Time and Lived Experience are NOT the same as Money

Time and Lived Experience are NOT the same as Money

 

21 June 2022

 

By David Allen, Development for Conservation

 

A few weeks ago, Vu Le posted an excellent piece on his blog Consultants, are you actually making the sector worse? Here are some questions to ask yourselves – Nonprofit AF about questions consultants should ask themselves through a DEIJ lens. I was listening.

In the post, Le referenced a story about Board giving:

A few months ago, a colleague told me that they were writing a grant application. One of the questions was “what is your board’s giving rate? If it’s not 100%, please explain why.” This is a silly and archaic question that all funders need to stop asking. My colleague had written an answer to the effect that her org believed it was inequitable to focus on money as the most prioritized contribution, that they valued time and lived experience, and so they didn’t have 100% board giving nor did they care to measure it, etc. A dose of refreshing honesty so rare in our sector, like decent chairs and retirement savings.

 

Le has written about this before. Here’s a quote from another of his blogs:

The idea of “100% board giving” is one of those concepts that somehow have become entrenched in our sector, an unwritten truth that we don’t question. Well, it’s time to challenge this notion. I don’t believe in 100% board giving as a standard. In fact, I think this expectation is extremely problematic, culturally ignorant, and a very white way of doing things.

 

Well, I’m still listening. When the gauntlet of “a very white way of doing things” is laid down, I think I have to listen. And I believe I’m constantly challenging myself and others to question entrenched notions.

But in this case, I’m also respectfully disagreeing.

Here’s my thinking:

  • Asking the Board giving question on grant applications probably is silly and archaic, but that’s a completely different idea from whether Board members should give or not.
  • Institutional fundraising is just one of many types of fundraising. And it’s not even close to being the largest one. Putting all your eggs into a foundation grant basket is probably not the best long-term strategy.
  • Many funders (including some individuals) aren’t really asking whether Board members are giving. They are asking whether Board members support the mission and projects. To me, that’s a legitimate question.
  • There are many ways people contribute to an organization. Money is one. Time and lived experience are others. But the expectation that they are separable is problematic. We don’t need some contributing only lived experience any more than we need others contributing only money. We need Board members to bring it all.
  • There are and should be other ways for people to contribute time and lived experience. Committees, advisory groups, strategic planning exercises, and so on.

 

The bottom line for me is that we need Board members who can help raise money. It’s easy to see for organizations that are all-volunteer, but it’s just as true for organizations that have staff. It’s difficult for Board members to raise money from others when they aren’t willing or able to give themselves. See my own post on the subject from 2019: Greater than Zero.

I don’t have enough time,” and “I don’t have enough money,” almost always means “I choose to spend the time and money I do have on other things.

There’s no judgment about this and there shouldn’t ever be. Period.

But people who choose to spend their time and money elsewhere will be ineffective in asking others to spend their time and money with the land trust. Ergo such Board members will be ineffective as Board members, too.

 

This thinking (MY thinking) may very well be silly and archaic, “extremely problematic, culturally ignorant, and a very white way of doing things.” That doesn’t automatically make it wrong or bad. And the truth is, I don’t see an alternative – yet.

 

But I’m listening.

 

Cheers, and Have a great week!

 

-da

 

PS: Your comments on these posts are welcomed and warmly requested. If you have not posted a comment before, or if you are using a new email address, please know that there may be a delay in seeing your posted comment. That’s my SPAM defense at work. I approve all comments as soon as I am able during the day.

 

Photo courtesy of Pixabay.

 

 

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6 Comments
  • Carol Abrahamzon
    Posted at 16:50h, 22 June Reply

    I completely agree that board members can and must support at some level. We don’t have a required level and even nuns who have sat on our board have been able to contribute.

  • Amy Smith
    Posted at 15:47h, 21 June Reply

    I’ll throw this out for consideration.

    The ways in which we have historically worked (requiring 100% board giving, for example) have produced organizations that are predominantly very white (white board leadership, white staff, white donors, etc…). If we are doing more than giving DEI just lip service, shouldn’t we consider very strongly changing the ways in which we do things, if we want to get different outcomes?

