Fly Higher, Karen’s Ten 10 Ways to Motivate Board Giving

Are you tired of wishing your board would give more and ready to take action to motivate them to fly higher in their giving? Start here:

1. The Crew Boards First. I’m meeting with a board. They begin discussing several senior women whom they hope will make a planned gift to their new endowment. “You do know that it is most likely that the endowment’s first gifts will be from current leaders, like you,” I share in a lull, “Don’t you?” They look at me with stunned silence. People follow leaders. At the airport, the pilots and crew board the plane first. First, fill your flight with leaders — the executive committee, board, and key staff. Don’t just hint about this. Have a conversation. Share proof of this truth.

2. Establish Great Destinations. A board member brags that he is part of a non-giving board with the responsibility for the well-being of 100 special-needs individuals. Your board members won’t give if they don’t consider giving part of their duties. How do you create this sense of responsibility? To start, you need to decide if you are committed to earning money from individual donations. Before this commitment is made, teach how this funding stream is developed. Once you commit, establish clear expectations, provide on-going education, verbally and in writing, as you recruit and during board service.

3. Fly A Full Plane. While a significant donation will make your day, the first goal is 100 percent board participation. The pilot doesn’t get many “Atta boys,” if only the pilot arrives safely. First, help all of the board members to give. Second, motivate them to fly first class by making a stretch gift. Often this results from a motivated board member challenging his or her peers to join him or her in committing to a stretch gift but first focus first on filling the plane.

4. Buckle Your Seatbelts. Use peer pressure. I admire the process, Chuck Loring, with Board Source, teaches. He recommends creating a board scorecard that lists several years of individual member’s giving history. On it, you list board members by a number instead of names. Each member receives the list in a sealed envelope. Their gifts are highlighted. Since no one wants to be un-generous amongst his or her peers, using this feedback creates positive peer pressure to encourage more giving. Each time we fly, we are reminded to buckle our seatbelts and given a demonstration. If your board is not listening, bring in experts. Another option? Use this tool to measure board supports.

5. “The captain has asked. . .” Year-end emergency appeals work because they are urgent, front and center, and for many organizations coincide with the end of the calendar year or “the giving time.” Motivate your board by creating similar urgency. You needn’t be in danger of falling off a cliff or wait until year-end. Do establish logical deadlines with punctuation. “We will drop our spring appeal letter on March 15th. By March 1, we need all board gifts in so we can brag about your 100 percent participation.” Set a logical deadline that creates urgency.

6. “Can I get you something to drink?” Perhaps you noticed that people, no matter their intentions, are reluctant to part with their money. We once made an offer to buy a house but “forgot” to sign the deposit check. To overcome reluctance, board members need to be asked, preferably individually. “John, will you be able to make your gift before the end of the year?” And, when John gives you a check, check for his signature. Ask.

7. Control Your Air Traffic. As nonprofit leaders, we can quickly start making excuses for our lackadaisical giving. Do you expect to be turned down with responses like these: “The economy is bad,” “I’m too stretched,” “It’s too much right now,”? Instead, believe that the opportunity is yours — that you can raise the bar higher. Ask for their help to move it there. Life is about the joy of participation. Why is it natural for them to give? What are the benefits to them? To refresh thinking, see these two blog entries about Sally, one and two.  Scientists confirm that giving makes us happier. Control your mental air traffic. Believe your board will invest. Then, act.

8. Fly Friendly Skies. No matter the success of your other nonprofit funding streams, individual donations can be amongst them. For long-term success with your board and individual giving, plant seeds to grow a culture of philanthropy. G. Scott Goyer suggests that we, “Teach the discipline of giving.” Look at your goal to motivate your board; the big picture. Ask your board for their ideas about how to create a culture of giving and a discipline of giving. Change your airspace and invite board members to be part of something bigger at your nonprofit.

9. Get the Right People on the Plane. Efforts to stimulate more giving can be for naught if you invite the wrong people. A primary reason for sluggish board giving is not in your control. It’s not you. It’s them. If a member never gives to any nonprofits, this behavior is difficult to change short-term. On the other hand, if you recruit non-givers to be on the board, it is about you. Before inviting anyone, the nominating committee will want to learn if a candidate is positively infected with giving — ideally with evidence from your database. Encouraging people without a giving discipline is like letting people on an airplane without a ticket. To motivate your board, recruit individuals who give.

10. Cherish Flight. After making sure that you invite givers to fly with you, this is the next most important motivator. It is also the subtlest. To motivate new gifts, dedicate board money to what only donors can fund. Don’t “waste” the dollars your board gives you. Bok Tower Garden might have asked donors to support the mansion; instead, they improved their process and created earned revenue (see this Profitable Nonprofit Column.) As much as possible, use your board donations for critical extras. Let them know the difference they make. One group asked their formerly non-giving board to fund scholarships for their most important but hardest to fund children. Being a giving leader is more fun when you make things that matter happen. Find ways for your board to know the fruits of their gifts.


Motivating your board to give is not a done-in-a-day task. It involves adopting a mindset mixed with actions. You partner and work with your board to motivate your members and yourself long-term. It’s a joint venture. Begin today. Together, fly higher.

Related Resources

Mission Possible, 6 Essential Lessons to Create Board Support

Ensure the Availability of Sufficient Resources (free 60-minute audio)

How to Lead Great Meetings