April 2, 2018

How “Give, Get or Get Off” Damages Your Bottom Line

You’ve heard it said that board members should give, get, or get off. What if we offered a better option? What if, instead of reciting a cliché, you reviewed your board-giving guidelines?

The expression means that board members should give their money, help the nonprofit to get it, or depart from the board.

Historically, I’ve never had a problem with the give-or-get part. “Get off” always rubbed me the wrong way.

Okay, it’s worse than a rub. I always considered it anti-fundraising. 

Let me explain. Board members and nonprofits benefit when boards give. Boards must support revenue generation. Furthermore, everyone that supports a nonprofit must act to enhance resource development. (See Fundraising is for Everyone and Board Giving Today: New Thorns on an Old Bush? for recent developments in the field.)

So How Is “Give, Get or Get Off” Anti-Fundraising?

“Get Off” reduces a person’s value to the money they give or bring to your nonprofit. It is transactional, not relationship based. Haven’t we been touting for eons that fundraising is all about building a relationship? Do we mean that we are about relationships only when there’s a payoff? Ouch!

Secondly, there is the waste. Before you invite someone to be a board member, you vet them. You invest more time convincing them to serve. All in all, removing a board member fritters away a lot of effort. 

Three Alternatives to “Give, Get, or Get Off” for Individuals Members

So what if, instead of asking board members to leave, we considered individuals who don’t give or get (if that’s what your board policy dictates) as works in progress? What would happen if you approached  non-giving board members with one or more of the following invitations?

1. Give, Get, or Get Insight on Our Board’s Commitment to Giving 

Where: Non-giving members learn about other members’ giving

Peer pressure works. By sprucing up my yard, I motivate my neighbors to trim their shrubs and add new plantings. By understanding that everyone around them gives, some board members will be encouraged to join them. (See Guilty as Charged, Prove Your Board Supports Your Organization.)

2. Give, Get, or Get a Better Understanding of How Giving Improves Donor’s Lives

Where: Non-giving members discover how giving improves donors’ lives.

Share facts about the value donors receive. The research is irrefutable that giving improves donors’ lives.

How can you prove it to your members? Besides facts, tell donation backstories. Most of us announce: “Tina introduced us to Joe. He donated $50,000.”

Next time, tell more.

Share how Tina introduced Joe to you three years ago. Review any steps it took to close the gift. Cite the gratitude Joe expressed for the opportunity. Ask Tina how she feels about making the introduction.

Giving is an act of courage, and so is asking others to share and even introducing people to nonprofits. The more we know about the impact of gifts to change lives, the braver we can be about recommending it ourselves and to others.

3. Give, Get, or Get an Opportunity to Move the Needle on What’s Important to You.

Where: Non-givers receive invitations to invest in activities they love.

A coaching client grumbled that she had a bunch of board members who weren’t engaged–even though they all gave.

“Define disengaged.”

One by one, she reviewed their activities. While they could do more, they were engaged. They just weren’t involved in the one-getting activity she valued most, reaching out to new people in splashy ways. Given their introversion, it was unlikely any effort she made would convert them to holding parties in their homes would be successful.

Furthermore, a major gift donor in the mix faithfully made a yearly leadership gift. He was a candidate to make a planned gift and a potential inspiration to others. What would happen if she asked him to consider making a planned gift? And, if he did, would he be willing to share why?

We all want to do more of what we like and less of what we dislike. A board member grudgingly attends a gala alone. However, she loves to invite likely-to-give couples to your behind-the-scenes tours. Find out what your non-giving board members love and ask them to invest in it. 

Is It Time to Reconsider Board Giving?

Historically, give-or-get wasn’t an issue. For decades board giving has been a must. Leading with Intent found that 79 percent of board members gave, but only 52 percent of nonprofits have 100 percent board giving. Nevertheless, new times bring new thinking.

Today many nonprofits are asking questions about board member guidelines regarding their impact on diversity, equity, inclusion, and accessibility. If you have a board-giving policy and meet resistance, your non-giving board members may have an essential message for you. Asking them to get off would be a significant setback to your nonprofit. Is it time for your nonprofit to change your giving guidelines? The answer is no longer one size fits all.

Take a moment to evaluate each of your current board members.

  1. Who gives?
  2. Who gets?
  3. Who is not giving or getting yet

For members in the third group, what do they need? An update on their peer’s gifts? To discover how giving benefits donors’ lives? To be invited to find out how to invest in what they love? Or to discuss the role of board members’ role in making contributions? Any of these responses will bear more fruit and be better for your bottom line than removing members who aren’t giving or getting. 

Please email me or comment below and let me know how it goes.

For more answers, check out this Nonprofit CEO Library.

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Karen Eber Davis

Karen Eber Davis provides customized advising and coaching around nonprofit strategy and board development. People leaders hire her to bring clarity to sticky situations, break through barriers that seem insurmountable, and align people for better futures. She is the author of 7 Nonprofit Income Streams and Let's Raise Nonprofit Millions Together.


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