Leadership, Resources

Give it, Get it or Get off

What role should members of the board of directors play in fundraising for a charity? One of the most engaged discussions I observed at our Gather conference last month was the one about this topic. I didn’t participate on the conversation; in part because I needed to keep on eye on the entire flow of the event, and in part because as the chair of the board for one of the participating organizations I didn’t want to intrude on what was being said. In many organizations the issue of board as fundraisers is a source of ongoing frustration for both board and staff. There are a few charities that select board members primarily for what they can offer to the financial bottom line. This is shortsighted and fundamentally flawed. A board’s primary role is governance, directing and protecting the organization. (Jim Brown’s The Imperfect Board Member should be read by every director and senior level staff person). The board table is not the place for anyone to be thinking primarily as a donor. That said; the simple reality is that a shortage of cash is often a haunting limiting factor for a large number of nonprofits. Attention to finances is a key responsibility of the board and a great opportunity to help out. Ron McClory from KMA is fond of saying board members should “Give It, Get It, or Get Off” with regard to fundraising. I can’t entirely agree. I do believe that every board member should be expected to contribute financially to the charity each year. Being a Donor of Record gives important credibility to the board with other donors and staff. But I strongly resist putting a specific dollar figure expectation. Limiting the board to only the deepest pockets isn’t necessary and may exclude important perspectives. Too many boards are populated by insider groups of rich white men. So, what should we expect? 1. Clarity. The most important issue here is that everyone (board and staff) have the same expectations in this matter. Putting it in writing as a board commitment along with meeting preparation and attendance, committee participation, agreement with Core Statements, and/or whatever else is considered inherent to the board role is of immense value. 2. Appropriate Involvement. Board members should be looking for ways to serve the organization beyond board meetings. Putting on the volunteer hat in an area of expertise of interest is a key way to remain in touch with the frontlines of the organization. It is the board member’s responsibility to remember and ensure others understand that when acting as a volunteer they do not hold any independent authority. 3. Be an advocate. To be a board member you should be a fan. That doesn’t mean this is the only charity you care about, but you should be willing to share the vision of the organization with your own circles. I love what Hildy Gottlieb says in this excellent article on the topic of boards as fundraisers:

The only road to sustainability is to engage the community in your work, to turn that community into an army of friends achieving something amazing together, spreading the roots of ownership of your mission and vision throughout the community, so the community would not dream of letting that mission die.

And as the link to the community, that is a job board members can do without fear.