Give and Get, vital to the board promise for any theatre’s board of directors

I’ve been having a lot of conversations lately about the role of a board member within a theatre company’s board of directors and how the Board Promise successfully (or not) communicates that role.  In case you couldn’t tell from the title of this post, I am a HUGE supporter of including a formal, specific dollar amount within the board promise as a “Give and Get.”

Most theatres refer to this a give or get, but I think the and is the most important part of the phrase.  It may help my budgeting and ease the cash flow to know that you, as a board member, will be writing a $3,000 check to cover your financial responsibility.  However, it is actually much more useful to the theatre in the long run to get your friends to buy tickets to the productions and become invested in our future; get your company to sponsor a show, buy a table sponsorship at an event, or feature the theatre on your intranet; get your book club, mom’s group, Rotary Club, Toastmaster’s club, or any other to host a group at a show and have a networking reception before or after.

I think the problem is clear and the solution is also a vote in favor of a formal Give and Get.  The aversion most boards and organizational leadership have to the concrete number lies in the confusion around it’s purpose.  They say the board members will be scared off.  A lot of the responsibility for this confusion lies with the staff and leadership of the organization.  We spend so much time focusing on the board’s role as fundraisers that we completely neglect their role as marketers.  (why do you think it is that so many boards have nominal marketing committees that never find their feet?  It is because we don’t teach the board to market the way we do to fundraise.)

Yes, we need the board promise to state that the financial contribution of each board member needs to be one of the top philanthropic donations for the year (I like top three).  But, we need to get better at communicating (and tracking) the work the board members can do regarding marketing.  We can’t turn people into donors without getting them invested in our work.  Whether or not a member of the board can write a large check, their main duty is to evangelize for the company.  I would rather have a member without deep pockets who spreads our mission far and wide than someone who writes a big check once a year and never tells a soul about our work.  Of course, it is nice to have well-resourced evangelists, too!

What are you doing with your board?

ADDENDUM:  Just read this great article Chicago Business (powered by Crain’s) on why executive choose to (0r not to) join a board.

4 thoughts on “Give and Get, vital to the board promise for any theatre’s board of directors

  1. Amy – You couldn’t have posted this on a better day for me. As secretary of the board of a local theatre, we are facing exactly this dilemma right now. And we had a board meeting tonight!

    I printed your blog and forwarded it to the executive committee, and when we got the meeting started tonight, we talked a little about the “AND” in Give and Get. Then, we went around the table to brainstorm, and receive updates on what each member of the Board was doing to promote the theatre.

    From that discussion, we received three checks; one fundraiser idea that can be implemented almost immediately; four ideas about potential grants; and 3 different ways to drum up show sponsors/ interest in the remaining two productions of the season.

    It was one of the most active meetings we have ever had, and I can promise you, I’ll be adding a monthly update to the agenda.

  2. I don’t know how I missed this in April, Amy, but I did. I really like your grasp of the issue, of the need to market as a means to fundraise. I further love Sarah’s idea about sharing this post with the Board, and brainstorming ways to move towards concrete results.

    At the CTaC event in Chicago this past weekend, a lot of artistic and managing directors were very uncomfortable with the whole subject of Boards: cultivating new members, asking existing members for a give / get, and the notion of teaching the Board how they can help. I was trying to advance the idea that part of the reason they have agreed to be on the Board (in addition to whatever social, networking, opportunity it may present) is because the mission resonates on some level and they are looking to contribute, but that they may not always know how. And many Board members at theatres with which I am familiar are timid about asking for money, so positioning it this way for folks like that might be very helpful, and put them in a stronger position to evangelize.

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