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Nonprofit Board Members: How to Get Them to Give

Board giving is crucial when funders are evaluating your nonprofit. Learn why it's so important and how to kickstart your board into giving!

Nonprofit Board Members: How to Get Them to Give

Nonprofit executives spend a great deal of time thinking about how to get people to give: donors, sustainers, major gifts. But what about your board? Is it hard to get them to give? And does it really matter if they’re visibly philanthropic?

Most nonprofit organizations try to secure funding to sustain their mission-driven work. This can look like donations, grantsdonor-advised funds, or any other source of dollars. In each of these cases, an individual or a team is evaluating your nonprofit to ensure it’s a worthwhile recipient of funds.

And while there are many facets of a nonprofit that will be examined, one critical marker is board giving. In this article, we will explain why board giving is important, what different funders will look for in board engagement, and red flags for funders. Next, we will call on Maryellen Gleason, who serves as an interim CEO for nonprofits stalled in revenue generation. She will share how you can kickstart your board’s giving!

Why Nonprofit Board Giving Matters

When nonprofit board members financially support your organization, they communicate important points to would-be funders. They demonstrate commitment to your mission and prove they’ll invest personally to support your efforts. It’s essential for several reasons:

  • Board giving demonstrates leadership and goal alignment, both of which funders appreciate.
  • It also indicates a cohesive team because your staff will notice and appreciate the support.
  • Board giving shows engagement. They’ll be more likely to attend events and volunteer their time, and other team members will likely follow suit.
  • Board giving can also inspire other donors to give. High giving levels indicate an organization is well-supported and worthy of an investment.
  • It demonstrates accountability and good stewardship of funds.
  • Regular giving from your board provides a relatively dependable revenue stream, leading to increased financial stability.

Nonprofit board giving communicates all the right messages to your team, donors, and funders.

What Funders Look for in Board Giving

Once your board is on board with the idea, what are the key factors prospective funders might evaluate? Understanding these factors can help ensure your board’s giving is optimized for grants or other funding.

  • The participation rate is vital. You don’t want one or two key members doing all the giving; you want your whole board involved to demonstrate a solid commitment to the organization.
  • Average gift size matters, too. While it’s tough to control how much people give, it will reflect favorably if there are some larger donations.
  • Giving frequency can indicate a level of commitment from your board members. Rather than one year-end gift, it’s preferable to have quarterly or monthly gifts. 
  • Looking at how involved a board is in fundraising can be revealing. If your board is leveraging their networks and influence to raise money for your nonprofit, it underlines their commitment and advocacy.

In general, would-be funders will evaluate many factors to assess nonprofits' health, engagement, and effectiveness. Having an active board is critical.

What Funders Don’t Want to See

If we turn these around, you have a pretty good idea of what constitutes a red flag. If only a handful of board members make small and infrequent contributions, it’s likely to reflect negatively on your nonprofit.

Similarly, a lack of diversity in general doesn’t inspire confidence. Funders value diversity, whether it’s of thoughts and perspectives, expertise, spheres of influence and networks, and resources. Even a lack of demographic diversity can raise some eyebrows.

How to Kickstart Your Board

When it comes to kickstarting boards, no one has a bigger foot than Maryellen Gleason! She partners with nonprofits that require extraordinary fundraising outcomes, often jumping in and serving as an interim CEO. In this role, one of the first things she does is look closely at the board to ensure it’s positioning the team and the organization for success. She’s even a top-rated UCLA Extension instructor teaching a “Working with Boards” class for nonprofits! If your nonprofit needs a little boardroom coaching, reach out to Maryellen.

While she might be willing to privately share five very unusual stories about board chairs (funny but not publishable in this article!), we asked her to publicly share five proven strategies for kickstarting your board into philanthropic action.

Leveraging her extensive experience, she offers this list of five things to ensure deeper engagement, leading to 100% board giving and increased board engagement overall. 

  1. Set Expectations Before Someone Joins the Board: Clearly define engagement expectations for prospective board members before they join. Provide a one-sheet description outlining meeting and committee attendance expectations. This helps new board members understand their role and commitment level from the outset. If making a personal gift and buying or organizing a gala table is expected, let them know before they join the board. Reinforce membership expectations by having each board member sign a form in the first week of the fiscal year acknowledging their annual commitments and defining their pledge for that year.  
  2. Be Clear About Their Role in Fundraising: If you have a professional fundraising staff, be clear at the outset of board membership that the board's role is to make introductions, thank donors, accompany staff on donor visits, and allow the paid professional to do “the ask.” Not only does this assuage fears about fundraising, but clarity around the higher strategy of the board is reinforced. 
  3. Plan Ahead and Publish the Board Meeting Schedule: Publish the board meeting schedule for the year in advance. Preview themed meeting agenda discussions around mission and vision, budget, strategic planning, and funding/resources. Having a tradition around meeting topics is a practice seen by high-caliber boards with similarly high-impact institutions. Establishing a cadence for committee meetings can also help board members prepare and engage more deeply.
  4. Ensure CEO and Board Leadership Alignment: The CEO and board leadership should have regular catch-up sessions to ensure everyone is on the same page. If potential board leadership cannot commit to this, they may not be the right fit. Clear communication rules of engagement should be established to avoid confusion and ensure effective leadership and decision-making.
  5. Make Board Membership a Privilege: Start each meeting with a special "insider" mission moment to remind board members of the impact of their work. Incorporate social aspects into board meetings to build camaraderie and strengthen the board team.

Treating the board respectfully fosters a positive and collaborative environment, increasing trust, engagement, and commitment. This, in turn, enhances the board's willingness to support the organization financially and advocate for its mission.

Your Board is One of Your Biggest Assets

From strategy and direction to being your nonprofit’s biggest advocates and cheerleaders, your board is an important ally as your team works to impact your mission. Keeping the lines of communication open and priorities, including giving, top of mind will ensure your organization is set for success.

Ultimately, building a robust board-giving program will require individual willingness to invest and a commitment from your team for ongoing communication and education. When you’re all on the same page and working toward the same goal, everyone will be working toward your nonprofit’s success and sustainability.