Make the most of your board as a resource for generating income
Originally published: December 2017
With financial sustainability the biggest challenge facing charities today, most of us need all the help we can get.
But though 86 percent of small charities believe their board should play an active role in fundraising, just half say theirs is currently doing so, according to the Foundation for Social Improvement’s (FSI) Skills Survey 2016-17.
Why the gap? Trustees may be unclear about what's expected of them when they join a board. They might feel that fundraising isn’t their job, lack experience in this area, or believe they’re doing enough by offering their time and expertise for free. On the other hand, sometimes staff don’t request the help that trustees would be all too willing to give.
Asking board members to do more can be delicate. But as Carlos Miranda, chief executive of consultancy firm IG Advisors, has argued, it’s increasingly irrelevant to consider fundraising as outside the board’s remit. After all, “without fundraising, there would be no organisation.” That doesn’t mean that all trustees must ask others for money or dig into their own pockets. “It’s about doing what you can in the way that you can…everyone can do something,” says Ian McLintock, a consultant with 40 years’ experience in the voluntary sector.
So how can staff encourage a hands-off board to get more involved?
Inform them. “A starting point is spelling out clearly to trustees that fundraising is a fundamental part of the role,” says McLintock. Organise an introductory session to ensure all trustees know their responsibilities: the Institute of Fundraising (IoF) has some useful resources including a template presentation and a fundraising handbook, while the FSI runs heavily subsidised fundraising and governance courses across the UK including 'A Trustee’s Role in Fundraising'.
Find an ally. Miranda suggests speaking first to individual trustees who are already keen to do more; get them involved in fundraising in some way before speaking to the whole board. “If someone among their ranks can speak positively about his or her experience, it’s more likely that others will follow suit,” he writes.
Seek their input and be honest about challenges. Staff might be tempted to downplay financial issues and avoid tricky questions about income, but that can be counterproductive. Involve trustees in key fundraising decisions and they’re more likely to be understanding of your work. As IoF guidance puts it: “The more [trustees] understand about what you’re doing and why, the more help and guidance they can give, as well as fulfilling their risk management duties.”
Report fully. An effective board monitors progress against the fundraising plan and holds staff to account, rather than just reacting to crises, says Janine Edwards, a trainer and head of business development at the FSI. To allow effective oversight by trustees, make sure your reports explain any variances as well as considering the pipeline. For example, share details of the number of applications made to trusts and foundations, or major donor prospects engaged. Simply reporting on actual income is "a blunt tool," says Edwards.
Be more specific in requesting help. If you’re running an event, ask each trustee to help with something specific to their area of interest or expertise: working the room, making a welcome speech, inviting potential donors, or speaking about complex policy issues. Similarly, if looking for introductions to funders, be targeted: research potential organisations first and then give your shortlist to the board to go through and check for existing contacts or routes in.
Be clear about expectations. Make sure when advertising and recruiting for any new trustees — or when updating existing job descriptions for current trustees — that their role in supporting fundraising is clear.
Recruit fundraising expertise to the board. Consider recruiting your next trustee with fundraising in mind. Someone who has been in that role as a staff member will be well placed to support you as a trustee.
Inform them about donation options. Not everyone is in a position to give money, particularly if you have beneficiaries on your board. But you can still inform them when appropriate about the many options to donate.