“I’m okay with giving money to a nonprofit that I care about, but do I have to ask friends and colleagues for money if I serve on a nonprofit board?” That’s another question that many business executives ask me when I interview them in preparation for conducting board trainings.
This post, with FAQs 6 – 12, follows Part I where you can find the first 5 FAQs and my responses.
6. Must I ask friends and colleagues for money if I serve on a nonprofit board?
This depends on the board’s expectations and what you discuss and plan with the organization’s CEO before you join the board (see Q. #3). In most cases, each board member has particular strengths–some have individual wealth, some have access to corporate funds, some are enthusiastic fundraisers, others have expertise related to government funding, and so on. The baseline for most organizations is that everyone make a personal financial contribution and also add significant value in their own unique way.
As to asking family, friends, and colleagues to contribute, you can do a great deal of good for your nonprofit if you can develop the ability to ask people for contributions; I have seen many people learn–people who never imagined they could.
Here’s how: Get to know your organization, make site visits, understand how donated funds will make a difference, and learn how to make the case. If you are really passionate about the mission, it can become rather easy to ask people to help support your nonprofit’s work. It can even become fun!
Think about it. Every new friend and donor you develop for your organization will help advance the amazing work of your organization–whether it’s feeding malnourished children in Haiti, protecting Earth’s most important natural places, or helping young people in public housing to get to college (my board!).
By the way, you do need to make your own personal financial contribution before you ask others.
7. How do I introduce friends and colleagues to my organization?
Invite them as your guests to a fundraising event. Your guests will learn about the mission and important work of your nonprofit, meet your fellow board members, feel the passion, and appreciate your commitment. The spirit often becomes contagious, and you can win new supporters.
At your company, here are a few ways to build support: Organize a volunteer event for employees to perform at the nonprofit (work through your company’s volunteerism program); host a little pizza lunch in a meeting room for people who are interested and have your nonprofit’s chief executive give a brief talk and Q & A about the organization; and of course, ask your company to match your financial contribution to your nonprofit (which many companies have a policy to provide).
At home, host a small reception for family and friends, featuring a brief talk by the nonprofit’s chief executive, in order to build awareness for your organization. You can sweeten the pot by having a prominent guest or board member featured as well, particularly if the additional person is also an expert related to the mission of your nonprofit. The fundraising part? You ask people to make a contribution to attend; they can choose from a few levels.
8. Are there ways to help fundraise other than asking friends and colleagues for money?
Yes. Offer to accompany your nonprofit executive (or the development officer) at one of their foundation meetings. Often, the presence of a board member, who is a volunteer, is very compelling to funders. Before visiting a funder, be sure you’ve made a site visit to see the work of your nonprofit in action; that will ensure that your perspectives are fresh and genuine.
9. What do I do if the board changes its financial expectations of board members after I join the board?
Actually, there are many cases of nonprofit boards increasing the requirements regarding board member contributions and fundraising (“give/get”). This is happening as boards are addressing the financial challenges facing their organizations and the realities of their responsibilities. An increase in financial expectations should be discussed and agreed upon by the board.
Presumably, a change in expectations would not happen shortly after you join a board; these changes are usually planned so new recruits would be forewarned. But this does happen to board members a few years into their term(s).
If expectations are changed, and you have concerns, I recommend that you have a conversation with the board chair and the chief executive. Perhaps there are values that you provide that continue to be essential, or new ways that you can be helpful as the organization moves in new directions or addresses future challenges. If you and the organization’s leadership have a candid conversation, then you can decide whether serving on the board is the best role for you going forward, figure out how you might want to continue to be involved in the organization, and decide whether and when you might want to join a new board.
This reminds me of a board leader I met several years ago who told me that he and his board were building a board “that they themselves would never be invited to serve.” Their legacy.
10. My organization gets millions of dollars in government funding. Why would the organization need my financial contribution?
Government funds usually do not cover the full expense of infrastructure, competitive salaries, technology, or research and development for innovative programs. Additionally, government funding is usually paid after services are rendered, so nonprofits are funding the programs up front. And finally, government does not necessarily fund the same programs from year to year; as a result, if your organization is committed to certain core services, or even wants to create smooth transitions, nonprofits need to develop alternative sources of funding.
The bottom line is that in order to be financially healthy, a nonprofit must establish a significant stream of philanthropic funding as one of its sources of revenue. And philanthropy starts with the board. As I mentioned in Q.#4, most outside funders will want to know that 100% of the board members have made financial contributions first.
11. For all the time and money of board service, what’s in it for me?
You’ll develop personally and professionally; deepen your knowledge about a new area–such as economic development, healthcare, education, the environment, and so on; meet new people from diverse backgrounds and perspectives; be a role model at your company and to your family; and have one of the most rewarding experiences of your life.
12. What’s in it for my company if they support my board service?
If your company is supportive, it will develop its leaders through unique board governance experiences; expand shared knowledge among its executives and professionals about vital issues, including economic development, jobs and employment, water and other natural resources, education, healthcare, and so on; enhance its brand; build confidence in the company’s leadership; and strengthen the company’s impact in improving communities by integrating philanthropy, leadership service, in-kind donations, and volunteerism.
Providing financial support to your nonprofit is one of the most powerful ways you can help your organization to serve the community.