NonProfit Spotlight | Leadership in charitable corporations

In every industry there are watchdogs, trade associations, and usually also local peer groups we can interact with and learn from. The Community Foundation of Western Nevada serves many of those roles for charitable corporations in our region. Although we have much in common because we are all qualified charitable nonprofits, each of us is different from each other because our products are our mission, and each charity has a unique mission to achieve. It is that mission that is usually what separates most charities from each other when being considered for support.

How does your company go about deciding which charities to support, knowing that your choices, and the social investment you make, could have a range of impact in the community, as well as a range of impact on your employees, shareholders, and customers. It may be a charity’s mission, but a different and important way to find a worthy charity to support is to look at the leadership. Just as with for-profit companies, the success of charitable corporations depends on great leadership at the top. The difference is that in a charitable corporation, the board leadership should have keen focus on governance, and resources. If the board is effective in these two areas, then it is likely the organization is very effective in achieving their mission.

There are a number of resources in the community that help develop skills of board members, and which also help connect business leaders to charities, such as Chamber’s Leadership Reno-Sparks Program, the University of Nevada Excellence in Nonprofit Management Institute, and the Alliance for Nevada Nonprofits Board Leadership Development workshop. People volunteer for board service for a number of reasons, but in order to be effective it takes more than training… it takes commitment and strong belief in the mission of the organization.

When I was a senior director at the South Pasadena-San Marino YMCA in 1985 I had my first experience where my commitment was tested by being asked to make a gift that was very significant for me at the time. The executive director, Alan Hostrup (who is now the CEO of the YMCA of Metro Los Angeles) explained to me that we can’t be effective in securing support for the “Y” unless we have made our own commitments. I gave $100 and he sent me the most gracious personal thank you for that gift. I was making very little at that time and saving to get married. I didn’t have any extra money to give. But I learned a most important lesson. I learned that I could give, and my commitment to the YMCA deepened that day. Essentially, my brain was rewired and I experienced changes we all undergo when we make true commitment by giving our most precious earned dollars.

In my experiences with charitable corporations in Reno it was clear that it was rare that all of the board members gave, and this was true even at our own Community Foundation. In 2008 the Community Foundation established “The 100 Percent Club”. Our Foundation Program Committee and members of our board were key to developing this program, which encourages board members to make a personal financial contribution annually and recognizes those organizations where 100 percent of their board members make such a gift.

There is a direct link between the board members commitment, as evidenced by their personal giving, to a charity’s ability to raise funds. Board members are the primary ambassadors for a charity and do much of the fundraising. A board member who does not believe in giving or is unwilling to commit a gift in advance of asking others to give is not in a strong enough position to make the ask. It has been proven that the mere power of gift making by a board member will move them to ask others to give. Their gift reflects their commitment. It states forthrightly, “I believe. I can affirm the values of this organization. And because I believe, I have made my own gift and I am asking you to join with me in support of this most important work.”

Many board members ask how much to give, and some charities have a minimum gift for board members or suggest a gift size based on a board average for giving. But I think the best test is for each board member to ask themselves, “Is this gift a true expression of my commitment to this cause? Is this the kind of gift that would be considered generous by a peer?”

In the first year of The 100 Percent Club 13 local charities qualified, with their combined 234 board members making personal gifts totaling $649,096. Last year that number grew to 100 charities with 1,237 board members giving $3.4 million. As with me back in 1985, their brains have been rewired and they have not just provided more support, but have become better stewards of the contributions they receive. They have a personal investment and “stake” in their charitable corporation.

I encourage you to check with your favorite to see whether they are members of The 100 Percent Club. I guarantee you that if they are on the list, their board is providing the highest level of stewardship as evidenced by their personal commitment. As so eloquently stated by Henry A. Rosso, a giant who helped charities develop their ability to raise needed funds, “A contribution in the form of time, talent, and energy in the performance of board duties is not sufficient to accommodate the requirements of true stewardship.”

The Community Foundation of Western Nevada is working to ensure that our industry, the industry of helping others and bringing about positive impact to the region and to this, and future generations of residents, provides everyone an opportunity to have positive social investments that include both time and treasure. Whether you are interested in personal engagement, or the engagement of your company in meaningful philanthropy and community leadership, the Foundation can help. Learn more by contacting the Community Foundation. 775-333-5499, or

By Chris Askin is the president and CEO of Community Foundation of Western Nevada.


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