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.