Board Members Doing More Giving And Getting Now

April 1, 2005       Todd Cohen      

As it expands its board from 15 members to 25, including some of its clients, the Springfield Citadel of the Salvation Army in Springfield, Mass., plans for the first time to set a specific amount of money, probably $500, that it expects each member to give or raise.

Setting specific goals to replace the implied expectation that board members donate money removes an obstacle to board membership, and helps engage them in the organization, said Maj. Thomas Perks, commanding officer.

“As people make that kind of monetary investment, we also see a rise in their interest or participation in the programs that they are particularly funding,” he said.

While nonprofit executives typically look to their board members to contribute and help raise money, a big gap can separate the way staff and boards view the fundraising role boards should and do play.

“Nonprofit staff often tell us that they wish their board would fundraise more or make personal contributions to the organization, while board members express that they are worried about or uninterested in fundraising and feel that the time they donate as board members is just as important, if not more important, than making a contribution or asking others to do so,” said Joy Folkedal, director of training for BoardSource, a nonprofit in Washington, D.C., that advises nonprofit boards.

That gap in expectations suggests both sides “have missed the point that fundraising requires a partnership between the board and staff, especially in nonprofits where there are professional fundraisers on staff,” she said.

The NonProfit Times reported on a survey five years ago by BoardSource, formerly the National Center for Nonprofit Boards. It showed a gap between staff and board expectations about boards’ fundraising role. In that survey, 47 percent of organizations that responded required board members to make annual monetary contributions, but only 36 percent of board members gave to their nonprofits.

And that gap is widening, with a greater percentage of nonprofits requiring boards to make contributions, and a smaller percentage of boards actually doing so.

Among nonprofit chief executives BoardSource surveyed for its 2004 Governance Index, 55 percent required board members to make a personal financial contribution. But among nonprofits where board members were surveyed, only 26 percent made personal financial contributions.

“This means that organizations might require boards to make contributions, but not all board members are fulfilling this requirement,” Folkedal said.

The survey, following similar surveys in 1994, 1997 and 2000, found that only 21 percent of board members were dissatisfied with their personal fundraising performance, compared to 57 percent of chief executives who were dissatisfied with their boards’ fundraising performance.

And while only 30 percent of chief executives and 21 percent of board members characterized the board as mainly a fundraising body, 55 percent of nonprofits in the survey required the board to make personal monetary contributions.

In the most recent survey, 57 percent of nonprofits required board members to identify donors or solicit funds, or both, and 57 percent required board members to attend fundraising events, while 22 percent of board members surveyed said they solicited contributions from other sources, 30 percent attended special events, and 16 percent provided in-kind services.

BoardSource encourages 100 percent giving by boards to show support for their organizations, and to make it easier to ask potential donors for gifts, and also suggested that each board member make a “stretch” gift, an approach that lets nonprofits recruit board members with different income levels.

Written policies about board giving and fundraising can help board members “rise to the occasion and fulfill their responsibilities,” she said, and be used to hold accountable board members who do not fulfill their commitments.

Defining roles

Every board member should be expected to make a financial contribution that is “significant” for the individual board member, said Stephanie Roth, editor-in-chief of Grassroots Fundraising Journal in Oakland, Calif., and a consultant on fundraising and board development.

“I don’t believe in minimum contributions,” she said. “That immediately ensures some people won’t ever join your board.”

In addition to contributing money, board members can help raise money in a variety of ways, such as visiting major donors, hosting house parties or selling tickets to an annual dinner, she said.

A useful tool can be a contract or letter of agreement that board members and staff develop together, giving each board member options and goals for fulfilling fundraising responsibilities, with annual reviews in which board members can evaluate their performance and make a new commitment for the following year.

Both board and staff “are responsible for making clear and finding out what the expectations are,” she said.

Paul Shoemaker, executive director of Social Venture Partners Seattle, a group that works to help nonprofits and philanthropists be more effective, said the biggest challenge facing nonprofits is that “boards don’t understand or fulfill their roles,” a problem for which boards and staffs are “equally culpable.”

And the board’s role can change from hands-on work during a nonprofit’s startup phase to providing stewardship and strategic direction as the organization and staff mature. Yet board members either might not understand that part of their job is to raise money, or they might be asked only to raise money.

Yet over time, as board members and staff change, “the only thing permanent is the board (structure),” Shoemaker said. “They need to not forget that they own the mission. And if you own the mission, that has obviously some important responsibilities that go along with that.”

Providing options

When the Food Bank of Iowa in Des Moines ran a capital campaign two years ago to raise $700,000 to repay a loan for a new warehouse, all 11 members of its board either contributed or helped raise money, including one who made an anonymous donation of $250,000.

“We always say it’s not legitimate unless everyone has made a contribution,” said Karen Ford, executive director. “We impress upon them it’s not the amount, it’s the idea that they’re contributing to this effort.”

The YM/YWCA in Newark, N.J., has a written policy that says its 18 board members are expected to “give and get donations and sponsorships for the Y,” said Milton Harrison, president.

While all board members participate in the annual fund drive, their participation varies at the Y’s four big special events each year. A dozen board members purchased tables at the Y’s annual Sports Legends banquet last fall at a cost of $4,000 each, for example, while other members bought three or four tickets each or an ad in the banquet program.

“We don’t tell them they have to be at all of them,” Harrison said. “All of them are not wealthy people.”

At the National Council of Nonprofit Associations in Washington, D.C., the 12 board members previously were asked at the start of each year to make a pledge to the organization, and the board chair would follow up with reminders to each member.

This year, the entire board has set a goal for itself of giving or raising $4,000, roughly double last year’s total, said Audrey Alvarado, the group’s executive director and a member of the BoardSource board.

Half the members of the National Council board are executives of state nonprofit associations whose jobs include primary or sole responsibility for raising money, and who may find it tough to compete with their own organizations, Alvarado said.

So setting an overall fundraising goal for the board allows individual members to raise modest amounts and still contribute, she said. While board members cannot all contribute in the same way, she said, “boards are ambassadors for your organization, so they should always, when they’re out there, be on the alert for funding sources or opportunities for partnership.”

Habitat for Humanity of Greater Greensboro in North Carolina asks all 22 members of its board to make a gift, although the amount is not set, and to participate in fundraising, said Winston McGregor, director of development. All board members, for example, are expected to captain a table and ask another person to do the same at an annual community event that has raised more than $600,000 in the past three years.

“For us to do what we do here at Habitat, we need people to be very personally invested in what we do,”McGregor said. “When people give their money to something, it’s personal, it connects them and invests them in that organization. And it makes it easier for them to ask others to do that.”

Todd Cohen is editor and publisher of Philanthropy Journal, an online newspaper at He can be reached at