Changing the Meaning of Board Give and Get

Boards at nonprofits have two main responsibilities beyond the hiring, nurturing, and occasionally firing of the Executive Director: Governance, that ensures that the work being done is done legally and well

Fiduciary, that ensures that the organization has the financial wherewithal to do that work, and that the revenues they receive are well taken care of.

The latter responsibility often translates into a necessity that the board takes a responsibility for fundraising. And that always brings up the question of a board give or get policy: Should there be one? And if so, how much should the give and/or get be?

I do think there should be a board giving requirement, but not as something we hope the person coming on the board will do. Rather, giving should be one of the requirements of anyone you are considering to asking to be on the board.

So what am I saying?

Potential board members should be people who are engaged with and committed to your organization.  If they are not, how are they going to make informed decisions about how your organization should be run? And how can they model a culture of philanthropy if they are involved in philanthropy at your school?

Just as fundraising at its best offers opportunities to potential donors, being on the board is an opportunity--and should be a considered a benefit--to be involved with an organization that clearly means something to your potential board member.

When I think about successful nonprofit organizations, the one thing they all seem to have in common is a great board.  And a great board is one where all the members understand their roles and responsibilities, take them seriously, and perform at high levels.  And one of those responsibilities--one of the most important--is to ensure that the organization has the financial ability to do the work that the board has charged it to do.

So it makes sense to expect board members to give and to give generously.  But being a donor should be a pre-requisite of being a board member instead of a hope that by putting someone on your board he or she will them decide to give.

Once on the board, of course, there must be an articulated expectation that the giving continues, while the getting starts as soon as someone becomes a member of your board.


Janet Levine works with nonprofits, helping them to increase fundraising capacity and develop stronger, more committed boards. Go to or email