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Fundraising & Trustees

Legal Counsel for Philanthropy and the Nonprofit Sector

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Fundraising & Trustees


This article, by Ken Hoffman, originally appeared in Third Sector on January 8, 1998.

Sooner or later I predict you will be doing it: asking every member of your charity's board of trustees for annual cash contributions to the operating fund. When there's a major campaign on, you'll ask them for the initial contributions during the quiet phase of the campaign. This is part of a steady evolution in the role trustees play with their charities.

In America the process is further along. Lacking an easily identifiable class of great and good, America's wealthy passes for its aristocracy. The money may be old - in Boston, my home - it probably came from rum, slaves and privateering. Or it can be new money - in Seattle, from aircraft or microchips. But the ability to give personally and to convince others to give are paramount. Remember 'the three G's' for board members: Give, get or get out. It may be crude, but like any good slogan, it's memorable and it serves a purpose.

One of the great sticking points is who should ask whom. Don't assign the board solicitation to staff: the status is too unequal. And it's a rare chief executive who can solicit contributions from their own board without feeling that they're asking for their own salary.

The best person to make the request is usually the head of the board. After they've already made their own gift. A solicitor of gifts who has contributed personally is always more confident and convincing about asking others, than a solicitor who is just 'committed to the programme'. If not the head, then the treasurer, who has a statutory interest in the outcome. If the board is large, divide the list and assign people to solicit those they know best. But keep the, list short. I find I'm lucky if a board member completes half a dozen solicitations.

If giving by the group is far below potential, go to the biggest board donor. Ask for a substantial challenge gift that will match, one-for-one, every pound donated over the prior year's gift. It's a compelling incentive. People like to see their money matched.

Embrace the change in trustees' responsibilities. Board members are a vast, often underused source of the most valuable funds: unrestricted gifts. And what if they refuse to make a personal financial commitment on an annual basis? They may be on the board to represent a particular interest or to bring certain skills or knowledge. But if they are not prepared to give money - according to their means - as well as time, then the extent of their commitment may well be in doubt. At least, that's how we see it from over here.

How does it look to you over there?

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