COVID-19: Activating Board Members to Help and Give in Time of Crisis
What is the board’s role in crisis planning? Having them underfoot operationally isn’t the best, but you want to keep them close. They need to know that if they don’t give other won’t either. They also need to be conversant about crisis planning to encourage and empower their own outreach on your charity’s behalf.
Let’s start with giving.
The new problem is that board members don’t know what their own financial picture is going to look like in the coming months and years. The old problem is that most boards have mixed financial constituency. Everyone brings some value to the table, but some board members can make money gifts that are not possible for others. In certain scenarios, like a church vestry, there isn’t a natural giving component in the package of board responsibilities.
How do you find an elastic way to prompt board gifts that applies to all your board members? I recommend asking your board to consider and vote in these three guidelines:
1) Each year every board member must make an unrestricted gift each year that is meaningful to that person’s financial circumstances.
2) Make the charity where you serve one of your top three philanthropic priorities for the duration of your board service.
3) Make your charity a revocable part of your estate plans through your will, or (easier and without a lawyer) as a percentage beneficiary to your retirement account.
Sometimes new giving guidelines can be qualified with a trap door clause: Any board member who has a personal financial crisis can take a one-time pass supporting the charity for that year. Board members seldom rely on this, but it can provide some sense of protection to encourage them to vote in guidelines.
In some cases, you may wish to replace “meaningful gift” with a hard dollar number expected each year from board members. This is good practice but can cut both ways. On one end you may lose board members because of the gift requirement. On the other, your most generous board members may be giving more than the target number so you are guiding them to cut back.
One approach to equalize giving over time is to set a target number (hence, $10,000 unrestricted each year) and ask board members to meet that number, but not immediately. If they are giving less than the target number ask them to give the average of their last three years of giving. Then ask for them to add a 25%-per-year increase each subsequent year until they reach the $10,000 target.
The “give or get” approach is also widely used. At the end of the day, you will want to see board members giving personally at some scale. If not your board then who?
Now, how about briefing and inspiring board members to advocate on your behalf?
The range of potential issues that should be considered fresh during COVID-19 is broad. Boardsource has a Q and A section on Fundraising and Philanthropy addressing whether board members should fundraising during the crisis. The answer content links to this Penelope Burk board blog about how to raise funds during a crisis. Let me synthesize some points to consider:
- In a crisis, people reshuffle and contract the non-profits they usually support
- Their willingness to support you depends on a sense of trust that you matter and that you have a plan to weather the storm
- Trust derives from direct contact from staff and knowledgeable board ambassadors who can speak convincingly about operational status and planning
- Conveying trust depends on both active outreach and demonstrations of support
- Outreach should never be blind to the reality that all kinds of people have been hit hard – be sensitive and sympathetic
- Trust is validated by a willingness to do a little bit more – the board must be “all in” or no one else will be
Brief your board on your COVID-19 crisis measures. They deserve to know. Then, once they are briefed, encourage them to serve as your ambassador in the wider community to keep your charity relevant and to explore paths of involvement and giving. And ask your board to give a little more which validates expressions of trust. For example, this week I encouraged a client to urge their entire board to log onto retirement accounts and make their nonprofit a percentage beneficiary. To make the point I did it myself and shared the screenshot. It took me nine minutes. It’s simple. It doesn’t cost anything or require a lawyer. It can be undone at any time in minutes.