Should Boards Have Give and/or Get Policies?

The man was defensive. “I wouldn’t serve on a board,” he told me, “if I was told it was dependent on my making a gift of a certain size.  It would make me feel like an ATM and that the only value I had was to write a check.”

While I can understand that reaction—I would feel that way, too if that was the only requirement for board membership—the man was looking at the issue through too narrow a lens.

There are a number of roles and responsibilities board members must play, one of which has to do with the financial stability and viability of the organization. Typically, that translates to the need for board members to both give and get charitable gifts.  Do note the “and” in that phrase.  I do not believe that a board member can ask anyone for something he or she has not done or given; nor do I believe that the capacity to make a substantial gift equates to a specific number.  Substantial to me may be chump change to you.  Or vice versa.

Having already tipped my hat, let’s discuss the all-important issue of amount.  How much should the board be giving?

Some private foundations are now saying that board giving should equal 10% of the operating budget. That brings up two questions to me:

  1. What constitutes Board Giving? Is that everything a board gives during a year or just the amount that the board members gives as part of his or her board responsibility?
  2. What does “operating budget” in this context mean? A client of mine, applying for a grant to one of these foundations was horrified—about 75% of their budget comes from government grants and contracts—was that part of the operating budget?  If so, there was no way they could comply with the funders requirements. I would say that as with most things in life, the answer is “it depends,” and it will be different for each organization. You must carefully consider these issues and come up—with your board—the answers that make sense for your organization. Note that I said sense for your organization and not necessarily what is comfortable for your board!

As I noted above, I don’t believe in putting a solid number as a board give (get is another story). Two reasons for that:

  1. What you decide is the floor for board giving often becomes the ceiling and there may be board members who could and would give much more if asked.
  2. The floor may be too high for some people who bring other value to the board. For example—someone with deep reach into a community you want to engage; a specific skillset you need; a reputation that is important.  You may lose these people because of an artificial price tag.

What I do believe in is treating your board members as major donors.  That means you learn as much about them as you can—via research, conversations with others who know them and, most importantly, with the board members herself. As with major donor prospects, these conversations must include the topic of money—specifically, what this organization is worth to them. And every year, the board chair and the CEO should have a one-on-one meeting to ask for the decided upon board gift and, once that is secured, to ask “who else do you know who might join with you to support our organization at this level?”

Those names begin the work of the board member to also honor his obligation to get.


Janet Levine works to help nonprofits go from mired to inspired.  Learn how she can help your organization increase fundraising capacity and energize your board at http://janetlevineconsulting.comor email Janet at



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Gaining Donors Trust

My parents generation—the so-called “greatest” generation—trusted nonprofits.  Theybelieved that not only did they do good works, but they did them well. But from Boomers to Millennials, that trust seems to have gone out the window.  According to a 2015 study by Camber Collective, almost half of the over 3,000 participants of a survey—all of whom had household incomes exceeding $80,000 (and half over $300,000)—said they were concerned about how nonprofits use their money. Close to 100% ranked this among their top three concerns about nonprofits.

I wish I could say this was surprising, shocking even.  But it’s not. It’s the reason that more than half of your first time donors never, ever make a second gift.  And why about 35% of repeat donors stop giving.

THEY DON’T KNOW WHAT YOU ARE DOING WITH THEIR GIFT.  And that means they don’t feel comfortable continuing to give to you.

What is shocking about this is that it is such an easy thing to fix.  How hard would it be to let your donors know how their support changes things for your clients or your cause?

So fine.  Unrestricted monies typically do go to operations—but honestly, how much could you accomplish if you didn’t have money to pay rent, turn on the lights, hire appropriate staff?  But you don’t need to go there—simply show your donors how they help to make a difference.

That means being transparent about your programs and your results.  Write letters, articles in your newsletters, call your donors and tell them why they matter.

This is such a great thing for your board members to do—and it will serve two amazing purposes:

  1. You will be engaging your donors
  2. You will be educating your board members

Make that 4 amazing purposes as you will also be engaging your board members and educating your donors!

Remember that old expression “Win-win”?  This is it. Big time.

