Do your bit for your charity’s financial sustainability
Originally published: December 2017
As a trustee, you have a legal responsibility to ensure your charity is generating income in a sustainable and compliant way. But boards can — and arguably should — do much more than this. You can also support efforts to bring in more income, and not only by asking others for money.
Here are six ways boards can better support fundraising:
1. Promote a strong fundraising culture
Brits tend to be “iffy about asking for money,” says Ian McLintock, a consultant with 40 years’ experience in the voluntary sector, and the organisational culture in many charities reflects this. Changing that culture takes time, but the board has a responsibility to make sure everyone understands why fundraising is important, he says, and “to keep it high on the agenda.”
Some practical ways boards can do this include:
- Making fundraising an agenda item at every board meeting
- Creating a sub-committee to focus on income generation (to go into depth on various issues, not absolve the rest of the board of responsibility)
- Attending or helping out at fundraising events — getting stuck in alongside volunteers sends a strong signal of support to the team, and trustees willing to network (especially if you have some status in the community) can be an added draw for guests
- Ensuring that fundraising activities are properly resourced in terms of staff, volunteers and budgets
- Encouraging all staff, not just fundraising teams, to play their part. For example, frontline staff might say it’s not their job, but they can be encouraged to spread the word about a fundraising campaign among friends. Active trustees can set an example
- Promoting any fundraising campaigns and spreading the word about the charity on key dates (like Giving Tuesday, Local Charities Day or Small Charity Week) on social media
2. Make a donation
The culture among UK boards is still very different to the American norm, where board members are typically expected to “give, get or get off.” If you are in a position to give, there are several options for donating in tax-efficient ways, from writing a cheque once a year, to leaving a legacy in your will, to donating land, property or shares. You might consider an annual combined gift from the board — a donation made up of contributions from individual trustees. If you don’t have cash to spare, you can still help financially by taking on a personal fundraising challenge yourself, or even through microgiving options for example those that make a small donation each time you make a purchase.
3. Ensure a mixed income
Trustees need to understand where their charity might draw income from, says Janine Edwards, a trainer and head of business development at the Foundation for Social Improvement (FSI). Only after considering the options can the board agree on where to invest funds to secure more income, which also means ensuring a balance between different sources of income and different levels of risk and reward. Charities Aid Foundation suggests three great ways to diversify income: corporate partnerships, online community-building and social enterprise, but there are other options too depending on your organisation.
4. Involve your company and/or colleagues
If you work for a company you might be able to draw on their support, for example:
- Propose your organisation as the company’s chosen charity for a year
- Suggest employee fundraisers in aid of the charity
- Facilitate non-cash donations from the company, such as office equipment or furniture, or use of their venue for events
- Display marketing materials from your charity in your office canteen or kitchen
- Organise an employee visit to the charity (if appropriate)
5. Tap into your own network
If you’re well-connected, one of the most helpful things you can do is open your address book. Your task can be as simple as an introduction email to a high net worth individual or someone inside a corporate donor or foundation, or perhaps facilitating a first meeting or visit. If you know any journalists, you might be able to help secure media coverage for your organisation; friends who are lawyers, accountants or other professional experts could provide pro bono support. Longer term, maintaining and building important relationships with potential donors or supporters — by sending a personal email now and then to update them on the charity’s news, or occasionally meeting up — can be valuable for charity staff who may not have the time to do this.
6. Consider the long view
Working closely with the staff team's head of fundraising, trustees need to consider the long-term fundraising needs of the charity, not just plans for the year ahead. What changes are on the horizon that could impact your charity’s income, and what do you need to start investing in now? For example, says Edwards, a legacy giving programme will take upwards of five years to generate a return. A major donor or corporate programme, if starting from a standstill, will need 18 months to bear fruit.
For more on the legal responsibilities of trustees be sure to check Charity Commission's guidance CC20 (for England/Wales; charities in Northern Ireland and Scotland should refer to their regulators), or for a video overview of those responsibilities, the FSI's Essential Trustee series. The FSI also runs heavily subsidised ‘Trustee Role in Fundraising’ workshops for small charity trustees and CEOs across the UK.