picture of a sign saying danger expectations expectI’m sure you’ve experienced fear when a board member’s term is coming up, and they are one of your best donors. You’re thinking, “How do I get them to continue their giving?”
Richard and I would say that this is the wrong way to think about your donor. Invoking JFK here for a minute, instead of focusing on what the board member can do for you, think about what you can do for that board member.
Obviously, you hope that board membership is not the only reason she is a major donor to your organization. But the fact is, many MGOs don’t do as well at cultivating and stewarding board members as they do with “regular” major donors BECAUSE they take their board membership for granted. It’s like you assume a major gift will happen just because they are on the board, and therefore you’re not doing all the things you need to do to properly cultivate this donor.
I can’t tell you how often I hear an MGO or Development Director say, “Well, that board member’s gift of $10,000 is late; I hope they get that in before the end of the fiscal year. I mean, she knows it’s due.”
That is NOT the right attitude about a board member’s giving.
Then, when a board member goes off of the board, you wonder why their gifts drop off significantly or they stop giving altogether.
So here are some thoughts on how you should treat your board members during their tenure with your organization, and what you should do BEFORE their terms are up.

  1. Remember, a major donor is a major donor. I don’t care whether that major donor is a board member; you don’t assume a major gift. You cultivate and steward them like any donor. That means you don’t expect a gift. In many cases, the board is part of a caseload managed by the CEO or Executive Director, with an MGO’s help. Treat board members incredibly well. Remember, these folks are your advocates, your evangelists for your organization. They will be the folks that bring in other major donors and board members. Give them a great experience.
  2. Challenge your board members. Many organizations have suggested or even mandated specific amounts to be given by each board member. Personally, I think this limits the board member. Yes, every board member should be giving; yet if you expect a certain amount, then you are really limiting the board member. If you are cultivating a board member just as you would any major donor, you would be figuring out their passions and interests, their capacity, and you would match that up with your great programs. So challenge your board members like you would any of your major donors.
  3. Don’t make assumptions. Don’t assume that just because a major donor is a board member, they know that their gifts are making an impact. In addition to how you would treat any major donor in reporting back, make sure that at board meetings there is an opportunity to show the impact of philanthropy. And make it a big deal.
  4. Create an amazing experience. Remember, these good people are volunteering their time and resources to you. They don’t have to do it. They want to help you. For that great commitment, your job is to give them incredible service and attention. No other non-profit is going to do that, nor have any in the past. Trust me on this. If you give them an incredible experience throughout their tenure, they will want to continue as a major donor and want to come back as a board member.
  5. Conduct an exit interview. I’m not sure why this isn’t done more, but before any board member’s term is up, you and the executive director should conduct an exit interview with that board member. Find out what their experience was like, what could be done better, what was good; and see if you can gain insight into their ongoing financial commitment to your organization. Perhaps consider a multi-year pledge for a specific project they would commit to, or discuss a planned gift with the board member. An exit interview is a great way to improve your work with the current board.

I hope I’ve been able to stress that you should not assume anything from a board member, other than the fact that they have committed to help govern the organization. Treat them like all of your major donors and you will see tremendous generosity and commitment to your mission.