The Infamous Board Give-or-Get Policy

• manage fundraising performance • Board • board's role in fundraising • Board give or get policy
Ellen Bristol

the boardroom tableSometimes I'm a little slow on the uptake.  Even though my website has gotten lots of inquiries from people looking for advice on the infamous Board Give or Get Policy, it never occurred to me to create one.  So now I"ve created TWO.  Figured I'd give you a choice.  You can download the article containing both versions right here.

No, this isn't intended as the world's shortest blog posting.  I really want to write about how difficult it seems to be for  nonprofit folks to create such policies. The minute somebody says "we ought to have a policy for that" is the minute you ought to write it.

If your policy lists a specific amount - say, how much money board members should give every year, or how many unexcused absences a board member can have, or how quickly a staff member needs to respond to an inquiry from a client - choose the level that makes sense for your organization.  Other nonprofits might choose other numbers.  If you're going to base your policy on someone else's template, that's fine, in fact it's really smart, but don't pick up the size, frequency or turnaround time of the other organization.  That's yours alone.

Right off the bat, let me say this:  don't sweat the small stuff.  Just write a policy you can live with.  Such policies do not carry the weight of law or even the weight of by-laws; they simply represent the collective decisions that you, your staff and (or?) your board have agreed upon, to manage certain situations.  The thought police are not going to go after you because you've created a substandard policy; policies are simply agreements that can be changed - based on your policy for changing them!  You decide when to review your policies, and under what circumstances you can revise them.

PS:  It's not a bad idea to review each of your policies at least once a year.  And you don't have to review all of them at the same time.

Everything you really need to know about the Board Give or Get Policy is already available - in your mind. The policy states the minimum gift you expect from every board member.  Or you expect the board member to raise the equivalent amount.  YOU and your board decide what the level of giving should be, then you document the policy.  My article gives you two approaches, one where you integrate the board's giving expectations in a board-member contract, and the other where you document the policy using the same basic policy model or template you have used for other policies, such as your Gift Acceptance Policy. 

But I think a lot of us get stymied about policies because we can't get past the exceptions.   Every time I've discussed such policies with nonprofit board members and CEO's, they're always worried about the exceptions to the rule first.  For example, if it's a board give/get polciy they'll say "But what about Bob? We know he just lost his job?" or "Won't we embarass Mary?  After all, she represents our homeless population and doesn't have any money." And if it's another type of policy, such as a Gift Acceptance policy, they'll say "this is our policy - unless this or that exception happens."

Here are Ellen's three rules for writing up policies:

First, figure out what you need the policy to do.  It should either prevent an undesirable event, or ensure a positive outcome.  If you'd like examples of policies that prevent undesirable events, check out John Carver's Policy Governance model, in which he advocates for Executive Limitations policies.  These tell the agency's chief executive what is NOT permitted:  don't break the law, don't flog the crew, don't spend money we don't have.

Second, write up the policy so that it's reasonably coherent. It's reasonably coherent if anyone can read and understand it, whether board or staff member. 

Third, emphasize the most general application of the policy. Deal with the exceptions later.  The rule should remain the rule, but there will always be certain exceptions.

Sometimes those exceptions will drive great new policies!




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