Far from one size fits all: Governance of fundraising in large and small charities

Trustees and Fundraising handbook

Guest Bloggers | 25 October 2016

I am proud to serve as a Trustee in two organisations – Oxfam GB, one the UK's largest and best known charities, and Galapagos Conservation Trust (GCT), a significantly smaller charity with a very specific focus.

Whilst on the face of it I play the same role in both charities – directing governance, providing strategic oversight of the charities’ operations and supporting the CEO and Executive Team – in reality, the needs of the two charities are very different.

The most significant difference is not in relation to formal governance; the Boards of both Oxfam and GCT meet quarterly and sub-committees focusing in more detail on specific aspects of the organisations’ work meet ahead of and feed into these full Board meetings. The difference is in relation to the level of informal support Trustees offer to the charities between these meetings and in addition to their formal role.

Whereas Oxfam has a large staff body with teams of experts across all specialisms, GCT has a total staff of six. Trustees of GCT inevitably work more closely with these staff, coaching and supporting them to deliver their roles more effectively. Fellow Trustees have helped with the drafting of appeal letters, analysed and segmented the database and even created promotional films for GCT. This professional volunteering is not a formal part of a Trustee role but is common across many smaller charities and is a fantastic way to engage with the work of a cause you have governance responsibility for, as well as to provide pro bono support to the work of small but dedicated teams.

In previous Board roles, I have also played an active role as a volunteer, including writing and submitting fundraising bids for a tiny charity that had no fundraising staff or experience. Many small charities will look for Trustees with fundraising skills to take a more hands on role and I have found that the mentoring role I have played with some members of the team at GCT has been one of my most rewarding volunteer experiences.

In a larger charity like Oxfam, there is also engagement outside of Board and Committee meetings but this is more formal and less ‘hands on’ with the work of the teams. I meet regularly with the Director of Fundraising but less as a coach than as a peer who can be a ‘critical friend’ or offer a second opinion on strategic level decisions. This is obviously appropriate in a charity where the boundary between governance and executive responsibilities can be, and is, more distinct.

Another critical difference is the role I play in relation to fundraising governance. In both charities I am the lead Trustee for Fundraising and have chaired their Fundraising Committees. In both organisations it is my role to ensure that all Trustees are aware of and upholding their responsibilities in relation to the governance of fundraising. The difference is in what this role looks like. Oxfam is one of the largest fundraising charities in the UK - staff from the legal and fundraising teams keep up to date with and ensure that Oxfam remains compliant with not just legislation but best practice. The remit of the Committee I chair includes keeping oversight of this internal monitoring with a view to ensuring that all fundraising at Oxfam exceeds best practice and is in line with our values.

Within a smaller charity, this internal resource is unlikely to exist. This places greater responsibility on Trustees. At GCT I have briefed the Board on changes to regulation, such as the recent changes to CC20, and have led discussions with staff about what implications these will have for our fundraising. I brief them rather than vice versa.

Both roles are equally vital and each meets the needs of the organisation I serve, but the difference does illustrate that one size does not fit all when it comes to governance.


Ruth Ruderham, Director of Development at Prince's Trust International, Trustee of Oxfam GB and Galapagos Conservation Trust


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