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Skin in the Game By Ron Haas


Why should nonprofit board members have skin in the game?

When Warren Buffet purchases a company, he requires his new managers to purchase stock because he believes that executives with “skin in the game” make better decisions. Buffet is unknowingly expressing a biblical truth,

For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. – Luke 12:34

Board members who don’t give show that their heart isn’t really aligned with that ministry’s mission or vision. Every board member may not be able to give or get $100,000, but every board member should give a generous, sacrificial, annual gift.

How can you engage your board in fundraising? Paul wasn’t writing with nonprofits in mind, but he offers four applications for board members:

Our counsel is that you warn the freeloaders to get a move on. Gently encourage the stragglers, and reach out for the exhausted, pulling them to their feet. Be patient with each person …  – 1 Thess. 5:14 MSG

Warn the freeloaders to get a move on.

Some boards are populated by “obit” members who only serve to build their obituary resumes. A board member’s job isn’t just to set policy to manage the money you already have, it’s to help you find more money. One board member commented, “Every one of our board members should constantly be in conversations with people to find out where God is hiding money!” Board chairs should prompt “obit” members to get a move on, or graciously ask them to move on.

Gently encourage the stragglers.

The most successful fundraising is peer-to-peer. Some board members agree to raise money, but don’t follow through with their assignments. They keep promising to contact a potential donor, but they never call. They talk a good game, but it’s just talk. Solomon describes these board members, and even a few donors this way:

Like clouds and wind without rain is one who boasts of gifts never given. – Prov. 25:14

It’s not what you expect, but what you inspect that actually gets done. Encourage board members to take an active role in fundraising. If nothing changes, refer to step one.

Reach out for the exhausted.

Don was a rare board member who jumped into a capital campaign with abandon. As he made donor calls, he discovered that many of his contacts weren’t as excited about the ministry as he was. At one board meeting he shared, “This is hard work. I’d rather be out digging dirt with a shovel than asking people for money.” Don was doing a great job and needed encouragement. Donors weren’t giving because the ministry had done a poor job of telling its story, not because Don was doing something wrong. Don kept asking and by the end of the campaign he had raised three times more than anyone else. Reach out to exhausted board members and pull them to their feet.

Be patient with each person.

The stress level at board meetings usually tracks with the monthly financial reports. As gift income rises so does everyone’s mood, but when donations go down, attitudes often follow. The executive director looks at the board and wonders why they aren’t helping. The board looks at the executive director and wonders why he or she doesn’t visit major donors. Paul ends with,

And be careful that when you get on each other’s nerves you don’t snap at each other. Look for the best in each other, and always do your best to bring it out.~ 1 Thess. 5:15 MSG

How can you bring out the best in your board? Have the “skin-in-the-game” conversation with your board chair. As a group, set giving and getting expectations and hold one another accountable. Start with a small assignment. Ask a board member to invite a friend to meet you for lunch. Good things happen when ministry leaders and board members work together.

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Ron Haas is the vice president of the Timothy Group which advances Christian organizations by implementing fundraising and capacity building strategies.

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