This question was posted recently on one of my LinkedIn Groups.  It caught my eye because most of the responses were very black and white (i.e. a voting board member) (click to view the discussion). 

I felt compelled to provide a different answer.  “It depends”

Like human beings, no two NPOs are identical. Throw in Board Members, Volunteers and Key Staff and you’ver really got a unique animal.  In order to determine what is best for your organization, I recommend you review the following:

  • New Organization (or a new philanthropy program) – This organization is going to need some education about the difference between management and governance. With that said, the ED/CEO needs to be very hands-on along with the DoD/CDO. They need to provide a lot of guidance and best practice resources. It will do the operation well to bring in outside counsel – if for the only purpose – to validate the internal resources in the CEO and CDO as “experts”. The focus will be on understanding (1) what a culture of philanthropy is and (2) getting all board members to participate in some function (which is not necessarily and ask). At this stage, the staff will be doing most of the “work” (i.e. asking).  This is fine for this stage, but volunteers need to reminded that this stage has a ceiling as a capacity. The main objective is the build a level of trust between the volunteers and the staff. Allow the volunteers to believe that there is a body of knowledge that supports the philanthropy field and that philanthropy is a bona fide revenue stream that can be leveraged.


  • Growing Philanthropy Program – This organization is either ready to or needs to go to the next level. Volunteers will be intrumental in stewarding current donors and introducing potential donors. The staff (CEO, CDO) turn more into “logistics managers” for this phase. The Development Committee Chair is a Board Member…optimally, the Vice Chairperson. He/she leads by example and ensures that all board members have specific goals relating the the philanthropy program (give and get). At this stage, staff are splitting their time between making direct asks and supporting the volunteers. 


  • Mature Philanthropy Program – This organization has a strong culture of philanthropy. All committees (i.e. nominating, finance) factor in how philanthropy impacts their committee charters. Volunteers are recruited based on their comfort with philanthropy and willingness to participate. The staff spend most of their time supporting the volunteers (as they have the biggest impact) and less time actually “making the ask”. 

If you are building your Development Committee or evaluating it for better performance, ask yourself, where does your organization fall and plan accordingly. 


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