December 28, 2020

You Can Motivate More Board Giving! The 9 Steps

airplane in blue sky and cloudsAre you tired of wishing your board would give more and ready to take action to motivate them to fly higher in their giving? Start boarding your aircraft and getting ready to fly higher to greater board giving.

1. Leaders Boards First.

I’m meeting with a nonprofit board of directors. They discuss several senior women whom they hope will make a planned gift.

In a lull, I add, “Are you aware that it is most likely that the first endowment gifts will be from current leaders like you?”

They looked at me like I was from planet Elsewhere.

People follow leaders. At the airport, the pilots and crew climb on the airplane first. First, fill your flight with leaders — the executive committee, board, and critical staff who give. Don’t just hint about this. Explore with your governance committee your current status and your board-giving goals.

2. Get the Right People on the Plane.

A primary reason for sluggish board giving may not be under your control. It’s not you. It’s them.

If a member never contributes to any nonprofit, this behavior will be impossible or at least very difficult to change.

On the other hand, if you recruit non-givers, it is about you. Guide your nominating committee to seek candidates infected with the giving habit. Ideally, they’ll find evidence in your records.

Suppose a person gives gifts instead of cash, i.e., picks up the tab at your lunches, brings supplies they buy at a discount, or buys season tickets, etc. Does this work? Yes, because it’s not unreasonable to expect that you can translate their philanthropic generosity into a yearly cash donation. Do these gifts have to be significant? No, we all have different abilities to give, and what is a sacrifice for me may be an annoyance fee to you.

Encouraging people without generosity habit is like letting people on an airplane without a ticket. To motivate your board, recruit individuals who donate and demonstrate a philanthropic spirit.

3. Establish Great Destinations.

A board member brags that he is part of a non-giving board responsible for the well-being of 100 individuals with special needs.

Your board members won’t donate if they don’t “get” why giving is important. (Watch: What Your Board Gets Wrong About Board Giving to discover common misunderstandings.) And they won’t give if they don’t realize how much value it has to them personally.

When someone brags that they’re part of a non-giving board, my response is, “I am so sorry.” And it is sad. They’re missing out on a chance to express their values. Moreover, they miss the joy of giving. Finally, it will be awkward for them to ask others to donate.

How do you create this sense of responsibility and understanding? Decide you are committed to earning money from individual donations. Before you ask for your board’s commitment, make your commitment.

Curious about a best practice when it comes to CEO gifts? On the first day of your job, make a gift to the nonprofit. Renew it yearly on your work anniversary.

Once you commit, establish clear expectations, and provide ongoing education, verbally and in writing, as you recruit board members and during board service.

4. Fly The Plane Full. 

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. Here’s your plan:

  • Help all of the board members to give.
  • Over time, inspire them to fly first class by making a stretch gift.
  • Seek motivated board members to challenge their peers to commit to a stretch gift.

First, focus on filling the plane. For instance, the Daughters of the American Revolution offers all members the opportunity to make a monthly gift for as little as five dollars a month. Sandra Pollock developed this program when she learned that a daughter was saving changes to make a $100 donation when her refrigerator broke. You may have noticed a theme here. It’s not about the gift amount because your goal is not to substitute board giving for adequate fundraising planning but to offer your board a chance to develop as philanthropists. (See post on culture of philanthropy for more about this perspective.)

5. Fasten Your Seatbelts.

Each time we fly, we are reminded to buckle our seatbelts and given a demonstration. If your board is not listening, bring in some experts.

I admire the process Chuck Loring with BoardSource, teaches about using peer pressure. He recommends creating a board scorecard that lists several years of individual members’ giving history. On it, you list board members assigning each a number, not their names. Each person receives the list in a sealed envelope that highlights individual giving. If you want to shield amounts because of equity concerns, consider using “$” instead of a dollar amount to indicate a cash gift.

No one wants to be un-generous or out of pace with their peers. Consider establishing a public feedback loop for the board. For instance, here’s a tool that explores board behaviors.

6. “The captain has asked. . .”

When we fly, from time to time, the stewards make timely and occasionally urgent instructions for passengers, such as fastening seat belts and returning to seats.

Likewise, motivate your board by creating urgency. For instance, establish logical deadlines, such as “We will drop our spring appeal letter on March 15. By March 1, we need all board gifts so we can brag about your participation.”

One nonprofit makes it a rule that they don’t release their annual appeal letter until every board member donates. Find ways to create urgency or at least a reason to do it now.

7. “Can I get you something to drink?”

Have you noticed that people are reluctant to part with their money, no matter their intentions? We once offered to buy a house but “forgot” to sign the deposit check. Ask board members individually to overpower reluctance and reinforce the importance of giving.

Just as the steward takes individual drink orders, ask one by one. “John, will you be able to make your gift before the end of the year?”

And, if John gives you a check, check for his signature.

8. Control Your Air Traffic

As a leader, you can always make excuses for our nonprofit’s lackadaisical giving. Do you expect your board to turn down contribution requests with these responses?

“The economy is bad.”

“I’m too stretched.”

“It’s too much right now.”

Instead, believe that the opportunity is yours — that your board can fly higher. Ask for their help. Life is about the joy of participation. Why is it natural for them to give? What are the benefits for them? See these two blog entries about Sally, one and two, to refresh your thinking. Giving makes us happier and wealthier.

Control your mental air traffic. Believe your board will invest and that together you can develop your philanthropy. Then, act.

9. Fly Friendly Skies

No matter your other nonprofit funding streams, individual donations can stand out. For long-term success with your board, plant seeds to grow a culture of philanthropy. G. Scott Goyer suggests that we “Teach the discipline of giving.” Therefore, plan how you will engage your board. Ask, for instance, them for their ideas about creating a culture of philanthropy and the discipline of giving. Invite board members to be part of something bigger at your nonprofit.

You Can Motivate More Board Giving!

Motivating your board to give is not a done-in-a-day task. It involves adopting a mindset mixed with actions. Partner and work with your board to encourage their understanding of philanthropy long-term. It’s a joint venture. Together, fly higher. Begin today.

For more answers, check out Karen’s 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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