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How can charity Trustees enable fundraising effectiveness?

A common complaint I hear from fundraisers is the lack of support from their Boards for fundraising, often combined with an assertion that Trustees do not understand what fundraising involves and do not even donate to their own charities. British Fundraisers will point to the US, where Trustees are expected to give (often generously) as a prerequisite for their involvement, as well as networking effectively on behalf of the charity to secure further gifts.

So what is the role of Trustees when it comes to effective fundraising in the UK? Firstly, there is an opportunity to lead by example, by supporting the cause financially. If not, what authority can Trustees have when asking others to donate? For me, the old excuse of "I give my time" does not cut it. Trustees need to give both. There is still some way to go, however, before this becomes the norm here. I once learned this to my cost when I challenged the Trustees of a client charity about their (lack of) giving. We lost the client as a result. So what is the way around this? One approach is to win over a Board level advocate to challenge other Board members to give. I have seen this done so I know it can work.

Secondly, it is a Trustee responsibility to oversee fundraising and to make sure it is carried out in legal, honest and acceptable ways for their organisation. For most Boards, however, this does not feature large in their considerations, except when a problem arises, when they then react to circumstances (which might have been prevented if they had taken a closer interest in the first place). An effective Board has a good understanding of fundraising and is able to monitor progress and hold fundraisers to account, rather than just reacting when things go wrong. By taking an interest in fundraising techniques and such things as returns on investment, Boards are then in a better position to understand results and to approve budgets with real insight. The reason why so many charities still do not invest in legacy fundraising, for example, is testimony to how rare this approach still is. So how can we engage Boards better? One way is to ensure they get regular fundraising reports, which are more than just financial results, but give a proper narrative of current activity. Presentations to the Board by fundraising staff are also a valuable way to inform and engage them with fundraising activities. If done well, the fundraisers' passion and can ignite enthusiasm in the Board, but such communications need to be sustained, or the impact may be short lived.

Thirdly, Trustees can be useful in helping the charity to network and to ask for money. Indeed, the theory of major gift fundraising places great emphasis on Trustees making approaches to solicit funds on a peer to peer basis. Far more often though, from what I see, solicitation is still left to the fundraisers in many organisations, as Trustees are unwilling to ask or simply don't know how to go about it. In such circumstances, some training may be helpful in asking for money. This builds confidence and removes the mystique. It is available in the UK and usually goes down well with Truestees that undertake it.

Fourthly - and this is often neglected - Trustees have a valuable role in supporting and encouraging the fundraising team in their work. We all know fundraising is tough, so some personal encouragement can go a long way, even if this just means regular chats away from Board meetings to discuss the work and act as a sounding board. This also encourages Trustees to own an organisation's approach to fundraising and to become a part of it, rather than just watching (or criticising) from the side lines. As a result, they are more likely to be active champions for the organisation when they are out in the wider world. If fundraisers are allowed (astonishingly, in some charities, direct contact with the Board is sometimes not even permitted), it will help their cause greatly to get to know relevant Board members by meeting them for coffee or over lunch to talk about their work and share the latest successes and challenges. Building relationships and rapport between Board and fundraising staff, especially in smaller charities, can go a long way towards motivating and encouraging both parties.

In summary then, a Board that effectively supports an organisation to fundraise is one that realises that Trustees, fundraisers (as well as senior staff) all have an important contribution to make. In such organisations, fundraising is not simply a delegated task but is one for the whole organisation.

Clearly, here in the UK we are some way off the position of many US Boards when it comes to fundraising. While not all US practices will be culturally appropriate to the UK, the feedback I get from fundraisers here tells me that the contribution of Trustees is still an issue we do need to focus on more if our charities are to reach their true fundraising potential.

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