Boards

The Uneven Field of Board Giving

December 7, 2016 | Laurence A. Pagnoni

Have you ever had a board member suggest to the whole board that they each chip in a set amount? Did you cringe knowing that some are capable of giving more than others? The board member might say, “Let’s each pledge $10,000!” But you know that there are board members who could give $25,000! What did you do?

This has happened to me many times in my fundraising career. The first time I didn’t respond but instead met with each board member privately. Yet most of the high-level givers still made the smaller gift. I was able to salvage one board member. When he handed me the check for the smaller amount, I asked him if he could pledge the same amount every six months, and he agreed. When it happened the second time, at a different organization, I was more prepared. I simply said: “Your enthusiasm is contagious, and it pleases me greatly that you care that much to give what for you is a significant gift. Thank you. However, because we all don’t give the same amount, but give at higher or lower levels based on our means, circumstances, and ability, it would be more beneficial for our campaign to allow me to speak privately with each of you after this meeting. Then, at our next meeting, I can report back to you on the collective board giving.” I then turned to the board chairperson and asked, “Don’t you agree, Ruth?” And thankfully, she did!

Despite all their governance hats, a board is also a group of donors. It was good for me to free myself from their board member status (and the assumption that I have to treat them gingerly) and ask myself how I would handle any group of donors in a similar situation. My answer was to take action to correct the misconception that all donors behave the same way and give the same way.  Overall these types of “surprises” happen when not enough preparation work is done before the board meeting. Poorly prepared board meetings are the bane of nonprofit performance.

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