If you have the kind of program where you can show results rather than simply tell about them—do that. You don’t need to hire a professional videographer (though that wouldn’t be a bad use of marketing dollars).  Take shots on your smart phone.  Edit them into 45-second snippets and share with your donors.  Recent studies point out that 59% of the population would rather watch a video than read something.  Give them what they want.

Trust comes when people know you; when they feel that you are doing what you say you are; when they have reason to believe that you are being honest in your relationships with them.

We are living in a world today where—alas—it is increasingly hard to trust.  I like to think that our sector is different somehow.  We strive to do good; to make the world a better place. We need our supporters to know that, believe that, and help us do the important things we do.

Janet Levine helps none profits move from mired to inspired.  Let her inspire you and your board.  Check it out at



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Making the Mundane New

Two months ago, I broke my wrist.  My right wrist, and yes, I am right-handed.  I won’t go into the gory details of trying to avoid surgery, having surgery, casts, discomfort, the joy and pain of not being able to drive. What I want to talk about is how the new went from being a challenge to becoming mundane, and what that means for your organization.

So first there was trying to eat.  Left-handed. Not a pretty picture.  Not the world’s most fastidious eater to begin with, I made my 4-year-old twin grandchildren seem decorous at table.  Everything was hard.  Add to that the fact that I couldn’t cut anything, and hard truly was difficult.  And messy.

And then, seemingly suddenly, left handed was just the way I ate.  Still couldn’t (can’t) cut anything, but I can get it on a fork or a spoon without much chaos.

There was doing my work—the part that takes place at the computer.  Since my cast was removed a few days ago, I am back to typing two handed, but for 7 weeks, I only had one hand, and the mouse was being manipulated (poorly) by my left hand!

That was more difficult than eating and yet, in the first week, I was able to put together handouts, a keynote presentation, a proposal and two reports. It took a lot of time, there were interesting typos, but because I was so slow, I had time to think about what I was doing and that caused some changes—good ones, I believe—to my thinking.

Not driving—well in LA that can be a problem, but truth to tell, I’m dreading getting back behind the wheel.  My days have felt slower, more relaxing, and much more productive.

In short, I’ve had to create new neural networks for doing what I’ve done without much thought. Now, suddenly, everything took consideration.  Everything required me to think about what I was doing, why I was doing it, and of course, how I would get it done.

That’s what change does. Instead of just doing what you’ve always done, try doing things differently—or doing different things. Yes!  It will be uncomfortable.  Perhaps even fraught.  Things won’t move as smoothly.  You will have to think about what you are doing.  That may make you consider why you are doing it.  And you may have to make a plan for how to get it done.

As my wrist heals, I find myself thinking, should I continue doing this left-handed or go back to using my right hand?  Can some of the adaptations I make to accommodate one-handedness make what I now can do two-handed better?  Can I incorporate the really important lessons I learned—taking my time, considering what I was doing, finding the best way to tackle something—into what I am able to do now?

In short, can I continue to challenge myself to keep trying new ways so things don’t become mundane and I revert again to doing what I’ve always done because, well, that’s just the way I do it.


Janet Levine Consulting helps nonprofits move from mired to inspired.  Let her inspire your organization and your board.  Check out her website, or contact her to learn how she can help you discover the new.

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Chasing Your Tail

Meet Tramp, the newest canine member of our family.  Like all our dogs, he’s sweet, funny, and—hey, he is a border collie—smart.  Unlike any of our other dogs, he is also a tail chaser.  I can’t tell if he thinks this is a great game—he also growls at his left foot and lunges for it,then pretends to be wrestling—or if, from time to time, he sees his tail from the corner of his eye and, not recognizing it as part of him, he tries to catch it.  No matter.  It’s cute watching a dog chase his tail.  Not so cute when it’s a nonprofit with an important mission and serious work to accomplish.

Last night, as I watched my pup     going round and round, attempting to catch something that would always be just beyond his reach, I had flashes of my he clients I’ve had—have—who are very Tramp-like in their actions.

