A Hypothetical Letter to a Non-Profit Board Member

Dear Board Member:

I am back in my office having just completed our most recent Board meeting.  As I reflect on our work together in support of our institution’s mission and vision, a number of thoughts are occurring to me.  The most important of these thoughts, I believe, involve offering my sincere thanks and an earnest apology.

First, the thanks.  Thank you for your service.  You believed enough in our mission to accept a position as a Board member – to become an “owner” of this institution – and to accept all of the fiduciary responsibilities that come with that role.  This is no trivial commitment and, on behalf of our institution, I am grateful for your willingness to serve.  Thank you for sharing your experience and wisdom which strengthens our entire institution.  Thank you for your financial support.  And most of all, thank you for your time.  In today’s world, all of us are regularly reminded that time is our most precious asset.  Because you gladly share all of these valuable resources with our institution, I thank you.

Second, the apology.  I am sorry, truly, that your recruitment to our Board was neither as thorough nor as thoughtful as it should have been.  We did not provide you with a written set of roles and responsibilities and we did not talk with you candidly and transparently about our expectations of you.  Instead of a recruitment process, you experienced more of an enlistment.  And that was not fair to you in many ways.

As an example, while we are grateful that you have given in the past, the expectation for all Board members is that this institution is one of your top three philanthropic priorities.  We set this as an expectation, instead of specific gift amount, because we recognize that Board members bring a variety of important contributions to our institution.  If we desire to populate the Board with individuals who possess an affinity for giving away large sums of money, it is up to our process of due diligence, prior to inviting Board members to serve, to discern their giving habits and potential.

It is a point of some embarrassment for me that our Board giving expectations were not discussed openly with you so that you could have made an informed decision about joining our Board.  Furthermore, it is problematic that we have not established a routine in which there is significant Board meeting time dedicated to discussing the importance of Board giving and the philanthropic leadership responsibilities of the Board.

In addition to being discourteous to you and the Board as a whole, our failure to engage you candidly in discussions regarding the Board’s important leadership role and the associated giving expectations leads to an unhelpful and inappropriate assumption on the part of the administration.  Specifically, we sometimes assume that since you are a member of the Board, we should not need to spend the time, energy, and effort engaging you and inviting you to give.  We assume that you should simply make your very best annual gift available each year and, when we are in a campaign, you should increase your giving substantially.  We assume that “you should know” to do these things.  These assumptions are, of course, completely unfair and based on our shortcomings, not yours.

My hope is that now that you are on the Board, you do not feel as though the expectations, especially around giving, have been changed on you. I also hope that we can work together to make the joyful topic of giving one that is regularly and openly discussed at Board meetings.  As you know, we serve a mission that matters.  And our institution’s vision is inspiring!  We have good and important work to do together.

I look forward to making your service on our Board more meaningful each day.  We are grateful you are here and we will begin acting like it.

With all best wishes,

Your Chief Advancement Officer


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