Should board members give?

Part one of a two part series

“My board doesn’t give.” That’s a common lament we hear from executive directors and college presidents. Here’s one from board members: “They only want me for my money.”

Both statements may be true. If these sentiments are active within your organization or institution you might want to take a moment to think about what’s underneath these. We offer a few things for you to consider.

If you are an executive director or college president, consider the following.

How would you characterize your relationship with the board, and especially your board president? Do you feel responsible for the board’s actions? Do you feel like you have to do the board’s work because they just won’t “step up?” Do you wish the board would just “do what they should do?” Do you feel you have “spend too much time with my board?” What are your expectations and what are they based on? Are they realistic? Have you shared them with your board chair and the chair of your development or fundraising committee? What are the processes you use for setting the organization’s fundraising goal, and how do you involve the board? Do you know the individuals who sit on the board of your organization? Do you wish the board would just raise money so you could do more important things?

If you are a board member for a nonprofit or institution of higher education, consider the following.

What is your assessment of the organization in general? Do you feel comfortable asking questions in board meetings, or personally in conversation with the board chair or executive director? Do you have a good understanding of the organization’s goals, successes and limitations? Do you hold the organization to standards they may not be able to meet? Deep in your heart, do you find you are “sitting on the board” instead of “serving on the board?” What would need to change in order for you to make a meaningful gift and ask others to do so? Do you feel that people see you for your money and don’t see the other ways in which you can contribute? Do you feel that you don’t have the capacity to give in the way other board members do? What impact do you want to make on the organization you serve?

Here’s what we have learned from our experience.

Sometimes it is easier to silently point the finger at others or to dream of a perfect organization than it is to honestly assess what’s going and what can be done to create a culture change. Sometimes the reason board members aren’t engaged in fundraising are structural. This refers to things such as whether the organization is working from a plan, whether there are defined roles and responsibilities, the experience and giving capacity of board members, use of technology, the format of board meetings, and the skill set of the board chair, executive director and development staff.

Next week: specific things you can do to increase board giving and fundraising.

Copyright 2018 – Mel Shaw and Pearl Shaw, CFRE

Mel and Pearl Shaw are authors of four books on fundraising available on For help growing your fundraising visit or call (901) 522-8727.

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