Who Should Foot the Bill for Board Meetings?

Dear Kim,

I am on the board of a small organization.  We are required to make a donation, which I am fine with, but we also pay for the meals we are served at board meetings and we pay all our own costs for the board retreat once a year. A good friend who is also a board member missed our retreat. I asked her why and she said she can’t afford it, but doesn’t want to say anything to the board chair because she is embarrassed.  Should I say something?  Or should I just pay for her?  She is a really good board member.

~Priced Out

Dear Out,

You have raised one of my pet peeves, which is that board members who show up for meetings and retreats are inadvertently punished for being good.  Those that don’t go, don’t pay.  Your organization (and thousands like it) has created a situation in which bad board behavior is rewarded and good behavior is punished.  Your friend should not have to say she can’t afford the retreat because the retreat should be an expense that the organization picks up.  Ditto for dinner at the board meeting.  I actually imagine that other board members lower their annual gift in order to afford all the other costs, or that some of them simply resent the cost whether they can afford it or not.

Ironically, on boards where meals and retreat costs are covered, the board members tend to give bigger annual gifts and generally the size of their gifts more than compensates for their cost.  In some ways, this is a simple matter of graciousness.  Board members are expected to govern, donate, raise money—assume large amounts of responsibility without compensation.  As a way of saying thank you, and as a way of showing respect, the organization should pay for a few slices of pizza or Chinese take out.  Meals do not have to be fancy and the retreat does not have to be at a spa.  But if an organization wants the best work from its board members, then it needs to treat them with the care and concern that most people would offer dear friends or beloved relatives. 

~Kim Klein

How do you handle this at your organization? Please share below!