A win-win-win? Having fundraisers on your Trustee board benefits your organisation, the fundraiser, and the charity sector
Recent controversies in charity fundraising, teamed with the rapidly changing technological landscape (the so called Fourth Industrial Revolution), make the role of a charity Trustee increasingly multi-faceted.
The overall composition of the Trustee board’s skills and experience should reflect this breadth and complexity; getting this right is vital for the overall success of the Board.
Common to all Trustees must be a comprehensive understanding of the legal responsibilities the role entails, the capacity and appetite to make sufficient time to deliver on these responsibilities, and a fundamental believe in the Theory of Change and subsequent portfolio of programmes that the organisation pursues.
Trustees must also bring “something else” to the table. Be that specialist skills such as the accountancy experience required of the Treasurer and the legal skill set no Board should be without, or more generalist skills such as those acquired after a long career in Project Management.
So, where does the fundraising specialist fit into this?
Few senior management teams would convincingly argue against fundraising being one of the cornerstones of their organisation, and it makes sense that the Trustee board reflects this. The importance of having fundraisers on Trustee Boards is well known and increasingly practised across the UK charity sector. Yet a recent Social Change Agency study, supported by the Institute of Fundraising, found that whilst 88% of fundraisers agreed that being a Trustee adds useful skills and experience to their resume, 60% felt that they didn’t have enough knowledge of the requirements of the role and how Boards work, leading to an under-supply of fundraisers.
On the demand side, charities have been criticised for not sufficiently promoting fundraising specialist roles, and not being clear enough about what is expected from the position. In economic terms, this is creating a disequilibrium with under-supply and under-demand meaning that the charity sector as a whole is losing out.
Why it matters
Organisations benefit from having fundraising specialists on their board. Fundraisers bring insight that informs fundraising strategy and they have an intimate knowledge of risk. In addition to their expertise, their existence also sends the right message to the fundraising team that their work is valued and represented at the highest level of the organisation.
From the fundraiser's perspective, there are a number of personal benefits such as increased governance experience and the satisfaction that comes from volunteering for an organisation in a way that really makes full use of your skills and experience.
And there is a third, less obvious winner. Organisations employing individuals that are also Trustees of other organisations also benefit. Their fundraisers will be more able to understand the needs of their own Trustees, and able to empathise with their attitude to risk in a way that is impossible if you don’t have personal experience shouldering the legal weight of an organisation.
Some pitfalls to watch out for:
1. Just because there is a fundraising specialist on the board, it does not mean that they are responsible for the organisation achieving its financial targets. When you're heavily invested in an organisation, it's easy for the fundraising specialist to feel undue responsible. They shouldn’t. It is not their role to develop strategy and it certainly isn't their role to implement that strategy. It is their role to share insight and help inform the thinking that goes into the strategy, and ensure the whole board is satisfied with the compliance procedures.
2. Avoiding a full and frank conversation about conflict of interest. Fundraisers have networks and personal knowledge that could help the organisation they are a trustee of, but sharing that information conflicts their position at their own organisation. The fundraiser should never over-promise the extent to which they can open up their networks. If an organisation wants a “little black book”, they should hire a wealthy and well-connected individual, not a fundraiser.
3. Fundraising specialists on the board becoming too close to the fundraising team. It’s important that the fundraising specialist provides support, whether informal or formal mentorship or chairing a fundraising sub-committee, but they should never become so involved they are unable to provide critical feedback and challenge.
Hannah-Polly Williams, Senior Manager – Philanthropy, Oxfam & a Trustee of Samaritans (Central London Branch)
Hannah-Polly spoke the IoF Trustees and Fundraising conference on 10th October - download our latest practical guide 'Trustees and Fundraising' and access a range of resources below.