goal? 

Most of these considerations are based on your current contributors. But every nonprofit is unique in its fundraising. That means they will read each statistic differently. Increasing to 43% retention for first-time donors may be stellar for one organization and a dramatic drop for another.  

Strategic Decisions

The key is that each mailing, email, phone call, text, and post for your annual fund appeal should be a strategic decision working towards a specific goal. Yes, you want to raise more money in your annual fund this year. But are you trying to raise more money by increasing gifts from the parents of program participants? Or are you trying to increase your number of renewed donations? 

Both can be solid strategies. Yet, each requires different elements and segmentation. Which is why development people should love data. I may like it more than some, but I don’t think anyone can ignore the importance of “knowing your numbers” to enable you to raise the remaining 40%+ of your goal. 

#GivingTuesday Analysis

There are a lot of theories about whether #GivingTuesday is a good fundraising opportunity, a tired holiday, or a “we might as well do something” kind of day. All of these are true, depending on the nonprofit. 

At MJA, we talk a lot about Campaigns of One. When we say this we mean that each donor for an annual, capital, or legacy plan is an individual who is looking for a different experience than another. If every donor has the same interests or wants the same information as everyone else, it will make everyone feel unseen. In other words, generic asks get generic gifts.

What does this have to do with a #Giving Tuesday analysis? When making strategic decisions, you are a nonprofit of one. There is no right or wrong, only the best path forward based on past performance and data (more on that below).

Did you participate in #GivingTuesday? 

Let’s say you decided to skip #GivingTuesday and sent a Thank You email and post instead. That might be a better stewardship move than raising a few hundred dollars. 

Maybe you decided to go all in, you wouldn’t be alone. From November 27th to December 1st I received: 

  • 5 emails from Brigham and Women’s Hospital (where I have never been a donor)
  • 6 from Trustees of the Reservation
  • 10 from American Jewish World Service (AJWS)

I just took three nonprofits from my solicitations folder (yes, I keep them). 

While many do not list their specific results, Trustees said that they exceeded their goal of $50,000. And AJWS let me know that they, “raised $189,000 for social change organizations fighting for human rights, protecting our planet, defending democracies, responding to natural disasters and advancing equity for women, girls and LGBTQI+ people worldwide.”

So, should you send 10 emails in 4 days? Probably not. But look at your past #GivingTuesday data to give yourself a realistic prediction of your capacity on this day.

Past Performance and Data Analysis

Your historic results are YOUR historic results. 

  • Know who gave in previous years. For one client, we realized there were 62 people who had only given to that organization on #GivingTuesday in 2022. That totaled $6,000 dollars. That’s not close to $180,000 but this is only the one-time donors and they consider $5,000 a major gift. Note that I didn’t say first-time donors. Some were lapsed and for others this is the time they gave every year. 
  • How many first-time donors did you have? We have had clients that found that #GivingTuesday was a low-barrier entry point and that with intentional, thoughtful stewardship, they were able to convert 73% into larger gifts. 
  • Did they give through social media or email? For many years, everyone thought it was a social media holiday. But I think the AJWS emails show that is no longer the case. I did not see one of their social media posts (assuming they had them).

You don’t have to conjure these numbers from the air, your CRM should be able to help you with these stats. And it will even provide you with pretty graphs.

What about the rest of the year? 

This is the type of analysis you should be considering for all giving. In the same way we can no longer expect donors to support an organization because it was important to their parents, asking is no longer based on gut feelings. Data is your friend. 

Data lets you know if they like children getting mentored or exposure to the arts at an afterschool program. They both support youth empowerment, but from very different angles. And you, as a development professional, need to approach them from different angles. 

If you still see data as the enemy, give me a call or sign up for a free consultation. I will convince you otherwise. 

Should You Participate in Giving Tuesday?

When #GivingTuesday started in 2012, it was an innovative way for the world to show we were more than self-absorbed consumers. Since then, we have proven that we still like to overbuy on Black Friday whether in June or November. 

Yet, we can be generous on giving days throughout the year. But, even if your nonprofit has a Giving Day in April, should you participate in #GivingTuesday this year? 

Campaigns of One

Our clients know that we often talk about Campaigns of One. Each donor is a campaign unto themselves and needs an individual plan. (Of course, that is only possible for a certain percentage of your donors.)

#GivingTuesday is the exact opposite approach. On the Tuesday after Thanksgiving, we are hoping that sending emails and putting up a few social media posts will encourage everyone to give. 

If that sounds like throwing spaghetti at the wall to see what sticks, it is. And often we counsel clients to use is as a day to Thank donors for all they have done throughout the year, instead of working hard to raise $750. But…

For some organizations #GivingTuesday works. Will it work for you? 

Let the data decide. 