    Conservation and environmental orgs are really white (said as I white cisgender woman). If we truly want to make these areas welcoming and inclusive, it is imperative that we encourage individuals from different socio-economic backgrounds, races, ethnicities, etc. to serve on boards (and not just be relegated to committees because they can’t give or give much). Relegating someone to a committee because they can’t give is part of the reason our communities are not very diverse.

    Instead of approaching the giving to the organization as a transaction, why not think about what the person that may have fewer means gives to come to a board meeting. They may have to pay for childcare, likely have to pay for gas/transportation, may have to pay for meals out of pockets, etc… They may not be able to give to the organization because any money they may have to give goes to covering life while they are at our board meetings, committee meetings, and various other community events.

    I don’t have the answer, but I feel strongly that doing the same things we have always done is not the answer.

    • David Allen
      Posted at 16:47h, 21 June Reply

      Thank you so much for your comment, Amy.

      I see your point and I have heard some of the same points brought by others. There are two places where they rub for me. The first place is the association of non-white people with different socio-economic backgrounds. Not all white people are wealthy (and not all white Board members are wealthy!), just like not all people of color are poor. Land Trust Boards aren’t all white because they’re not open to poor people. And throwing open the doors to people of any color who can’t afford to participate won’t solve the problem. It may be that we want to prioritize bringing people from different socio-economic backgrounds onto our Boards, but there is an extremism to that exercise that I can’t buy into. Do we really want people on our Boards who can’t afford to give at all? Even $35 a year? Why? And who are we really talking about? Or do we really want people of color who have a foundational interest in land conservation and the means to express support for it – at least at a minimal level? I think that it’s worth at least considering that bringing on people who can’t afford to give at all will make us feel better about how little WE are giving. It’s at least possible that this whole argument is disingenuous.

      The second rub point is the idea that giving to the organization is a transaction. I don’t want people to give so that they can “qualify” for Board service. I want people to give because they support the mission. And I want people who are willing and able to visibly support the mission to serve on the Board.

      I think it would be different if somehow we didn’t need to raise money. Let’s say we were sitting on a huge endowment, or were responsible for spending down a pile of mitigation money. In that circumstance, I could see prioritizing Board member recruitment differently. But most land trust organizations need to have Board members who can govern, and plan, and budget, and then lend a shoulder to the fundraising wheel. I don’t see bringing on people who can’t afford $35 a year as an answer to that prayer.

  • David+Brant,+Executive+Director,+Aspetuck+Land+Trust
    Posted at 08:13h, 21 June Reply

    Another great post, David!

  • Sean Brady
    Posted at 08:03h, 21 June Reply

    David, this is a brave post that furthers an important discussion in the enviro sector. I’ve seen both positions argued passionately by fellow board members…that requiring financial contributions is inequitable, and also that it’s imperative.

    I fall into the latter category. Nothing beats a clear commitment from a board member that they will bring everything they have to the table to support the conservation mission. An individual’s ratio of time/money can vary infinitely, but I agree with you that both are of critical importance.

    IMO Board members need to participate in meetings, as a minimum time commitment, and likewise they must contribute financially at a level that is meaningful to them. (Am I plagiarising one of your seminars here?) if someone is in the midst of financial hardship, then their gift can be appropriately low, assuming that they also contribute significantly in other ways. But if either time or money is not forthcoming, then one must question the person’s ability to serve on the board and in effect are deterring achievement of the organization’s mission.

    • David Allen
      Posted at 08:51h, 21 June Reply

      Sean,

      Thank you so much for this thoughtful comment. The point that should probably not remain unsaid is that “we” – meaning current Board members and staff – should not be in a position of assuming what people can afford or not. Therefore “greater than zero.” But we can and should be in a position that sees financial contribution (and participation in fundraising activities) as signifying support for and commitment to the mission. After all, our donors and funders will.

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