Your Nonprofit Board's Give-Or-Get Policy - Yea or Nay?

• fundraising practices • effective fundraising • Board • sustainable fund development • fund development plan • nonprofit • give-or-get policy
Ellen Bristol


What's the best way to get your nonprofit's board of directors involved in fundraising?  I think there are really about five different levels of involvement that any nonprofit board should adopt, systematically and gradually.  But unfortunately, as soon as you start to hear "get the board more involved,"  the next thing you hear is "force the board to adopt a give or get policy.  Or else!"

Now as it turns out I'm a big proponent of having a board give-or-get policy.  I just have aCash Gift problem with the way many nonprofits - especially grassroots and start-up organizations - establish these policies.  Based on my observations, many norganizations try to adopt give-or-get policies on a whim, without decent planning, hoping that the policy itself will transform the board into the fundraising militia.  That's not going to happen. Give-or-get policies are not a magic bullet.

So let's review what such policies are all about, and how to plan for and implement them so they don't either fail miserably or drive board members away.

What's a give-or-get policy anyway?  It's pretty simple - board members commit themselves to delivering a certain sum of money to the nonprofit, either by reaching into their own wallets, or by persuading others to give the equivalent sum.  (Yes, some boards allow in-kind contributions to fulfill the policy.)

The idea behind such policies makes perfect sense; after all it stands to reason that board members are already demonstrating their commitment to and support of the nonprofit organization and its mission.  Even if they're not already giving "treasure," they're certainly investing the other two T's, namely time and talent.  So why not ask them for money? You've got to remember that the give-or-get approach may be a new idea and therefore uncomfortable; board members who lack personal wealth or connections may be unwilling to accept it; board members with no experience fundraising may be downright terrified.

I've seen a number of agencies who tried to institute such a policy prematurely, and instead of getting cash PLUS an uptick in involvement, it backfired. There were battles about the size of the 'give,'there were twenty zillion "exceptions," clumsy attempts to shield board members who lacked personal wealth or community influence, and there was no compliance to speak of.  It's my belief that these bad outcomes happened because of a lack of planning, and a lack of readiness on the part of the board, and NOT because board members didn't care.

So try a different approach.  Ease the board into fundraising in a more systematic way. Help your board establish its fundraising role by moving through five focus areas, as follows.  Once you and your board are comfortable understanding your strategic fundraising role, then a Give-or-Get Policy will make sense, and gaining compliance with it will be much easier.

  • Focus #1: Establish fundraising targets.  Hey, this is part of the board's leadership role anyway!
  • Focus #2: Monitor fundraising performance.  Also part of the board's leadership role - plus it gives the board concrete ways to manage accountability.
  • Focus #3: Offer guidance on funding priorities.  This too is related to the board's leadership role.
  • Focus #4: Leverage personal and business connections.  Here's where the board contributes directly to income, by having board members create "warm leads."
  • Focus #5: Participate in peer solicitation.  Focus #5 shows board members actively involved in soliciting new donors and cultivating relationships.

Get the board involved in Focuses 1, 2 and 3, and your board will have a better understanding of the how's and why's of fund development.  Their confidence will improve, they'll understand the goals of fundraising, and their willingness to participate will increase. 

Read more about these tips in our new e-book, De-Mystifying Fundraising: Seven Steps to Fundraising Success:

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