The client who hired me to develop and help implement a comprehensive fund development plan.  We started by assessing the organization ‘s fundraising capacity. As partif that, we looked at the fundraising they were doing, most of which was random and bringing in very little money.  The one constant was an annual gala that, she insisted, brought in half their annual budget.  And, if you looked only at revenue in, she wasn’t far off.  But—and this is a big but—those gross revenues are not what you end up having to spend.

From those gross revenues you must subtract expenses.  And that should include the  salaries of those who work on the gala, appropriately adjusted.  That means if I spend 25% of my time for three months on the gala, then 25% of my monthly income (yes including benefits) multiplied by 3 should be added to the expenses.

Most organizations don’t do that.

Fine.  Let’s just focus on direct expenses.  In my client’s case, that was equal to 57% of the gross income.  For every $1 raised, 57 cents was already spent on the gala!  And, again, we are not considering salaries or opportunity costs 

I will stop ranting now.  Except that as soon as we finished the assessment and were creating the plan to actually raise what was needed, she said that we would have to put everything on the back burner for now because—yes! you are not surprised—for the next 6 weeks she would be entirely focused on the gala.

The gala that doesn’t meet your fundraising needs ends?  I asked.  The one we are looking to either enhance so it makes fiscal sense or replace with something that will be more profitable?

I can’t think about that now, she said. We need the money the gala generates. So, 100% of my time must be on chasing my tail. 

Just like another client who couldn’t take the time to call the 3 people we had identified as her most likely larger givers and who we had reason to believe would, if asked by the CEO, make a gift in excess of $5,000. The reason she couldn’t bring in at least $15k?  She was working on a grant which, if awarded, would provide $5,000 that was essentially a pass through as it could only be used as an award for a volunteer.  

Why are you spending time on this, I asked.  I thought she would talk about the importance of the volunteer program. But, no. They were in dire need of bringing in $4,800 to meet payroll. So, instead of doing the work that would most likely provide what she needed, she felt it would be prudent to simply chase her tail.

Janet Levine helps tome her nonprofit clients from mired to inspired–and to stop change their tails.  Learn how she can improve your effectiveness at  

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Meeting Your Fundraising Challenge

Typing with only my left hand is hard.  But teaching dictation software to understand your speech patterns takes a lot of time. As does re-working how you write.  Speaking and typing are, I think, different.  Any way I slice this, recovering from a broken right (my dominant hand) wrist will be a challenge.

Challenge, I tell my clients, is a good thing.  And, in truth, I am finding that it is making me think deeply about a number of things. Like what is important to me. What work makes me happy.  And what work I really no longer want to do.

For me, as a consultant, every no—on my side or because a potential client doesn’t take that last step, at least with me—means finding other yeses.  This has been such a gift as I have the luxury—not being able to drive frees up hours every day—not just what but how I can best get where I want to go. But perhaps I should edit that word luxury and change it to necessity.

For you, as a person responsible for raising funds for your nonprofit, this is critical.  Looking at what you are doing and being really honest about the effectiveness of the way you are going about your work can be a shock. “Oh wait, I just spent 6 months of my time that netted less than my annual salary,” should spur you to think how you can now use that event to increase donor connection—and contributions. And to consider how you can be more efficient for the next event.

More to the point, picture fundraising at your organization writ large.  Are you the hamster running endlessly in your wheel and not getting where you need to go?  If so, what has to change?

First, consider where—precisely—do you need to head?  Bring in more money, of course.  But does that require (check all that apply!):

  • Enlarging your number of donors?
  • Increasing average gift size?
  • Decreasing the cost to raise a dollar?
  • Lowering attrition rates?
  • Focusing (more or even at all) on relational fundraising, which brings in more dollars?
  • Stop blaming your board for not fundraising?
  • Start training the board on how they can realistically participate (hint:  hire me)

I could go on, but I think you get the picture.

Now that you know what, let’s consider how.

To do what you need to do—what must you start doing?

And to have the time to start new things, what will you have to stop doing?  Keeping in mind, of course, the things that, regardless, you must continue to do.

Armed with this knowledge, you are well on your way to reaching your destination.

Janet Levine moves nonprofits from mired to inspired—increasing fundraising capacity and results.  Learn more at  While there, sign up for the newsletter and do arrange for a free, 30-minute phone or Zoom consultation.

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