Dear Nonprofiteer, Victory on points?

Dear Nonprofiteer,

I recently saw an offer to serve on a non-profit board where there was a monetary donation requirement each year, but the amount could be substituted by service or other activities through the scale pasted below. Here’s the way they phrased it:

To ensure active participation, members earn points for financial contributions and volunteer service. We ask that a contribution of $250 be made in order to remain as an Associate Board member. You can, however, combine a cash donation of $100 with your fundraising and volunteer efforts by earning these points:

Sample Opportunities to Earn Points
Opportunity Points
Additional cash contribution of $50 50
Plan a Board Social or Fundraising Event 50
Serve in a leadership role 50
Secure $100 event sponsorship 15*
Represent [agency] at a public fair or presentation 15*
Sell a ticket to a fundraiser 10*

I was wondering, is this a common practice? I’m actually thinking about recommending it for another board where I’ve been asked to donate money.

Signed, Victor on Points or Technical Knock-Out?

Dear Knock-Out:

The Nonprofiteer knows that some larger organizations use this point system, but for smaller organizations she thinks the record-keeping and arguments about “what counts” are more trouble than they’re worth.  Obviously it depends on the size of the required contribution, but in general everyone on a Board should be expected to give AND participate, and in roughly equal measure.

This is expressed in a number of different formulations: Board members offer the three Ws (Work, Wealth and Wisdom) or are expected to provide the three Gs (Give, Get and Govern). Whichever initials you use, the point is the same: Board membership is not an either-or proposition but a yes-and one. The best way to assure fulfillment of these expectations is to adopt a clear statement of them for Board members, and go over that statement with every Board recruit. “Every Board member is expected to make a $500 contribution, and buy a ticket to the annual gala, and attend monthly Board meetings, and serve on a committee . . .”. That way, no one agrees to join the Board who isn’t prepared to do all those things.

People are fond of making exceptions to this in two cases: for Board members perceived to be significantly poorer than the rest of the group, and for those perceived to be significantly wealthier or better-connected than the rest.

In the first case, the Nonprofiteer’s advice is: don’t count the money in other people’s pockets. Poor people are more generous than rich people generally, and thus are often less upset by minimum Board gifts than their wealthier counterparts. If a rich Board member can just write a $500 check while a poorer one has to ask 10 friends for $50, well, that’s just another example of ways in which poor people have to work harder than rich people. And, as $500 per year is less than $10 per week, most working people—regardless of their assets—can afford it.

In the second case: if someone tells you s/he’s too busy to actually do anything but s/he’ll be glad to be on your Board, remember this motto: if they can’t do the time, they can’t do the crime. Someone willing only to lend his/her name and write a check should be placed on an Advisory Board (create one if you have to, or dub the person a “Special Advisor” and put him/her on the stationery), not on the Board of Directors. If you do put such a person on the Board proper, s/he will have all the legal responsibilities of Board members without being there to discharge them—a recipe for disaster and hard feelings, should the agency be socked with a bill for unpaid withholding taxes or a lawsuit from an injured client.

In short: the Board is a governance institution, and governance includes assuring that the agency has the resources it needs to fulfill its mission You shouldn’t have to negotiate with your governors about their tasks, which is what a point system suggests. Rather, they should be the ones setting their own goals and meeting them, and attracting others who will do the same.

And that’s the final reason not to use this point system: no one wants to serve on a Board of lazy people. Your group is more attractive to prospects if everyone’s revved up and ready to go on every possible front. You can find such people, provided you don’t declare defeat and stop looking.

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