My Time Should Count (I’m an Attorney!)

My Time Should Count (I’m an Attorney!)


5 March 2024


By David Allen, Development for Conservation


One of the more common entry points for me when working with new organizations is a Development Audit (or Assessment). The audit looks critically at everything an organization is doing to raise money.

One of the standard features of my Development Audits is an analysis of board giving. Generally speaking, we want board members to lead in giving, and I routinely measure that leadership support and report it back to the Board as a whole.

Way too often, I find board members who don’t give at all. Who aren’t, in fact, members or donors. (Many organizations have board members who don’t give before they become board members, and that’s a subject for another day.) They don’t support the organizations they are responsible for leading.

Some land trusts use a membership model where the Board is elected by the membership. Even some of them don’t have 100% board giving. Some of their board members are not actually eligible to be board members.

How does this happen? Frankly, most of the time, it’s because Board members are not formally asked. In other words, it’s not that they are saying no. It’s that the question is never getting posed. I’ll get in to that more next week.

But in more than a few cases, it’s related to the organization valuing time equally.


For example, one land trust had a Board Chair without a giving history at all.

Zip, zilch, nada.

I thought: Maybe he gives through his company – nope. Family foundation? – nope.

The Chair of the Board does not give even the $35 basic membership. So, in my interview with him, I asked him about that.

Bob,” I said. “Your giving is conspicuously absent. What’s up with that?

I’m an attorney,” he replied. “I do all the conservation easements, and the time I volunteer is worth $10,000, at least, each year.


He had a point, but it was irrelevant. Giving time to the land trust made him a VOLUNTEER. Land trusts obviously need board members to volunteer their time.  They also need board members to give money. Everyone’s time is valuable! And if an attorney (or carpenter, or banker, or investment advisor, or landscape architect, or bricklayer, or range ecologist, or anything else) donates his/her time – that’s fabulous!

Furthermore, many people who volunteer their time do not volunteer their money. They feel they “contribute in other ways.” That doesn’t make them board members.

The opposite is true, too, of course: Relatively few people who donate money also volunteer. That doesn’t make them board members either.


I pointed that out to Bob. “Consider a board member who might give their money but not their time. And when asked about not coming to meetings or serving on committees they respond, ‘I give $10,000 a year. I give in other ways. My money should count!’


I wasn’t going to win that argument, and I knew that. So, I let it go.

I did end up suggesting that Bob invoice for his time and donate the fee back to the land trust. Doing so seems pathetically unnecessary, but it would actually do two things that aren’t trivial:

First, Bob would show up as a donor. $10,000 is enough to turn some heads in most communities. It might even inspire others to do the same.

And second, the land trust would be forced to budget for his legal work. In so doing, it would have a better sense of what the conservation business actually costs. (Not to mention that if Bob ever gets hit by the turnip truck, his “gift” would need to be replaced.)


As far as I know, Bob is still not giving any money, but he should. In fact, all board members should give something, and collectively they should give an amount that shows up against the budget. (I suggest that aiming for at least 10% of the operations budget as a good place to start.)

For the record, I am NOT a fan of minimum board donation levels and I do not particularly like “give, get, or get off” schemes. But here’s what I DO think:

  • When someone like me runs a list of current donors, every board member’s name should appear on it. They should at least give $35 or $50 and show up.
  • Just about anyone with a heartbeat can afford $250 ($20/month). $250 could easily be a minimum expectation for board members.
  • Most people can afford $1,000 ($20/week) – doing so would inspire others to follow. $1,000 is not unfair to ask of board members.
  • Board members who do not give generously themselves, or who are perceived as not giving generously, are setting an example for other donors that is difficult to overcome.


People who donate time and not money are wonderful volunteers. People who donate money and not time are wonderful donors. We need wonderful board members to do both.


Cheers and Have a Good Week!



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.


PPS: Parts of this post were originally published in 2016.


Photo by Natalia Kollegova courtesy Pixabay




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  • Carol Abrahamzon
    Posted at 15:55h, 05 March

    100% board giving has never been a road block for any of our board members. We have some who can manage $50 a year and others who can provide $50K a year. Each are contributing in a manner that is significant to them and that is all we ask.

  • katie
    Posted at 09:09h, 05 March

    I had the same reaction to this post as Elizabeth. The idea that 100% Board giving is a must seems quite out of touch with the reality of the world we live in.

