On 7th June over 50 fundraisers, Trustees and CEOs will be at GetRaising!, talking about why more professional fundraisers don’t sit on Trustee boards, the impact this is having on the sector and what we can do about it.
So, in the spirit of stoking the discussion, I’ve been reflecting on my own journey from fundraiser to trustee and wondering if part of the problem is a lack of appreciation of the high functioning fundraiser’s broader skill set.
As a corporate fundraiser in a large national charity, I remember being told that I would be judged by the amount of time my desk was empty. Face time with donors, spent building relationships and closing deals, was prized above all else. My focus was on building strategic partnerships with corporates, which were about more than money and required me to bring the donor into the heart of the cause to give their money, skills, time, knowledge, expertise and influence. And, more often than not, what took up most of my time and energy was getting the charity to articulate what it really wanted to raise money for (beyond ‘meeting our fundraising targets’) and selling what my supporters could give back into the organisation.
The real skill was in negotiating donors’ wishes with beneficiaries’ needs and organisational mission, purpose and objectives, and this required as much attention to the internal relationships as the external ones.
Is anybody listening?
To be effective, a high value fundraiser has to acquire a working knowledge of every aspect of the charity’s business. They also have to ask difficult questions and overcome internal challenges to securing or accepting the gift. Seeking clarity on strategic direction from senior managers and trustees where it doesn’t exist – because a multimillionaire entrepreneur will sure as anything expect this. Having heated debates about ethics – because you’re facing last minute objections to accepting a gift owing to colleagues’ personal objections to the sector or company. Working out how to make sure your donations are accounted for correctly – because your systems aren’t set up to designate or restrict income in the way you need to, or recognise the value of non-financial gifts.
Don’t these sound like the kind of things boards should be interested in? Strategic clarity? Policy on accepting or refusing donations? Accounting correctly for donations?
So I wanted to join a board, not just to bring my fundraising experience but to employ my broader skills and experience in a way that I couldn’t always do from the other side of the table.
It’s all about respect
The Institute of Fundraising, along with the partners in GetRaising!, have conducted a survey which shows that nearly 90% of fundraisers thought that one of the benefits of being a trustee was to develop skills and experience which could help them progress in their career. I wonder, if we flipped that on its head, we’d find that many also want their existing skills and experience to be used and appreciated more fully?
I became a trustee of the PSHE Association, where I’ve had the privilege of working with a group of trustees who respect each other’s specialisms whilst giving each other permission to draw on their wider experience to make proposals or bring challenges in any area.
Changing the guard
That said, there is still a lot of benefit that is specific to us wearing our fundraising hats. I asked Simon Callaghan from Peridot Partners to help me get the conversation started, and here’s what he had to say.
“As statutory cuts began to bite we noticed more charities recruiting for people to grow high value giving, often with an unrealistic perception of the time and investment it takes to build, for example a successful major donor programme. We encourage our candidates to challenge this and establish whether the board of a potential employer has a good understanding of high value fundraising – especially the time it takes to build a major donor program. If the board expectation has already been created or is wildly out, this can be really hard to reverse and risks setting them up to fail.
Historically, fundraisers have tended to be overlooked for CEO roles but now we’re seeing much more requirement for income generation skills within the CEO role, and more demand for people who can drive a culture of fundraising across the organisation. We need to make sure this is mirrored at Board level so that this new generation of CEOs are supported by a board who really understand what’s involved – strategically, operationally and culturally – in achieving the numbers.”
I can certainly relate to this. I’ve been in an awful lot of situations where boards, envious of other charities’ fundraising successes, have demanded to know why they can’t emulate them. I’ve heard their Fundraising Directors having to explain the level of investment, commitment and cultural change (and sometimes pure good luck) that would be needed to get there. And seen the penny drop and a new kind of appreciation emerge.
Step up and get involved
So as a fundraiser and Chair – I’m calling on you to step up and create the kind of culture and conditions at board level that will enable our colleagues to succeed and thrive. I’m really looking forward to seeing friends old and new at GetRaising! next week to share experiences and explore how we can encourage more professional fundraisers to join boards, and more boards to actively seek and value them. We have a handful of places left – so grab one now before they’re gone and let’s make this happen.
Carol Beaumont is a Director of The Social Change Agency and Chair of the PSHE Association, and spent 7 years on the fundraising frontline with charities big and small.
GetRaising! is a collaborative event on fundraising and governance between Peridot Partners, The Social Change Agency, The Institute of Fundraising and Hubbub. If you would like some more information about it, please email firstname.lastname@example.org
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