If you ain’t got money, honey . . .

Even the most crass of nonprofit CEOs doesn’t come right out and tell the board it only matters for the money. However, when networks go untapped and personal connections ignored, board members get the message.

Most talk a good line about valuing all gifts around the board table, yet it’s the rare organizational head who truly values, let alone maximizes, the full range of advancement possibilities present within her board. Minus a dollar sign, a decimal point, and a bunch of zeros, time and talent are mostly unnoticed.


In their quest for the “gold,” CEOs  overlook less obvious but just as valuable treasure that board members hold in their hands.  And that, according to the authors of a great piece in the Winter 2013 issue of the Stanford Social Innovation Review, is unfortunate.

In the words of Georgetown University profs Julie Dixon and Denise Keyes,  “When organizations emphasize financial donations as the primary means of support, they may be doing so at the risk of discouraging other types of supportive activities.”

The research pair didn’t write with boards in mind. Their topic is the way social media has disrupted traditional donor cultivation models. However, I found much that applies to the CEO/board relationship.

Take a look at the following pull-outs and see if you agree.

Ask only for financial donations, and that is what {board members] will think is their deepest level of involvement. But ask for more – sharing on social media, forwarding e-mails to friends, advocating for the organization, organizing and leading fundraising events – and a [board member’s] contributions, as well as her sense of having an impact, can grow exponentially.

The goal for an organization . . . is to offer its [board members] a tailored portfolio of involvement that speaks to their strengths and ability to have an impact. This in turn will maximize the [board member’s] commitment and lifetime value.

Most organizations equip board members with basic elevator speeches. Some may hold trainings for board and staff to provide guidelines on messaging. But very few embrace the ‘everyone is a communicator’ idea fully – and those that do, have a tremendous advantage.


Value-adding boards are a mash-up of ability, skills, connections, and resources. Some members come with wealth in hand, able to make the much-coveted lead gifts in campaigns or to set the pace for the annual fund. They’re also wealth magnets, drawing other persons of means to the organization.

There’s the board member whose political connections help a Christian camp cut through the red tape of a zoning variance, a recently retired CPA who assists a start-up ministry with financial modeling, or the recently hired teacher without a  spare dime, but with the time to develop curriculum for an after-school program.

Money matters, but no more nor no less than a lot of other gifts.

Returning again to the SSIR article: “The challenge for organizations is finding ways to maximize the contributions of different groups of people with unique desires and resources.”

What's your take on this topic?

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