Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Board Members and Responsibility

I sensed the frustration in her email. A nonprofit Executive Director telling me that she was lucky if she could get three to four of her Board Members to contribute any money to the organization or sign the “conflict of interest statement.”

Sound familiar?

It does to me because I have seen it in person. They love to come to the meetings. They love to create new policies and programs. They love to tell the Executive Director how to do his/her job. And then, they completely forget those nasty little legal and fiduciary responsibilities.

Let us review. Board Members, it is incumbent upon you to contribute to the organization with your time, your loyalty and your money. Otherwise, don’t serve on a Board. Volunteer yourself to another noble task.

This takes me back to my church upbringing. What happens in church every Sunday? The plate gets passed around, sometimes twice or more in one service. Call it an offering or a tithe, most people who attend church (or other religious services) understand that if you want the church to keep going you have to support it with donations. I find that people who care about something deeply will open up their wallets because they understand that nothing runs on good will and happy wishes.

I also understand that for some people, being on a Board is a status symbol, something to tell their friends about or put on a resume. But that’s not what it’s about, it’s not just warming up a seat or finding a new social circle, it’s about committing to the organization’s current welfare and future well-being.

Many years ago a friend of mine served on an AIDS services Board. One of the requirements of serving on the Board was that he had to contribute $1,500. He either could go out into the community and raise that money or write a check from his personal bank account to the organization. It didn’t matter, as long as he was walking in the door with $1,500. I thought it was brilliant and there are certainly many organizations that require Board Members to make substantial donations, but for every one of those there are thousands more that don’t make contributing money a requirement and because they don’t, the Board Members don’t offer donations.

I will be writing a piece on Bylaws soon, but I would like to suggest that nonprofits incorporate Board giving into their Bylaws. Maybe it’s a set amount that gets changed from time to time or it’s a phrase like “Board Members are required to contribute financially to the organization.” I’m not sure and certainly would love people to send me any language they have in their Bylaws regarding Board Member financial contributions.

Some say, and I agree, that raising money is the number one duty of any Board Member. If you are an Executive Director, ask yourself right now, how much money has your Board raised? If you are a Board Member, ask yourself right now, how much money have you raised or contributed out of pocket?

Let’s say you have the kind of organization that requires some grassroots community involvement on the Board. Sometimes in those instances you will have Board Members without a lot of resources but you feel their presence is important. Teach those Board Members how to fundraise. Give them an opportunity to go out into the community, tell your story and yes, pass the plate. Everybody, even in this economy, has a few dollars to put in the plate.

If asking your Board Members to contribute is uncomfortable, get the ones who do contribute to do the “ask.” It’s a lot easier if a fellow Board Member says “I’ve made a thousand dollar donation and I’m hoping you will match that,” than to be the Executive Director doing the begging.

As to the other part of her email about Board Members not signing the “conflict of interest statement,” definitely include that in the Bylaws. Every Board Member must sign the conflict of interest statement or they can’t serve on the Board. There, I’ve made it simple.

No one is entitled to be on a nonprofit organization’s Board of Directors. Every Board Member must remember that they are a “servant-leader,” serving on the Board to serve the organization. And the first order of that service is to ensure that the organization has the money it needs to fulfill its mission. That saying, “Charity starts at home” means that charity begins right here with me and with you and with every single person involved in the nonprofit.

1 comment:

  1. I worked as a Program Director with a Non-Profit family service agency and in my 11 years of employment the Board raised a total of $7,000. Eleven years, $7,000. The agency i worked for hired an Executive Director that also serves as an elected city council women. Is it a conflict of interest if new Board Memebers are either good friends or political friends of the ED?