Should Board Members Be Required to Donate?

nonprofit board giving policy - game tiles with the letters G I V E

In my non-existent spare time, I engage in fundraising work for my alma mater, Fordham University. I’m planning to sit with a Dean and make a very significant ask to an alum to name a scholarship in honor of a dear friend who recently passed away.

On a planning call with the Dean, we discussed the ask “choreography” (that’s what I call it :))

“Would you like me to make the ask?” the Dean said.

“No,” I replied, “I should.”

There were two important reasons: First, my brother and his friend battled the same illness (actually they both lost the battle). But more importantly, my wife and I are donors. And if you’ve been interacting with me for a while, then you know that the two most powerful words in “ask choreography” are…

Say it with me now…


As a board member, you are responsible for inviting people to know more and do more for your organization, right? You are responsible for increasing the financial resources of your organization so that it can have a greater impact, right?

For me, it’s a no-brainer. The most powerful way to ask someone for money is to talk about why you do it and lead with “Would you consider joining me…?”

“Join me,” says: I am in this. I have skin in the game. It says I am not asking you to do anything that I do not do myself.

So to answer the question: Should board members be required to give?


Perhaps this can be the shortest blog post ever because this story pretty much tells you what you need to know about where I stand on this subject. But I think you need more.

I’ve been around nonprofits long enough to know that not everyone agrees with having a nonprofit board giving policy (also known as a give and get policy). And even if a board chair or executive director agrees, there is a board to convince.

Today, when it comes to a nonprofit board giving policy, I’m going to make the case for ABSOLUTELY.

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“Nonprofits Are Run Worse Than Corporations…” (and Other Harmful Myths)

nonprofit businesses

There seems to be an endless list of myths about nonprofit businesses and the nonprofit sector – and a few of them really make my blood boil.

Yes yes, it’s true. I am a fiercely loyal advocate for nonprofit leaders but I am not close to naive about their challenges.

But here’s a myth that really drives me nuts:

Nonprofit businesses are not as well run as for profit companies.

Are you kidding me right now?

Corporate America is the holy grail? Holy smokes. It’s a pretty cold day in hell when we can say THAT with a straight face.

Just talk to organizational expert Jim Collins – you know, the “Good to Great” author — he will say that while some business concepts apply, many don’t actually apply to the nonprofit sector. It’s an entirely different ballgame when profit is not the motive and when meaning and purpose are.

I came from corporate America into the nonprofit sector and learned as many gems about leadership and management from the nonprofit model as I brought with me from my corporate executive gig.

It is time to STOP with the nonprofit vs for profit comparisons.

Time to stop belittling the nonprofit leaders as well-meaning folks (“God love em” is what my mother would say) and see the sector for what it is — a vital cornerstone of every town and state…of every civil society. In fact, it is these organizations that make our society civil.

Here are five additional myths. Let’s tease them out. What you will find interesting is the extent to which nonprofit leaders themselves perpetuate some of these.

Let’s make it our business not just to debunk them but to escort them to the door.

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Mission Creep Can Turn Your Org Into a Circus

mission creep - lion jumping through hoops

Picture this: You run an animal shelter and a donor offers your org a huge gift to fund a program to train all the animals in your shelter to be circus animals…

Is this an example of mission creep? (Select one)

  1. Totally
  2. Kinda

Note that I didn’t offer you a “no” option. Why not? Because the problem about this whole mission creep thing lives in that one word: kinda.

Here’s what I mean…

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Do You Understand Why Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Is So Important?

diversity and inclusion important

A few years back I was engaged to do strategy work for a cultural organization that focused on the Tibetan community. Not a single board member had any connection to this community. There was no advisory board so that the organization could deeply understand the culture and the needs of the community.

I thought an analogy might help them see that this was deeply problematic. So I asked them to imagine an African American community center with no African American board members or any people at all who might represent them. I felt sure I would create a powerful aha moment about the importance of board diversity.

Instead, I had one.

Several of them said they could totally imagine that — and that board service is all about skills and wealth and wealth adjacency.

Honestly, if I had asked that question and heard that answer when originally discussing the engagement, I would not have taken the organization’s money. I didn’t ask enough questions about this board’s composition and values.

I should have.

