Research & Reports

Board Giving: Size, Expectations, Orientation Matters

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board giving

Why are some boards more philanthropic than others? Over a six-year period, fundraising consulting firm Marts & Lundy researched the board giving habits of more than 100 nonprofit boards in New York City and found that the average board gift was higher from larger boards, no matter the size of the organization’s operating budget.

In 2018, organizations with boards of 30 or more members saw twice as much board giving and giving-per-board member as compared to charities with boards of under 30 members.

The firm’s 2018 report, New York Board Giving, Continuing the Conversation, also included some of the following key findings:

  • Wealth AND Expertise: Organizations that rank wealth as a top priority see higher median board giving. But, when both wealth and expertise are ranked among the top two, the fundraising advantage is even greater: $5 million versus $702,000 in median board giving and $20 million versus $5.6 million in median total giving.
  • Giving Expectations Create the Floor, Not the Ceiling: Organizations that set a minimum giving expectation for board members saw average board member giving significantly higher than that minimum. In 2018, about half of the participants were in a campaign. Both expected campaign contributions and explicit minimums resulted in higher giving. And in 2018, the difference was stronger than previously seen in other studies, with actual board giving a median $2.1M above the expected minimum.
  • Give, Not Get - A Sustainable Choice: When board members are expected to give, not get, average board giving was substantially higher: $18.1M compared to $14.7M. In addition, a give strategy removes the complications of gift counting and avoids one-time corporate gifts that often replace sustained giving from the board member.
  • Diversity – The 2018 research included an added dimension: the role of diversity in high-functioning boards. Seventy-nine percent of respondents increased board diversity, most commonly in age, ethnicity/race and gender. The majority, 59 percent, believed that the more diverse board composition did not increase or decrease board giving, and this is what the data reflected. Rather than an immediate or direct effect on dollars raised, respondents reported a more diverse board resulted in richer board conversations with new and different issues addressed.

2015 Research

Marts & Lundy released a similar report in 2015, 2015: New York City Board Giving, Adding Facts to Anecdotes. That report revealed similar findings with larger boards again raising more than smaller boards. In addition, when wealth AND special talents and expertise were in the top two recruitment criteria, average board giving was again significantly higher.

From the report, additional recommendations regarding boards included:

  • Set Terms, Talk, But Don’t Limit: Setting terms, but not term limits, seemed to impact board giving. In 2015, average board giving for those with term limits was $5.5 million compared to $16.3 million for those without. A larger board provides an organization the capacity to introduce new members while allowing members who give at high levels to stay on. This practice requires clear communication with board members on criteria for re-nomination and relies on adherence to the criteria by those responsible for board member evaluations.
  • Engage Board Members from the Beginning: Providing a formal orientation for board members seemed to increase giving. In 2015, average board giving was two times higher at organizations that had a formal orientation for board members: $16.3 million versus $8.3 million. Board giving at institutions that included a fundraising component in their orientations was also higher compared to those that didn’t: $16.5 million and $8.6 million, respectively.

To read more about this research, please download the reports at Marts & Lundy.

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