Look at the past 2 years* of your #GivingTuesday results to assess:

  • What was the total amount given?
  • What was the average gift size?
  • Were there any incentives for donations in any of those years? 
  • How many donors did you have?
  • How many of those donors gave at another time throughout the year?
  • How many of those donors were first time donors?
  • What is the age range, mean, and mode? 
  • How many of those donors gave on #GivingTuesday for more than one year?
  • How many of those donors were the donors who support low-level asks throughout the year?

You may have other metrics that you want to consider, but this is a good starting place. This is to say that going back to the Campaigns of One, consider all of the details of the data before you decide. There may be donors that only give on that day. Or that your younger donors show up that day more than in December. Maybe you will discover that your $750 came from three donors who also gave at other times. 

Understanding your data is the key to knowing where to spend your time and energy. 

If you need help understanding your data and would like a tutorial, we are now offering a free 45-minute session on your database and your data. Email me to sign up. 

*Due to the Covid impact on fundraising in 2020 it is difficult to use that data to predict future giving. And the years before that can be helpful but most of us are in a different mindset since 2019 and have changed our giving patterns. 

The Latest and Greatest Appeal Letter Essentials

Even though I write and edit appeal letters every year — often for multiple organizations — I still think it is important to make sure I know the Latest and Greatest appeal letter trends.

Yes, I did mean trends.

There was a point in time that fundraisers regularly:

  • Showed people looking their worst
  • Sent a coin or stamp with the appeal in hopes of guilting someone into giving (you can decide if the calendars and return address labels do the same thing)
  • Told how desperate the nonprofit is and how they might not survive without this gift
  • Explained every detail about the nonprofit in the appeal
  • Talked only about the nonprofit’s needs
  • Mailed to thousands of people they never previously had contact with

In my 19 years of fundraising, I have seen the theories change about what will work in an appeal. I’m not sure if that is because fundraising has changed, or the world has changed. Either way, I do research at the start of every Appeal season to make sure I will help my clients get the best results.

I have compiled my thoughts into two lists:

  • Show impact that the prospective donor can have on your nonprofit’s beneficiaries — tangible results that will only happen with the donor’s support.
  • Use “you” twice as much as “us” or “we.” This is about the donor — not the nonprofit.
  • Call to Action with multiple asks spread throughout your annual appeal letter, call outs, and in a P.S. This is not a donor update — this is an annual APPEAL letter. Remind the prospective donor of the need and the impact that they can provide right now.
  • Why now? That is a question that should be easily answered by the reader. If there is no sense of urgency, there is no need to give now.
  • Use bullets, bolded wordselements in color, and/or italicized. Even if you don’t want to read this whole article today, you can skim it to get the gist. The same is true of your annual appeal letter.
  • Don’t forget the P.S. That is the most read element of your letter, so make it count with a call to action.
  • Have a segmentation strategy that will allow you to speak to different constituents in different ways. This could be members / non-members, parents / alumni / students, non-donors / current donors / lapsed donors / first-time donors, New Englanders/West Coasters/Midwesterners/Southerners, or whatever makes sense for your organization. The more personal it feels, the more likely someone will see themselves in the role of the donor making the impact.
  • Be grateful for previous gifts. Thankful for future gifts. And send many thank you’s in between.

Strategies for Your Appeal Letter That Never Grow Old

  • Have a strong, compelling case for giving. Non-negotiable. If you can’t clearly articulate why someone should give to you this December/Spring/Summer, they won’t think to give to you at this time.
  • Remind people why they are involved in your organization and want to give. This letter is going to your mailing list which means you don’t have to explain your mission and vision. But you do have to tell them why they should give to you at this time.
  • Tell a story. The type of story changes over time from sad to happy to impactful, but being able to show who the donor is helping and why is always important. This also gives you a head start on what data to provide in your donor updates and thank you notes.
  • Start strong. The first few words will captivate a reader and encourage them to continue or have them skipping down to the bullets, bold, and italicized words.
  • Limit the ideas introduced. This is not the opportunity to describe every program and the needs. That can be explained in the annual or impact report.
  • Ask directly. This is not the time to use flowery, descriptive language. This is the time to ask if the donor will consider a gift of $X,XXX to help 134 teenagers learn how to respond to antisemitism this coming summer.
  • Include a goal, if possible.
  • Show your appreciation for previous support. It’s easy to do and helps donors feel like you know and care about them.
  • Personalize. This has not always been the case (Dear Friend), but it has been enough years that you should know who you are asking if they are on your list.
  • Make it easy to reply. Online, response slips, QR codes, URL, check, credit card, PayPal, Venmo, Zelle, contact information for the office, and any other option that will make it easy for someone to give a gift.

One last piece of advice. Start now. It will take you a few versions, your colleagues or boss will want to review it, the designer will need time, and the mailing always takes longer than you would like.

