Boards Not Giving?—the back story

A recent survey by Grant Thornton LLP reported that 75% of nonprofits do not have a specific policy or requirement regarding resource development and/or fundraising for board members.  With this percentage, one wonders how the organizations raise any money at all.  If it weren’t for the generosity and desire to improve the lives of others by the philanthropic community, they wouldn’t.

In The Eight Principles of Sustainable Fundraising, I give Principle 3:  Leadership Leads.     If boards are not leading by their own commitments and seeking others to join them, does that mean that board members themselves are to blame?  Well yes—and no.

There is a natural anxiety associated with fundraising which can contribute to board members’ reluctance.  Research (Cygnus) consistently shows, however, that board members want to know how to ask, interact confidently with donors and work in effective teams to secure gifts.  So what’s the rest of the story?

Nonprofit board members are like any other volunteer.  They perform best when they are given clear guidelines and expectations.  Hardly anyone would dispute the need for boards to lead giving by example.  Yet, apparently, the leadership of the overwhelming majority of nonprofits acts as though this critical component of board leadership needs no definition or guidance.

I suspect it has a lot to do with the love-hate relationship that many in the nonprofit world have with money.  They need it and want it fund their mission and programs but would rather not be a part of its acquisition.  That says everything about the jaded relationship some have with money and absolutely nothing about the generosity and passion of many donors—even board members.

The younger generations of donors and volunteers are demanding a great deal more accountability and transparency.  They are focused upon investment—and effectiveness.  Let’s hope this drive for clarity makes it into the nonprofit board room very soon.

Larry C. Johnson

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