Getting Your Board on Board Part Two: Give and Get

When was the last time a member of your Board of Trustees enthusiastically offered to help with the fundraising of the organisation? When did they ask to review a leaflet before it went to print, let alone take an active role in an ask meeting?

Too often Trustees are nervous of getting involved with fundraising and this can be for a range of reasons; from the fear that their knowledge and experience is too limited, to reluctance to get involved with money, to feeling uncomfortable with the business of philanthropy – especially as an arts organisation, which they may not even see as charitable. Yet unbeknownst to many, the legal responsibilities of Trustees, as defined by the Charity Commission have developed considerably in recent years and now require an active participation in fundraising. Recent guidance outlines the role as follows:

‘Trustees must ensure that they have proper control of funds where people are raising money on their behalf or where they employ a professional fundraiser. They must ensure that funds are spent (or earmarked) for the purposes for which they were raised… In addition to these legal requirements, trustees should always:

–     be aware of good fundraising practices, such as the Institute of Fundraising’s Codes of Fundraising Practice;

–     insist on approving both the fundraising methods and any appeal literature that will be used on their behalf;

–     think carefully about the wording that explains the purpose of any fundraising appeal. Where an appeal has a specific purpose (such as to purchase a particular piece of equipment), it is helpful to specify how the funds can be applied if the main purpose of the appeal fails or if there are any surplus funds left over (for example, the general purposes of the charity);

–     be prepared to be open and honest about the costs of such an appeal if asked; and

–     explain in their Annual Report the effectiveness of fundraising

The Charity Commission, The Essential Trustee

It would be easy to criticize this all too common lack of engagement, but we must remember that it is the duty of the senior staff to ensure that Trustees have the information that they require to ensure good governance, so it may in fact be more appropriate to ask whether we aren’t at times complicit in this problem? Are we consistently creating positive opportunities for Trustees to be involved and supporting them in doing so?  More importantly, how can we break this cycle and benefit everyone and the organization by enhancing fundraising?

The first step must always be one of creating opportunities for Trustees to share their concerns about fundraising.  At this point I will assume that you will have read Part One of this two-part guide to Board engagement, Towards a New Definition of Charity – Getting Your Board on Board. Sessions on what it means to be a charity will often quite naturally lead into questions of the role of Trustees in fundraising, but even if you have been through this process, it is essential that you ensure there is enough time for Trustees to explore their personal concerns. These sessions should already have addressed any issues about not being ‘a real charity’, but this is very likely to leave a wider apprehension about not having the skills to carry out the fundraising process well.

Years of working with Trustees and other senior volunteers have helped me to identify a range of concerns regarding active involvement in the fundraising process, but the overriding issue generally boils down to not understanding the value of the exchange which takes place in the philanthropic process. ‘The joy of giving’ has become popular as a way of explaining that charitable fundraising, done properly, isn’t begging; it’s a process of mutual exchange of value. I don’t believe in altruism, only philanthropy, and consider the role of the fundraiser to be to understand what the potential donor is looking for, the ‘reason to give’ and to help them to achieve that by supporting the charity.

There are a range of ways of helping your Trustees to understand this and your approach should be informed by the personality and style of the group. Having already gone through a session in which you have successfully established the idea of the organisation as a charity, you may want to explore which charities they currently support, why and what it means to them to do so. Then you can move on to exploring what motivates them to support the organisation for which they hold legal responsibility and what they would feel might compel others to do so. There may of course be two aims in mind here; getting the Board actively engaged in the fundraising process and if you haven’t already established Board giving through the process outlined in Part One, helping them to understand that they are not only likely to be much more successful if they have themselves supported the charity, but to see that their support is a critical manifestation of their commitment to the cause, which will in turn inspire others.

Having given sufficient space to philosophical concerns, you will want to turn to the skills needed to become actively involved in fundraising. Again, you will need to think about the personality and style of the group and what will suit them best in this regard. Some people find a briefing note adequate; others like to practise the likely scenario in detail through role-playing. What is essential is that the theory is turned into a practical reality by looking at a real prospect, a real project and an actual scenario and their role within it. As with all problems; breaking it down into small steps makes it much more manageable.

One trick can be to start the active involvement of Trustees in the fundraising process with a Board member who needs a little reassurance and to put them into a scenario where you are confident that the meeting will result in a gift. Success brings confidence and if a Board member who was feeling less assured is successful, others are more likely to take the risk of getting involved.  

Take your time and help all those who are likely to get actively involved in fundraising to build their skills and confidence over a number of months.  With some Trustees I have found that they’ve appreciated a briefing note that literally maps out a likely conversation line by line. Knowing how a meeting is likely to go has helped them to understand the shape of a meeting, how much to expect from it and how to manage any difficult situations. This kind of approach doesn’t suit everyone and as Trustees develop skills and confidence you will find you need this kind of detail less and less. And of course, no matter what you do not only will not everyone want to get involved, there will always be individuals you’d be more keen to get involved than others.

It’s also important to know the limits of what people can manage. One senior advocate I worked with would attend meetings and act as a wonderful host, but every now and then just couldn’t quite manage actually asking for funds and would stop after “we’d like to ask if you would consider…” at which point I would jump in and complete the sentence. It wasn’t ideal, but his support was far more valuable than my meeting the prospect alone.

How fundraising is portrayed at the Board meeting is of course also critical to maintaining momentum and engagement. If the Trustees feel that they own a particular success they are much more likely to offer to be involved in a future approach, so celebrating successes at meetings is important. Equally important is space to review and discuss strategy, materials and campaign management. In short, guiding Trustees through the different elements of their responsibilities in a positive and vibrant way will support their continued ownership of the process. Fundraising is now formally a responsibility of the Board, so it should always be on the agenda.

Caroline McCormick  |  April 2015