What can trustee boards do to navigate the current fundraising landscape?
As a starting point, some context about trustees and the recent fundraising issues may be useful. Put simply, governance of charities is now under the spotlight. A series of failures by a handful of charities has given the sector a fairly bad reputation.
Not of all of these failure are related to fundraising, in isolation, but rather they are linked to how organisations are run and the accountability structures within them. There is no doubt that there has been an intense spotlight on trustees over the last 18 months.
So, what can boards do to navigate this landscape, which for many trustees is a new territory? Here are a few best practice tips that boards should consider.
Fundraising needs a board champion
Whilst always critical to the continuation of a charity, many do not have specific people on the board to lead the board on issues around fundraising. I advise two trustees - one who knows fundraising inside and out and one who knows nothing about it - that way staff can test ideas against two different types of stakeholders and use them to measure the board’s general temperature.
Use the committee function
Committees are a good way of allowing trustees to delve into the detail and also a good way of letting staff use trustees’ expertise to guide them in their decision making without affecting the general running of the board. You may also want to co-opt other experts onto your committees who, while they are not trustees, can guide the committee in producing top quality advice. Also, having people who have no issues or permanent attachment to the board can be a good sounding board. There is the added benefit that you may very well be able to use this pool of experts to recruit trustees from in the future – when you are ready and when they are ready.
Don't sacrifice full board briefings, though
The Charity Commission is clear that all board members are collectively responsible for the board's decision which affect the charity, and ultimately for the charity. As such, it is a good idea to ensure the board is briefed on fundraising at each meeting - to ensure that they have at least been exposed to what's going on in the charity and the wider sector. It's about, really, putting fundraising at the core of boards. Some of you may think that it already is, as most trustees are concerned about ensuring the numbers look good and income in going up. But this is more about focusing on fundraising techniques, ethics and regulation. It is not a completely wild idea to even show your trustees what fundraising looks like – show them around a call centre you’ve commissioned, show them the tone of your material, help them understand the rigorous processes you have in place to ensure fair and good quality fundraising. If you don’t have this rigour in place, then you really ought to be pulling your socks up and getting on with it – the sector cannot afford more bad examples hitting the press and we have a duty to protect our donors, service users and staff.
Update your risk register
Income is normally on most risk registers, but fundraising isn’t. Fundraising should be for the reasons outlined above.
Become a trustee
Fundraisers on boards are notoriously hard to come by. This is a general call to all fundraising professionals, no matter what ‘level’ you are at – join a board or at least explore the idea. There is no better way of helping the sector through these issues than being on the other side of the table. It will also make you understand why trustees can, in your day job view, be a (necessary) pain. Having that flip side experience is very enriching.
Leon Ward, Trustee at the sexual health charity, Brook
Follow him on Twitter: @Leonjward
Download the IoF Trustees and Fundraising practical guide and resources below: