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  • Debra A. Gill

Triple A Board

Understanding the role of the board in philanthropy.


There is no greater way to give back than volunteering. Just by agreeing to serve on a not-for-profit board of directors, these volunteers are exceptional. And yet, too often, board members are not particularly clear about their role which can lead to a less than fulfilling experience.

This missive focuses on a board member’s role in philanthropy. While fiduciary oversight, compliance, executive management, and other duties are essential, these cannot overshadow the impact highly engaged leaders can have on the level of charitable support received. At the heart of the matter, it is philanthropy that will pave the way for an organization to thrive in fulfilling its mission and board members are essential to achieving this outcome.

So, what does it mean to be a Triple A Board? There are three critical aspects to this concept. Individual board members must master serving as an Ambassador, Advocate, and Asker. Not all at once, but in some capacity, each of these characteristics will set effective volunteers apart from others.

Enthusiastic Ambassadors are first and foremost positive spokespeople for the organization and its mission. Engaging as good listeners, these members hear and share feedback in appropriate ways to help inform decision making. In this role, ambassadors are helpful in identifying and recruiting essential volunteers and future board members with a shared passion for the organization’s mission.

Informed Advocates are proactive in learning about the organization, including the case for support, while understanding and being able to articulate the benefits to the community. Branding oneself as a knowledgeable and accessible member of the board is essential. Those excelling as advocates will have a heartfelt “elevator speech” on the ready for meaningful conversations with potential contributors.

Impassioned Askers are individuals who possess a strong commitment to engaging others in support of the mission. This does not necessarily mean that the volunteer will directly extend the invitation to give, a task that most commonly falls to professional staff, but rather “asking” for, getting, and participating in the meeting. Nothing is more powerful than the voice of a non-paid volunteer board member revealing their personal giving motivations, sharing their individual passions for the organization, and inviting peers, friends, and family to join them with a meaningful contribution.

Finally, a Triple A board member contributes. Not only of their time but monetarily, at a level that is personally significant to them. It is impossible to look someone in the eye while seeking their support without knowing that you too have made a stretch personal gift. Furthermore, the ability to share publicly that 100% of a board of directors has given in support of an organization is essential to engaging the broader community.

The key to success is establishing and communicating clear expectations. When agreeing to serve, seek clarity on your role. When recruiting board members, provide clarity on their role. And when the team approach to philanthropy results in successful donor conversations, it will be clear that Triple A performance wins every time.

Alliance Philanthropy’s philosophy is to inspire staff, volunteers, and board members for all types of not-for-profit organizations to raise funds enthusiastically and passionately - at maximum levels - in support of their missions.

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