Nonprofit MythBusters Myth #4: My Gift is My Time
By: Judy Chambers
Myth #4: My Gift is My Time
Most nonprofit organizations depend, at least in part, on charitable giving from individuals who support the mission. And not only the kindness of strangers—if you serve on a nonprofit board, you should probably be making a financial contribution too.
Sure, your time is valuable, and so is your expertise. That’s why you were recruited to serve on the board. If you count up all the hours you spend preparing for and attending board meetings, serving on committees, attending your organization’s events and fundraisers . . . but wait. Don’t count your hours (unless your organization asks you to). Don’t count them because you, as a board member, are giving your time freely to the organization you love.
But time is only one gift you can be giving. Cold hard cash is also expected. In fact, many boards have a 100% giving policy that asks every board member to make an annual financial contribution. In most small nonprofits, there is no specified dollar amount, and contributions are accounted for confidentially so that only a few people know—and respect—how much each person gives. This confidential aspect becomes even more important when an organization is seeking representation across social classes and household income. A $25 annual contribution from one individual may be as meaningful as a $200 contribution from another, and no board member should feel embarrassed by the size of his or her contribution.
Others make the expectation quite clear. Many years ago, I was recruited to serve on the board of an organization I loved, but the expectation was that each board member would make an annual minimum contribution of $5,000. This was simply not affordable for me, so I declined to join the board. No hard feelings—I was happy to know the expectation in advance.
Why is a giving policy for boards so common, and why should your organization consider it (if it’s not already in place)?
Skin in the game. Your financial contribution to the organization underscores your commitment to serve. It’s harder for many of us to offer half-hearted service when our own money is involved.
Funder expectations. Some foundations and other funders require 100% giving from the board as an indication of organizational commitment. It’s right in the grant application.
Community expectations. It’s a lot easier to ask others for contributions when you can say that all of you on the board have already stepped up: “This is such a great organization to support—I’m proud to be an annual contributor because I know how much value every dollar has.”
Motivational support. Let’s face it—the majority of nonprofits don’t come close to matching the compensation their staff could receive in the profit world. These are dedicated folks, working long hours for lower wages, and many of them worry every year about the financial stability of their positions. Your contribution says, not just in words but in dollars, that you believe in the work they are doing. It’s a financial “attaboy.”
Back to those hours I asked you not to count: some organizations do want you to count your hours as an in-kind contribution. In-kind is any contribution that is not cash but that has a financial value. Time, professional expertise, and donated materials are examples of in-kind donations. Some grants require a matching amount from the organization, and depending on the grantor this can be cash, in-kind, or a combination of the two. So if your organization asks you to count your hours, you should definitely do so. But don’t count that as your contribution. Open your wallet and do your part.