When governing boards finally take up the contentious question of a minimum contribution for their members, someone can always be counted on to say, “I’m glad to give that much—in fact, I’m sure I already do—but I don’t want anyone telling me I have to.” In the Nonprofiteer’s experience, that person is NOT glad to give that much, and certainly doesn’t already, unless we’re prepared to count every logoed coffee cup he’s purchased since the beginning of time as part of a single annual donation.
So the reason for stated board gifts is simple: Without them you won’t actually reap that amount of money. Yes, but that’s not the only reason. There’s also
- Equity. Nothing creates bad feelings in a group faster than realizing that some people are being included and others excluded, even when being excluded could be interpreted as a favor (“Oh, you don’t have to make a contribution—you’re a member of the clergy/schoolteacher/championship gymnast”). In a nonprofit board room, there’s only one kind of person—a board member—and identical people have identical responsibilities.
- Sense of ownership. Nonprofits attract all kinds of volunteers, but the ones who get to govern them are the ones who pay their bills (and not even that big a share of their bills: few nonprofit boards put up more than 10 percent of their agencies’ budget, though often the board raises an additional 10-15 percent).
- Ability to pick others’ pockets. If you ask someone for a contribution—and a board member who doesn’t is a waste of space—she or he will inevitably reply, “How much do you give?” If the answer is, “Nothing,” the meeting is over—and soon, the agency will be, too.
So screw your courage to the sticking place and set a dollar amount minimum gift. ($500 is nice: that’s approximately Starbuck’s five days a week for a year.) Remind people that they don’t have to pay it all at once; but remind them that they do have to pay it.
Kelly Kleiman, who blogs as The Nonprofiteer, is a lawyer and freelance journalist whose reportage and essays about the arts, philanthropy and women’s issues have appeared in the Wall Street Journal, Washington Post, Christian Science Monitor and other dailies; in magazines including In These Times and Chicago Philanthropy; and on websites including Aislesay.com and Artscope.net.