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How-to Library • Featuring articles from past issues of Contributions

Getting Your Board to Give (and Give Big)

By Jerold Panas

Paul Folino is Chair of the Performing Arts Center in Orange County, California. Recently we had a conversation about the importance of board members giving to their organizations.

What Paul tells me may surprise you. “Here, the stated expectation is $50,000 a year,” he says. “If they can’t meet that, they’re asked to serve in some other capacity, perhaps on a committee.” 

I’m incredulous. “Do you mean every trustee gives $50,000 a year?”

“Yes they do,” he says emphatically.

Fundraising Habits
This article is an excerpt from Jerold Panas' book, The Fundraising Habits of Supremely Successful Boards: A 59-Minute Guide to Assuring Your Organization's Future. For more information, click here.

But that’s not all. Paul says each trustee is expected to bring in at least that much from others in the county.

“We follow the dictum: Give, Get, or Get off!”

My first thought is, Good grief, you must have trouble recruiting trustees. But as I learn from Paul, there’s actually a waiting list. Imagine – people lining up to give $50,000!

What has happened is that by raising the bar, there’s a certain social caché to belonging to the board of the Performing Arts Center. It’s considered an honor. I’m reminded of what Groucho Marx said: “I’d never belong to a club that would have me as a member.”

In your own particular organization, $50,000 may be too high. But don’t let the figure scare you. I know of many organizations where the expected level of trustee giving is $10,000. For others it’s $5,000. Many are even lower. But the Performing Arts Center example does forcibly deliver the point: as a board member, you must give.

Especially if you hope to get!

Judy Jolley Mohraz, who heads the Virginia G. Piper Charitable Trust, the largest foundation in Arizona, makes that very clear.

“We wouldn’t consider a grant to an organization if the directors weren’t 100% in their giving. Why would we? If they don’t care enough for their organization to give to it, why should we?” 

This isn’t unusual. We find most foundations now look carefully at board giving. And for some, it’s not even a matter of 100% participation. They want to examine whether some directors are giving to their potential.

The late Peter F. Drucker remains one of the most significant voices in management and organizational structure. His superb book for nonprofits should be considered required reading (Managing the Non-Profit Organization).
Drucker points out that the primary and most important constituency in fund development at any institution is its own board. “It begins with the family.”

It’s no longer enough that a board simply be in sympathy with the organization and give time. Those are givens and represent a characterization of what Drucker calls the old-type board. 

“In today’s world, you need a board that takes an active lead in giving and raising money,” he says. “I can’t imagine a board member who cares greatly about his or her institution not making a significant gift.”

Claremont-McKenna College (California) has a brilliant way of helping trustees understand their responsibility in giving. Their minimum gift is expected to be a student’s tuition (now $41,000 a year). Thomas Mitchell, chair of the College’s Advancement Committee, tells me most trustees give more than that.

Don’t worry if your organization’s level is lower than this. But aim high. Ask trustees to stand on tiptoes.

Trustees who fail to give place their organization in manacles – forged and fashioned of a rigid spirit and lowly aspirations.

Martin Luther said God divided the hand into fingers so the money would slip through to worthy causes. As a trustee, you must spread your fingers wide!

An author, popular speaker and consultant, Mr. Panas is considered one of the most creative men in the field of fund raising. His books include Asking, The Fundraising Habits of Supremely Successful Boards, and Mega Gifts, all published by Emerson & Church. Panas is Executive Partner of one of America's leading fund raising firms. For more information, visit www.instituteforgiving.org.

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