I 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