    For a great breakdown of why this fundraising concept needs to be re-examined, take a look at Vu Le’s post from November 2020:

    I would guess that this expectation contributes to the lack of board diversity that is a big problem for land trusts in this country.

    If we can count volunteer hours as matching funds on our grant applications and reporting, why can we not count board volunteer time as “board giving”? I understand that nonprofits need funds to achieve their missions, but if an individual board member can’t afford to give cash, that isn’t going to break the organization.

    • David Allen
      Posted at 09:38h, 05 March

      I, in turn, had a reaction to Vu’s post back in 2020. He’s talking about organizations with staff, whose boards are full of “wealthy” people, and who are beholden to foundation funders asking about 100% participation.

      I don’t live in that world, and Le’s perspective is not one that I fully understand. But let’s play it out. If board members were no longer expected to give money to the organizations they support, my experience is that they would also be ineffective in raising money from others. That’s when I start having problems with it. Have you had a different experience?

      Again – I am so grateful for the comments!


      • katie
        Posted at 10:22h, 06 March

        David, I guess for me it speaks to what we as organizations value. There are plenty of ways to contribute to the work of an organization, and giving a financial donation is just one. Of course it is a critical one that any organization needs to exist! But we also need people to volunteer their time, advocate for our work, share their opinions and priorities, and introduce us to others in their community, for a few examples.

        Here is a hypothetical. Let’s say a land trust needs to connect with a younger demographic (which I would guess is true of most land trusts!). And let’s say there is a high school student in their community who is very involved with environmental causes and is a leader in their school and their community. And let’s say this high school student was very busy with extra-curricular activities, college applications, completing coursework, and various other things, but they were also very interested in serving on the land trust’s board. Would the land trust refuse them a seat because they student’s allowance didn’t give them room to donate cash to the organization? And if so, wouldn’t the land trust be missing out on a whole lot of opportunity to connect with an under-represented part of their community for the sake of a few dollars and an outdated idea that every board member has to make a financial contribution?

        This is of course a different example than the one you gave, but my point is that blanket statements about 100% board giving being the gold standard devalues the many other things that board members can bring to a land trust that aren’t cash.

  • Elizabeth
    Posted at 08:14h, 05 March

    With all due respect, your notion of what “most people” and “just about anyone with a heartbeat” can afford is rather insensitive and out of touch with current economic reality. The average person in the United States is struggling right now just to pay for housing and food, so those comments made me recoil.

    You make a very good point regarding the importance of Board members setting a good example by contributing to the nonprofit with their resources. However, it’s worth considering that expecting a board to have 100% participation in giving may unintentionally exclude and isolate potential members who are probably already marginalized. This could result in a board that doesn’t truly reflect the community it is meant to serve.

    • David Allen
      Posted at 09:22h, 05 March


      Good points, and I appreciate your comments. I am on my own journey, and I do not intend to be insensitive.

      Allow me to rephrase for clarity. I’m seeing BOARD MEMBERS not giving anything at all to the organizations they are leading and then looking to me to help them raise money. “I can’t” implies that they don’t have the money. “I won’t” implies that they choose to prioritize other expenditures. Either way, if we’re going to ask Board members to help raise money, not leading by example – either because they can’t or because they decide they have other priorities, and especially deciding to not give anything AT ALL – is a handicap.

      I don’t know what to make of “the average person … struggling just to pay for housing and food.” In 2021, the percentage of American adults reporting hardship paying basic expenses after two years of pandemic was 34%. Perhaps that number has increased since 2021 (and I am, in fact, out of touch), but that’s not intuitive to me. What is true and continues to be an issue is that most American families are living paycheck to paycheck and weekly budget to weekly budget. That’s different while still important. Some of those families have six-figure incomes. Meanwhile, 97% of American adults have cell phones, 90% have smart phones ($1,300/year). 72% have unlimited data, and 60% use mobile hotspots for internet service.

      Again – I want to keep coming back to the point, which is about land trust boards. I’m NOT saying that everyone on the Board should give $250. I’m saying that $100 used to be a large number. I’m saying that now $20 per month is NOT a large number – that it’s not “out of reach” for almost anyone wanting to badly enough. (So, it’s not an unfair request.) And I’m saying that showing up at all is important.

      Thank you so much for your comment. I am grateful for the push.

      -David Allen