Dear Nonprofiteer, Why won’t she just say it out loud?

Dear Nonprofiteer:

I was just invited to join the Board of Directors of a women’s organization whose work I admire enormously.  I’m delighted but, mindful of the need to look before I leap, I sent the Executive Director a note saying, "Of course I want to go forward but I need to clear up one quick point re: finances.  Will I have access to records and financial plans?  How much do you spend a year?  Is there a level of donation that board members are expected to meet?  Maybe an annual report, if you have one, is a place for
me to start.
"

Her reply? "Our books are
open to you."

I’m grateful to see "our books," but can’t believe they contain a statement of how much money a board member is expected to give.  What should I say to an invitation to join a group whose members REFUSE to discuss the M-word?

Signed, Stymied

Dear Stymied,

Don’t instantly attribute the Executive Director’s reticence to the rest of the group.  Many EDs are highly conscious that members of the Board pay their salaries and thus are timid about mentioning Board members’ financial obligations–they’re afraid any such mention smacks of, "Why don’t you pay me what you owe me, asshole?"

So stop
crapping around with the Executive Director and contact the Board president.  Ask the president
Board-member-to-Board-member "How much does everyone give?  What
percentage of the annual budget is it the Board’s responsibility to
raise?"  If she won’t answer either, blow these people off with a check
and go find some other outfit whether "money" isn’t such a dirty word.

The Executive Director’s response might also reflect nothing more than EMAD, e-mail attention disorder.  Your real question–how much to give–is buried between a question about financial records and a comment about an annual report, and the ED might simply have skimmed over it–people don’t read e-mail all that carefully.

You
might, actually, find a line-item "Board giving" in the revenue budget
section of "our books"–things reviewed and adopted at a Board meeting–but
that would be unlikely to appear in a publicly-available annual report.

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