Having 100% of board members make personal donations is a cliche we don't like. It's not a meaningful measure of board member commitment, and typically creates a situation where even the best board members have to be nagged. BUT, if you do have this requirement, here's how to make it as easy as possible.
1. The annual basket pass - At the same board meeting each year (Thanksgiving is easy to remember), pass around a basket or box. The board chair (or fundraising chair) announces: "As this basket goes around, everybody has to put something in it. You can put in a check. You can put in a piece of paper with a pledge amount that you will give by December 15 of this year. Or you can put in a piece of paper that says you've already given this year." This really works.
Nice variation: buy some little bags of cashews or high quality lollipops and put them in the basket. When a person puts in their check or pledge they can take one out. That way it is visible to everyone that everyone has participated at the end and it just feels good.
2. Make a donation for them, if they won't: Take a tip from the big arts institutions. If you have three board members who haven't given, have the board chair, fundraising chair, or executive director call them up. "I know you haven't gotten around yet to making your annual donation," you say. "Would you allow me to make a donation in your name?" This always prompts the procrastinator to say, "I'll do it right now!" So finish the call with: "Thank you so much. If we don't get a donation from you within a week, I'll go ahead and make one in your name. I'll be very happy to do that."
Alternatively (but not as good): simply make a donation in the name of every board member who has not given.
3. Give them guidelines: An overlooked reason some board members are reluctant to give is awkwardness about how much to give. "If I give $50 will I look like a cheapskate?" muses one board member while another wonders, "If I give $5,000 will I look like I'm showing off?" (Even if donation amounts are private, the executive staff and the board chair will know.)
Help these folks out with some guidelines without calling them guidelines. "One year we had a board member give $20," you can say. "That was a lot for that person and it is one of the most meaningful donations we've ever gotten. And once we had a board member give $25,000 (or whatever was the high amount for your organization)," you add. "I suspect she'll never know how much impact that gift had on our work."
4. Put it in their job description: If you have a "board member agreement" or "job description," be sure you have something in it like this: "Each year I'm on the board, I will make a personal financial contribution -- at a level that is meaningful to me -- by Thanksgiving of each year."
In the recruitment process, such a requirement to give often fails to get mentioned. By having a job description that includes this responsibility, even the shyest board member can communicate this expectation. (It's extremely irritating to join a board only to hear about requirements that were not mentioned ahead of time. You all know what I mean.)
5. Put it on their to do list: At a board meeting, pass out a checklist to each board member so they can check off items they will do. Examples:
- I will make a personal cash donation of _____ before Thanksgiving.
- I will sign up to make a monthly donation having my credit card charged automatically.
- I will help on the following fundraising/community events: Annual Gala / Theatre Party / Street Fair Booth
- I will make introductions to the following foundations, corporations, or individual donors:
- I will help with obtaining non-cash donations:
___ free printing for the annual report
___ one large copying job done at my office
___ free dry-cleaning for costumes
___ case of wine for silent auction
___ used good-condition pet carriers
___ good-condition sofa
___ airline miles for two round trips
You get the idea!
The next time a funder asks you the meaningless question, "Do 100% of your board members give?" answer in an enthusiastic voice, "Almost 100% and we're working on it!" Then pull out this article.
Jan Masaoka is publisher of Blue Avocado. She aspires to be on a board that has 125% board giving. :)