The nonprofit sector model is deeply flawed. For the most part, power rests in the hands of largely male, largely affluent white people. For the most part, organizations are too far removed from the communities they serve.

Today I’d like to talk about things that are troubling me and a few reasons why nonprofit organizations MUST engage in work around diversity, equity, and inclusion.

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Your Monthly Board Meeting is a Waste of Time. Here’s Why.

monthly board meeting

When I was in second grade, S&H Green Stamps were all the rage. Who else remembers those? You could trade them in for rewards at your local grocery stores in the 1960s.

Well, the nuns over at St. Joseph’s Grammar School in North Plainfield, NJ were obsessed with the opportunity these stamps represented so they enlisted the entire school community to collect and donate them. Each class was given a certain allotment of stamps that they could use to buy something for their classrooms.

We spent hours fantasizing about all the things we could get and then we saw it — the coolest cuckoo clock ever! (It wasn’t this one.) Of course, our vote was unanimous…

Stop and think for a second — we were 2nd graders. A big class (with over 30 kids!) of chatty, inattentive, difficult to corral, 2nd graders. Now imagine this classroom with a cuckoo clock went wild every 15 minutes.

I’ll be honest — Sister Killian did not have much academic rigor when it came to her teaching style. She was (unlike many of the nuns at St. Joseph) lovely and sweet and kind…but I don’t really remember learning anything of substance that year. But I do remember that we started learning even less the day the cuckoo clock arrived.

From then on, every day around 9:45am the clock would cuckoo. So about 5-7 minutes before then, all work stopped. Why? We had to get ready — we certainly didn’t want to miss the show…

As soon as the clock struck 9:45, it began. The cuckoo clock went wild and captured our attention. So much so, that it took another 3 minutes for the classroom to recover from what I called “cuckoo clock afterglow.” The room would buzz with excitement until finally, Sister Killian would say, “Now get back to work.”

But by then it would be 9:52am and guess what? The 10:00am cuckoo clock show was just 8 minutes away…

This was a highlight of my grammar school career and according to my parents, a lost year of school.

But, I know you’re probably thinking, “What the heck does this random childhood stories have to do with a monthly board meeting?”

Allow me to explain…

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What to Expect From Me in 2022

Welcome to 2022, nonprofit leaders! To be honest, I am usually not a huge fan of New Year’s resolutions — but these are not usual times…

This year marks nearly two years since the start of the global pandemic that rocked our worlds and brought on the biggest cultural shift many of us have seen in our lifetimes. Full stop.

As we dive headfirst into another year of the nonprofit sector’s new normal, the services offered by organizations all across the globe are needed now more than ever before. And, we all have a big fat opportunity right now to help lead our fellow humans through these uncertain times and help shape the future of nonprofits around the world.

It is so important to approach this opportunity with intention and have a clear direction for your nonprofit goals.

That is why I decided to take some time to reflect on my role when it comes to supporting your nonprofit goals in 2022 — and I have uncovered what I believe is my most important mission for the upcoming year.

In this short video, I share how I plan to help our sector reduce one of the most common problems faced by nonprofit organizations. So, click play to find out what I want you to hold me accountable to in 2022.

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Joan’s Top 5 Nonprofit Leadership Blog Posts of 2021

nonprofit leadership

Each of you began this year bleary-eyed.

On January 1, 2021, you were just coming off the heels of one of the most disruptive years the nonprofit sector has ever seen. Every year puts nonprofit leaders to this test, and this was never more true than in the year 2020.

The onset of the (still ongoing) global pandemic shook up our worlds, and it probably took everything you had to stay afloat.

But 2021 was just supposed to be the next day on the calendar. The vaccine presented a glimmer of hope that somehow things would return to “normal” when the clock struck midnight on New Year’s Day.

But most of the world did not yet have access. So it was more of the same.

On top of that, with our global economy still reeling from the pandemic’s lasting effects, this year brought an unbelievable need for your services.

So you did what nonprofit leaders do — you summoned energy you didn’t even think you had and made the decision to focus on the fundamentals.

You kept close tabs on your budget. You sought new ways to engage your board. You searched for resources where you could find them and found creative ways to bring more dollars in.

And you did all this in the service of a mission that means everything to you.

I know from all the emails and comments that I have gotten over the past year, that so many of you turned to the resources here on my blog for help. And for that, I am so grateful.

