Board Donations: Start the Conversation

Cheryl Hebb

By Cheryl Hebb, CFRE, MBA

“Give, Get or Get Off!”

I can’t imagine that anyone would want to say this to a member of their Board of Directors. However, there was a time when this concept was debated in New York City, where I started my professional career, and then in Los Angeles where I worked for 20 years. And slowly and surely, more and more non-profits in the United States have given this ultimatum to their volunteer board members.

It’s not news to us in Canada that as we start 2015, the world economy will continue to yo-yo causing donors to cautiously decide where to best give their donations. Nor will come as a surprise to fundraisers that government cuts will continue to fuel budget crises at our non-profits.

Where can a professional fundraiser turn for help in acquiring new donors and raising giving levels of current donors?

One obvious place is our non-profit Board of Directors. They should be our number One ally in asking prospects and donors to contribute and/or raise the amount of their donations. After all, Board Members should be able to say “join me” in supporting an organization for which they deeply care.

But, how can they do this, if they, themselves, do not contribute to a cause to which they donate their “spare” hours?

Yet, many fundraisers, if not are scared, at least down-right hesitant to ask Board Members to contribute their wealth, along with their wisdom, time and talent. Still, it hasn’t stopped many of us from thinking about it, or starting to muse out loud about the issue at networking events. After all, who among us doesn’t make a yearly gift to our own organizations?

True, if asked, some Board Members might say, “Don’t we already give our time, talent and wisdom? Why should we also have to donate money? Isn’t finding donors why we hired you?”

Well, actually, one thing that they’ve hired us to do is to educate them — gently – that the buck stops at the top: Each Board Member is responsible not only to help govern the organization, but to see that it succeeds in its mission, whether as a school, museum, theatre or social agency. All Board Members need to assume a role in the process. And, financial sustainability is a part of the process.

Therefore, they personally become an integral part of the financial solution.

When I began to initiate the concept of Board giving and getting in organizations where it did not exist, the first thing I did was to elicit a buy in.

Begin by talking with your Executive Director or Vice President about an annual Board contribution. How does he or she feel about it? Would he or she be adverse to asking the Board for an annual contribution of any amount to begin? Would it be possible to start with an unspecified donation and then work up to a set amount within five years?

Does your Board have a job description? Does it have term limits? Does it have an annual self-review that is shared by the entire Board? If not, create these for your Board Members. Setting a job description will act as a contract for members, and an annual self-review will help reinforce expectations, as well as outline any consequences for non-compliance. Once you discuss these items and decide where you want to go with them, you and/or your Executive Director will need find an ally or two on your Board willing to champion the conversation forward to fellow Board Members. You may not succeed right away, but once you plant the seed, it will eventually take root.

Instead of pondering the question of Board Donations in 2015, my challenge to you this New Year’s is to start the conversation.

Cheryl Hebb, CFRE, is currently the Director of Development and Principal Gifts at the University of Victoria. Starting her career as a journalist at a daily, metropolitan newspaper in New Jersey, Cheryl transferred her communication skills to the non-profit arena, where she has specialized for 30 years in major gifts, planned giving, and non-profit management and raised millions of dollars for both healthcare and academia.

Prior to her arrival in Victoria, Cheryl lived and worked in Vancouver, British Columbia, for four years. Her professional career has taken her to New York City and Los Angeles, where she taught major gift fundraising at Tseng College at California State University, Northridge.

In addition to being a public speaker, Cheryl is an award-winning writer and producer of marketing films, and has been involved with numerous professional organizations. She has an MBA in Non-Profit Management from American Jewish University and a BS in Communications from Syracuse University.

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