Do Your Board Members Expect to Give?

Today, Doug Mason, a colleague at GGTS, and I led a webinar focused on enhancing the effectiveness of higher education foundation boards.  A major theme during the 90 minute session was the need to establish clear giving expectations with prospective board members beginning during the board recruitment process.

A participant asked a good question:  what is the best approach to make giving expectations clear, fair, and ultimately, acted upon with generosity.

Let me suggest there are many approaches – many language choices – to establishing the expectation of board giving.  Two regularly used statements:

“We expect our board members to participate by making a gift of some amount each year.”  Or, “we expect our board members to make a gift of at least $5,000 each year.”

But both of these approaches have significant drawbacks.  The first statement doesn’t provide the board member with a good sense of how much she should consider giving.  The second statement clearly sets a gift amount threshold ($5,000), but runs the risk of discouraging those members who may not be able to make a gift of this amount.  Similarly, for those board members who have greater financial capacity, they may decide to downgrade their gift to fit the request – neither situation is helpful for your institution or the board members.

The approach I favor and have used with good success is the following:

“Our expectation is that board members will make our institution one of their top 3 charitable gift priorities during their years of board service.”

This statement does not prescribe a gift amount, yet identifies for each member an appropriate gift level.  Each board member, regardless of capacity, now has a gauge with which to measure his or her giving.  For some, this statement will encourage a large gift, for others it will encourage smaller gifts.  But from each, it will encourage a meaningful gift.

The statement also frames the expectation in a way that keeps the board member in control.  We haven’t told her how much to give, only provided a framework for her giving.  We haven’t forced the issue, the final decision on amount is clearly hers.  In the end, such a thoughtful approach encourages board members to become even more involved with your institution.

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