If you ever want to talk about your donor strategies and what you can do to improve them, click here to schedule a free 30-minute consultation with us.

Craft Your Major Donor Stewardship Strategy

A few years ago I wrote an article, “What Would You Do With 1,000 New Donors?”I think this is the time to write a follow up. The more I talk to people now the more I start to question what would you do with 10 new major donors? Or even five.

Everyone wants more major donors. And everyone talks about wanting additional major donors.

Many organizations now use technology to uncover prospective major donors from their current list. But I have realized that if you are not at a large nonprofit with staff dedicated to stewardship like a university or hospital, you might not know what do with those new major donors.

I don’t mean the money, I’m sure you have 15 ways that you could spend it. I mean the stewardship plan. How would you keep in touch with those five people?

Would you send different or additional acknowledgements to those new major donors? Would they get a personal call from someone? Who would that be? Do you have a way to track their interests and send them articles that may interest them? Or personally invite them to an event?

Are you thinking something like:

  • “We will cross that bridge when we get to it.” 
  • “From your mouth to God’s ear.” 
  • “I don’t know, but I’d like to find out.” 

You are not alone. But those responses are all indicators that you are not stewarding the donors you already have. And that you have probably squandered more than one potential donor in the past.

You should have an acknowledgement and stewardship plan for each type of donor you have and whom you hope to have.

  • Will someone who gives $1,000 or $10,000 get a phone call from the President of the board? A handwritten note from the Executive Director? An offer for lunch from the senior development professional?
  • Did the donor that just told you they put you into their estate plan receive a special thank you note or additional recognition somewhere?
  • If someone told you their friend — also a donor to the nonprofit — was talking about a prospective donation — would you reach out? Would you know what to say?

While you can cross that bridge when you get to it, your excitement may overshadow the work that has to be done to gain that donor. The conversation of where and when to announce the huge gift(s) and how to tell every board member takes over. And that can lead to a lack of stewardship for the donor. And that, in turn, leads to fewer gift renewals.

Here is the advice. Plan ahead with a formal, disciplined, detailed stewardship plan. And if you would like counsel on how to create your stewardship plan, sign up for a free, 30-minute consultation. Our goal at MJA is to make sure you are prepared for an $18 or a $1,000,000 gift.

Why He Joined This Board (AKA The Importance of Time, Talent, and Treasure)

Board MemberI was in a meeting recently promoting 100% board participation in the annual fund when a board member stated, in no uncertain terms, that the board benefits from his expertise, he doesn’t also have to give financially. He doesn’t believe you have to give time, talent, and treasure.

I can think of multiple arguments as to why this is an incorrect view of the situation:

  • Board members should offer both financial support and thoughful counsel to a nonprofit – providing only one and not the other is only fulfilling half of a board member’s responsibility.
  • Organizations are asked about the percentage of board giving – if board members won’t fully commit financially – why should a foundation?
  • The member who only gives advice is relying on others to financially support the ideas he provides, implying that he doesn’t believe in them sufficiently to invest his own money in the vision.

But, in truth, I was left wondering, why he joined this board in the first place.

Anyone who works with nonprofits as staff or in a volunteer capacity knows that nonprofits are always encouraging and cultivating volunteers to serve on their board. This person, we’ll call him Joe, opted onto this board. Was it because he is passionate about the mission? Maybe his friends encouraged him? Or, possibly, he likes the way it rounds out his resume as someone who gives back?

Whatever the reason – passion, peer pressure, or prestige – he is rewarded for his participation. The idea that he thinks that his expertise is enough presumes that he is better suited, more of an expert, or simply more valuable than other members of the board. And while there may be extremely unique situations in which this is true, more often than not, even though the expertise and point of view are valuable additions, it is unlikely that his input would make or break an organization. There are other attorneys, financial experts, childcare professionals, social workers, or even nonprofit consultants to replace Joe.

If, on the other hand, the whole board decides to follow his lead and give only time and talent, it can break an institution. Nonprofits need philanthropic investment—the treasure—especially from every board member to do the good work they do.

So, the next time someone explains that their time and talent are enough of a gift, ask them if they really want to be on this board at this time. Explain that “one of the priorities of this board is 100% annual fund participation and I hope you can join me in supporting this organization that means so much to both of us. Indeed, one of the reasons I joined this board was to do and support its good work. And that takes money. Money that cannot be supported by membership or dues, money that comes for individual donors like the two of us.”

And, if you want to want to ensure every volunteer understands this from the start, make sure you list, “donor of meaningful gift” in your job description. Or a specific amount if that is what your board requires.

If you feel that you have no choice but to keep this person on, consider that there may be other reasons people are hesitant to join your board. And give us a call so we can help.

Originally published in 2016