What to Do When a Board Member Wants to Withhold Their Treasure

What to Do When a Board Member Wants to Withhold Their Treasure

I was recently sitting with a nonprofit executive director who had just closed a successful crowdfunding campaign, implemented a new six-figure event and moved several mid-level donors to major givers. You would think the mood would be celebratory, right?

Instead, this professional was discouraged. Why? Because she recently had an all-too common conversation with a board member, hedging about participating in these fundraising efforts because “I give my time!” This argument was so deflating that she could hardly focus on her other successes.

Recruiting board members requires a balanced approach. You want to set expectations but not scare them off. You want them to know that board service requires their time — while understanding this is a volunteer post. You want them to know there is work involved — but don’t worry, we have a qualified staff, too.

Does board membership mean they have to give money even if they are donating their time? The short answer is always “yes.”

A new focus in the nonprofit sector is the importance of organizations building a culture of philanthropy. There’s a critical focus on assigning value to all aspects of creating that culture, not just money. And, yet, when moving forward it can be tempting to throw out all of the tools we have used in the past. Which brings us to the age-old three Ts on nonprofit involvement: time, talent and treasure.


Depending on the size and structure of your organization’s staff, you may require a more significant time commitment from board members — or it could just comprise an annual board meeting. This is something that can also vary amongst board members, especially if the other two Ts are their focus.


When building a strong board, the skill sets your organization needs are important when recruiting new members. For example, it’s valuable to have a lawyer on the board, but it’s not often helpful to have a board of all lawyers (that could be a whole other article). There are others to consider: marketing/design experience, willingness to solicit, other board experience or mission-related skills and knowledge.


While it may not seem like it when building a development program, this T is in fact the easiest to mine from board members — everyone has treasure to some extent. The challenge is working to ensure that each board member is giving a capacity gift.

The rule of thumb is that if one sits on a nonprofit board, that organization should be in the top three on their charitable giving list. If your organization is not, that’s the conversation starter. It’s easiest to implement this when recruiting new board members, but is an important conversation to have with those who are already members. Point to this as a field-wide best practice to avoid them taking it personally.

‘But I Give You So Much Time.’

Why is treasure important even if someone is giving their time and/or talent? All organizations have budgetary and sustainability obligations. This is directly linked to financial resource development. It is the responsibility of each board member to lead by example (Why should others give if your board members do not?), model the act of identifying one’s capacity giving (counterpoint to “give until it hurts”), and have a little financial skin in the game.

In general, if one’s own dollars are invested in an organization, they will pay more attention to those financial presentations at the annual board meeting.

How can nonprofit professionals support the goal of board philanthropic giving?

  • Highlight and show gratitude for all capacity gifts, not just your largest ones.
  • Speak with your board often, individually and together, about capacity giving and building a culture of philanthropy. It should always be on your agenda.
  • Take a deep breath and stay encouraged — culture change is hard; and most hard things are worth it.

Written by Mindy Opper.

Originally published in NonProfitPro.