Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Should nonprofits require giving?

A new post by our friends at Blue Avocado caught my eye, as it poses a question I've heard often in my work with nonprofit boards: Should boards require giving by their members? There is the inevitable follow-up: if so, should those requirements include a minimum level of giving?

The post, found here, does a good job of summarizing the trends and challenges surrounding the issue. One that I wish had been addressed in greater detail is something I've seen and heard described by others more frequently: the attention that many funders pay to how boards respond to that question and how that can impact their response to your request.

My advice to boards is always "do what's right for your board and its members." But I also point out that many individual donors and funding organizations take seriously board commitment as demonstrated by member giving. Being able to say that, yes, 1oo percent of our board members contribute to our nonprofit is a compelling - and sometimes qualifying - statement for prospective donors.

My recommendation to boards who do not have a giving provision is covered well in Jan's post: consider a policy that requires members to give, preferably at a level that is meaningful to them. In all of the cases with which I am familiar, how much is not the issue: full board participation is.

For the vast majority of our boards, even those who take great care to ensure broad participation across socioeconomic groups, this is a reasonable expectation to make. "Meaningful" can be $1,000. It can mean $1. It is an important additional statement of your board's commitment to funders and other stakeholder groups, one worthy of consideration (and adoption). It is one that the board and its members should take seriously. It also is one that they should enforce, allowing them to say annually, yes, our board puts its dollars where their time and their hearts already lie.

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