Ken Goldstein, MPPA

Ken Goldstein has been working in nonprofits and local government agencies from Santa Cruz, to Sacramento, and back to Silicon Valley, since 1989. He's been staff, volunteer, board member, executive director, and, since 2003, a consultant to local nonprofit organizations. For more on Ken's background, click here. If you are interested in retaining Ken's services, you may contact him at ken at

Tuesday, May 05, 2009

How Much Should Board Members Give?

This is the question that has haunted many a nonprofit Executive Director and Development Director. How to encourage Board giving without either asking too little or scaring off new members.

A posting today on the Chronicle of Philanthropy's website asks if "the expectation of giving is something that is simply understood?" and gives a quick roundup of how some organizations answer the question.

The Asian American Justice Center in Washington, asks board members to "either donate or raise $2,500 for the organization - an expectation that is spelled out in their job descriptions."

Gail Perry, a consultant and author in Raleigh-Durham, N.C., says that "Board members will contribute and raise money for organizations that they believe in strongly," and that "They will give the minimum when they 'have' to." Ms. Perry believes that un-engaged Board members will find giving requirements "offensive." "Our job, of course," Ms. Perry goes on to say, "is to get them so fired-up that they are sitting on the edge of their seats ready to ... give."

My experience is that "give or get" policies are popular, but I always encourage my clients to tell their Board that they need to "give and get."

To me, the "getting" is part of their fiduciary responsibility as a Board member to make sure the organization is financially stable and sustainable. The "get" can be done in many ways, from directly asking friends and family, to arranging matching gifts through their employer, to helping plan an event, to writing grant proposals, etc.

The "give," on the other hand, is a recognition of their personal commitment beyond the work. The point I make to Boards is that if they have not personally invested in the organization, why should anybody else? And, I go on, people will know. Perhaps not the average donor, but Major Donors will ask about Board giving, and so will Foundation officers when they come on site visits.

As to how much they should give, I don't believe in stated dollar minimums. Rather, I prefer the phrase, "Board members must give at a personally meaningful level." That means that if a member normally makes $500 gifts to other nonprofits, they should give $750 or $1,000 to the nonprofit they're on the Board of. If they normally give $25 to others, they should give $50 here.

I work with mostly smaller, local organizations, who are particularly timid about the Board member ask because their Boards are more likely to include former clients and neighborhood activists than high-powered international executives and bank owners. An ask that takes ability to give into account, while still recognizing and honoring their commitment to your organization, allows the client representative to give $2 while sitting next to the Doctor who gave $5,000, each knowing they were respected and that they did all they could.

It is up to the Executive Director and Development Director (if you have one) to personally craft the ask, just as you would any Major Gifts ask, based on what you know of your Board member's giving history, occupation, net worth, etc. Explain the "personally meaningful" policy clearly, and ask with confidence.

If your Board member is still reluctant to give, it may be time to question their commitment and start recruiting to fill that seat.


  1. Completely agree with this post. I think that if someone is on a board, they should not only give to the organization, but they also should be securing donations. I don't agree with setting limits (like you must give $2,000). The wording I tell my clients to use is in board job descriptions is "I agree that x nonprofit will be one of the top three organizations that I donate to and I will give an annual gift." I don't like minimums for several reasons, but mainly because they exclude those that are often under-represented in the first place from boards (students, young people, low-income, etc).

    - Kristen

  2. This is an interesting question. I am currently helping a non-profit client to implement a fundraising campaign. This is a one-off event rather than an annual event. As the lead consultant I was specific in expressing my expectations that members of the board should be seen collectively to support this campaign; not only as volunteer collectors but also by giving financially themselves. The the credit of the board members they have thrown themselves wholeheartedly into this project.

    In my part of the world it is unusual for board members to have any specific expectation placed upon them to 'find' financial amounts. The majority of board members are honorary and unpaid. Are you referring to paid board members or both paid and volunteer board members in your situation?

    I am interested to read the perspective of others on this subject and to see whether they feel such an obligation might prevent otherwise worthy people from volunteering their knowledge and skills as board members, or otherwise.

    John Coxon

  3. Hi John,

    In most situations I deal with, they are unpaid Board Members, who sometimes feel their volunteer time is enough of a donation.

    But, I'd say, it applies just as much - or maybe even more - to paid Board Members.

  4. I appreciate your recognition that not all Board members are in a financial position to give a significant amount of money to an organization and I wish conversations about Board giving could also include some way to quantify the value of other forms of support. Board participation should extend well beyond a checkbook (or Venmo, I suppose, is more appropriate this day and age) and there should be space on every Board that allows for talent and hands-on work to be viewed with as much benefit as an annual donation. Without that space, organizations miss important opportunities to attract fresh thinking, extended networks, diversity, important perspectives from the population being served, and young professionals. It is true that grant funders sometimes ask about Board giving, but I am seeing the more common questions lately, "How are the demographics of the community/clients your organization serves reflected in the composition of your Board". My guess is, if everyone on your Board can easily right a check for a grand every year, there probably isn't a ton of diversity going on. Of course, those thousand dollar checks are important to an organization, but let's not undervalue support and efforts that don't come in the form of dollars.

    1. Thank you for your comment. Yes, this post focused on financial giving, but the other contributions of board members are vital as well. Whether it's put as "time, talent, and treasure" or as "work, wisdom, and wealth" giving is only a part of the formula.

      I also hear you loud and clear about funders (finally) paying attention to whether the board reflects the community served (this post is from 2009), and how that is now of higher importance than the amount any single board member contributes.