It has been a privilege to offer you advice and suggestions to help fuel your ability to work towards your mission and do your very best as a nonprofit leader and manager.

There are 5 resources in particular that nonprofit leaders like you found most valuable. As you prepare to head into the year 2022 (can you believe we’re almost 2 years out from 2020?) I thought it might be helpful to do a recap.

Check out this list and give them a quick read. They just might inspire some new ideas or insights that you can take into the new year.

Drumroll please…
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An Inspiring Hanukkah Message For Every Nonprofit Leader

We did it, nonprofit leaders. We made it to the last month of the year.

You’ve gone above and beyond all day long, all year long. That was true all day long, all year long last year, and in the years before as well.

But right now, you might be feeling like you are running low on fuel.

With the holiday season in full swing, I can not stress enough how important it is for you to take advantage of any time you have right now to rest, recharge, and replenish your energy.

I recently had time to do this as we began our yearly celebration of Hanukkah in my household. And as I took some time to reflect on the story behind this special time, I realized that there is a very important lesson for every nonprofit leader in the miracle of Hanukkah.

So if you have been feeling the nonprofit burnout creeping in lately, I invite you to watch this video to learn what it is. No matter what holidays or festivities you participate in during this time of year, this lesson just might be the inspiration you need to keep your passion for the work fully ignited.

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6 Ways to Thank Your Nonprofit Board Members

thank you nonprofit board

Do me a favor. Stop for a second and chew on this question: What motivates you to do a great job?

Is it the warm sense of accomplishment you get when you achieve a goal?

Or maybe you love the satisfaction of being able to say, “I did that thing!” — especially when that thing is something that you once considered impossible.

Now imagine your kid (or another youngster in your life) comes home from school with a test grade. They went the extra mile and worked and studied really really hard — and got an 87.

Do you go through the wrong answers with phrases like, “Oh, that was an easy one – you should have had that” or “With an extra hour of studying and you’d have cracked 90”?

Or do you celebrate their hard-earned 87?

I feel like a lot of staff leaders choose the first option when their board members get 87s…

You know, those times when they don’t exactly hit it out of the park, but at least you know it wasn’t due to a lack of trying?

I think far too often, staff leaders nag board members to study harder, to practice the foreign language that doesn’t come so easily to them.

Now I’m not talking about board members who are MIA, toxic, or those who have joined your board only to advance their career or boost their ego.

I’m talking about the rock stars who are always there for you, who initiate, and who lead. The folks who really try hard and are very busy but will step up if you ask.

These folks who often get painted with the same brush as toxic board members when executive directors have an expectation that all of them should get 94s instead of 87s.

You see it most when EDs nag their boards for more ticket sales, more big-ticket donors, or more work hours.

I think we do a lousy job of appreciating board members. Like really lousy.

You see, if you want high-performing board members, you have to motivate them. You have to celebrate the 87s.

So I reached out to members of our Nonprofit Leadership Lab to see if I could motivate folks to exercise this board gratitude muscle. To my delight, I was overwhelmed with responses. And I’d like to share them with you.

Not only will this give you some ideas on how you can offer more positive feedback to your board, but it will also give you a glimpse of what a high-performing board actually looks like.

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What It’s Really Like to Be A Nonprofit Executive Director

nonprofit executive director

One of my favorite assignments to give my undergrad students back when I was teaching Nonprofit Communications at the Annenberg School at the University of Penn was called “You Are An Alien.”

The instructions? Read a hard copy of The New York Times cover to cover through the lens of an alien, and tell me what you learned about women (as an alien).

That’s it. That’s the assignment.

It sounds silly, but the undergrad seniors really loved it!

You see, what they picked up on was often quite revelatory. They uncovered deep biases and victim narratives. They discovered that most “experts” are men and that most bylines are written by men. They noticed that the featured photos and print ads told a certain story too.

So what does all this have to do with nonprofit executive directors?

Well, recently I thought it might be fun to play a similar ‘game’ with those of you who are connected with the Nonprofit Leadership Lab on Facebook — so I asked the executive directors who follow us to tell me they are executive directors without telling me they are.

Some of what they told me was quite funny. And, some of it was good, bad, and ugly as well…

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