Jun 25, 2009

Buy In?

Last week I went to a board primer to help me be a better YNPN board member. During this primer the idea of mandatory board donations came up. This isn't uncommon at all, in fact it's very common. You might even go as far as to call it a best practice. For some nonprofits it might mean just that a board member is required to donate something but for a lot of boards, there's a minimum donation and it's often pretty high (at least by my standards).

I recently heard of a local nonprofit with a $5K minimum donation. On the one hand this means they can count on at least X every year depending on their number of board members. This particular group has more than 50 board members so off the bat, they start with $250K in board donations each year. Hefty sum. You know that's great for their fund development people and makes program planning a bit less stressful.

But if you have 50 board members, are they all active? No way. For many its probably a social status marker, a resume item to show their commitment to the community. But if you make a $5K contribution, attend quarterly board meetings and one gala, is that really enough to give you the prestigious status of board member? Isn't that really being a glorified donor (not to shortchange donors in anyway, they are the lifeblood of many nonprofits and greatly appreciated)? Can't we praise and thank these individuals for being donors?

I guess this is where the crux of the discussion comes for me. While I appreciate the security of board donations, especially significant ones, I'm not sure that I want board members who just give. On the same token, I don't want to turn away a passionate, educated, motivated potential board member because their pockets aren't deep enough. For all the leadership a good board member is supposed to provide their nonprofit, I think we should be placing a higher premium on service.

At GSCTX we have an amazing board chair, Linda. I love Linda. She's great. She is a professional volunteer, in fact, she retired from being an elementary school principal in order to be our professional volunteer board chair. She's amazing. I honestly don't know if we have a minimum board donation but I'm inclined to guess that either we don't or it's low as I've never heard of it. So regardless of if Linda gives huge sums to the council, I'm really pleased she goes to bat for us every day in her community and at the office. She attends (and therefore pays to attend) many if not all of our fundraisers and is an excellent representation of the cool, confident woman we hope all Girl Scouts aspire to be. And best of all, she is truly passionate about empowering girls to be successful women.

In short, my two cents is I want board members who are ready to work and are interested in the cause. If they can make hefty donations to the organization, all the better. If they cannot, I hope and expect they will go into the community to aggresively raise funds. But above all, I want passion, involvement and dedication.

What do you think? Can you get board members who both donate heavily and work hard? Which is the ideal? Is reality different than the ideal? Will some boards always be purchased resume builders? What's the bigger business need for a nonprofit? Do the connections, prestige and funds that come with a wildly successful businessman (woman) equal or exceed the hours of a passionate board member lobbying in the community? Really, which is better for a nonprofit? Maybe I'm being idealistic; maybe big names with large donations are the most beneficial and that's why the trend exists. What do you think?

PS I'd like to note that this opinion is subject to change as I climb the nonprofit ladder and develop a better understanding of funding and politics. Of course, it might also not change but either way, that is to remain seen in years to come.

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