Board Recruiting Best Practices – What do you REALLY want from me?
As a nonprofit ourselves, we know just how hard it is for nonprofit leaders to ask their board to financially participate in the important work their nonprofit is doing. With board members giving so much of their time and energy to their board service, many Executive Directors feel uncomfortable asking board members to financial contribute as well. But this is an important part of any Executive Director’s job. And board members typically understand that better than just about anyone else.
The question we are asked most often by nonprofit Executive Directors is “just how much should I ask my board to give annually?” This is a tough question to answer, and something we work closely with each of our nonprofit clients to address, on a case by case basis. That said, a great starting point for any nonprofit is our annual Report on Nonprofit Giving, detailing what other New York area nonprofits ask their board to generate annually.
As nonprofit board recruiters, we see very clearly every day, board candidates greatly prefer nonprofits that articulate for them exactly what is expected from them. With board candidates having so many different board options available to them, we find most candidates will choose the board that can be as precise with them as possible as to what’s expected. The best board members don’t want to disappoint the boards they join, and the best way to avoid disappointment is to understand exactly what is expected up front:
Do’s and Dont’s when formulating a Board Give/Get Policy (what your nonprofit asks board members to both personally give, as well as “get” from others):
- Don’t ask board members to give something “personally significant” or to make your nonprofit one of their three top philanthropic grantees. Though many in the nonprofit community have used these two models for years, board candidates typically do not like the ambiguity associated with these policies. Too many have friends who sat on boards, and gave generous gifts, only to learn that what they thought was generous was not viewed that way by others on the board. An investment banker who gave $10,000, for example, when the rest of the board gave under $1000, may be considered “stingy” if the rest of the board works in the nonprofit community and thought he could give more.
- Do set a specific number that is expected from each board member. Often nonprofit leaders struggle with this as their board is made up of board members with vastly different abilities to give. In our experience, board members are comfortable with different expectations for different “classes” of board members. Those working in the nonprofit community can give a different number than someone working at a law firm. But within a certain class, the number should be consistent. There is no reason a lawyer at one law firm should be asked to generate something different than a similarly situated attorney at another firm.
- Don’t be shy about explaining why your nonprofit needs to lock in expected board giving. Most board members have budgets they have to meet in their daily lives, whether at home, or at their office. They understand they need to be able to estimate their annual income as they work through their budget. Nonprofit leaders need to do the same thing. Executive Directors need a clear idea of what they can expect board members to contribute annually so they can build a budget that makes sense.
- Do be clear about the TOTAL financial commitment expected from board members. Board candidates don’t like surprises. Work out a total number that includes everything expected from your board, both in terms of what they must personally give as well as generate from others. Does your number include benefit tickets that must be sold? Journal ads that must be purchased? Performances that must be attended? A capital campaign that is pending?
- Do specify whether board member contributions can be “all give” or “all get” instead of some combination thereof. Would you feel comfortable if a board member chose to write a generous check annually but did not attempt to introduce any new friends to your nonprofit? Would you feel comfortable if her employer and friends were quite generous, generating more for your board than any other board member, but the board member was more limited in her ability to personally give?
- Don’t be surprised when your board members greatly outperform what you have asked from them. If you are doing a good job, as a nonprofit leader, of engaging your board and offering them opportunities to generate funds for your good work, you will likely be pleasantly surprised at just how much your board generates financially for your mission. At BoardAssist, we find our average board placement commits to generate $5000 a year, but in fact, generates a multiple of that once on the board where we place them.