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Board Persuasion Guide for the Executive Director

Getting the Board of Directors to Support a Purchase

As an executive director, you have an expenditure you would just love to have. Even better, it’s Q4 and you have some budget surplus. The nonprofit needs the purchase, but your board may not be so convinced. How do you get your board on board? Accomplishing this boils down to two things—board roles and your influence regarding the purchase request.

To Ask or Not to Ask

For large expenditures, your nonprofit board likely needs to give their approval. The board should approve any significant financial decisions. Perhaps your expenditure is a new hire, or a salary increase for an existing employee. What if you want to purchase real estate? Maybe you need to make investments related to fundraising. Whatever the purchase is, you must request it from the board.

Legally speaking, an executive director can obtain purchase consent in two ways: board members can vote in a traditional board meeting, or board members can provide a written consent without a meeting. Either way, board member decisions are final and legally binding.

Holding a “real” meeting is the better option because it promotes in-person engagement and discussion. It gives you a chance to present your purchase request in the best light and to answer concerns first hand. If the expenditure requires board approval, it is probably important enough to warrant an in-person meeting in the first place.

executive director guide
However, there are times when you can’t pull everyone together for a meeting, so you can use the written consent procedure. The written document indicates the action you are asking the board members to take. This can be used for routine items that are likely to be non-controversial and therefore have little discussion. Often, it is helpful if the executive director has at least mentioned this purchase in prior meetings or conversations.

Related: Board Meeting Minutes, the Unsung Heroes

The Pitch

At the end of the day, the above is just the legal process. How do you influence the board to make the purchase? It’s a great idea to take a page out of the Boy Scouts’ book: Be prepared.

Put a presentation together. It has to have more than just a great template design. Of course you are excited about the purchase, but try to remove all emotion from your presentation. Be concise, and stick to the facts. It isn’t uncommon for an executive director to talk too long and confuse the decision unfavorably. Once you have made your case, turn over the floor to the board.

Your board will have four concerns: need, cost, benefit, and implementation. Try to consider the purchase from several different perspectives other than your own. When you do this, you’ll be more objective and it is much more likely that you will better see all the positives as well as the negatives.

Your Board’s Main Concerns

  • Need: You must effectively show the need for the purchase. What critical need does the purchase address? What pain point will it alleviate? Why can the issue not be solved with a less expensive half-measure?
  • Cost: Research the cost and all cost options. If applicable, create a short list of vendors that will meet your needs. Go ahead and get quotes from those vendors to include in the presentation. Make sure the quote is all-inclusive, ensuring things like implementation, training costs, and product upgrades are all factored in. Don’t forget to discuss return on investment!
  • Benefits: Show how the purchase benefits your current nonprofit initiatives or goals. When listing benefits, make sure they are quantifiable. Instead of saying “This is a great software”, say “this software will increase our productivity by 25 percent.” Show long-term value. This will raise your credibility as an executive director, too.
  • Implementation: If your purchase is software or IT infrastructure, consider technical factors like whether upgrades will be needed. Don’t forget to consider whether there are additional costs down the road, and if any supporting items need to be purchased to support your purchase request (for example, upgrading an operating system for a new software purchase.) Create an implementation plan for the purchase. Offer to schedule a software demo, done by the vendor, for the board.

Always Be Prepared

Do your homework and be prepared. Anticipate board questions ahead of time and go ahead and answer them in your presentation. Likewise, anticipate board objections and have a plan to address them. What will your board be most concerned about? Cost? Implementation? Something else? Make sure you’re prepared in this area. Keep in mind you may need to make multiple presentations, possibly to specialized sub-committees, in addition to the main board.

RELATED: Creating an Effective Nonprofit Board Committee

Being prepared in your presentation will go a long way toward gaining board approval and more often than not, is a major factor in getting the board’s purchase request approval. Of course, there are times when the board must deny their executive director a purchase request, but don’t let a shoddy presentation be the reason!

Good luck. We hope you get a “yes” instead of a “no!”


Want to know how your nonprofit board of directors and your staff can be more productive and efficient through the use of technology? With Boardable’s board software, you can centralize board information and communications, where everything (and everyone) is just a couple of clicks away. Click below to Start Free Now of Boardable.

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