The UK is the sixth most giving country in the world and has a proud charitable tradition, despite plenty of negative media coverage in recent years. This simply wouldn’t be possible without the work of trustees, who dedicate their time to making vital decisions about a charity’s work and strategy.
On average, trustees give almost five hours per week of their time – based on the median hourly wage, this is worth a staggering £3.5bn a year to the sector (source: Civil Society). However, in our experience, often only a small amount of this time is dedicated to supporting fundraising. Generally, the charities that we work with have few (if any) trustees with fundraising expertise or knowledge.
Smaller charities inevitably tend to have few paid staff, so it’s essential that their Boards bring expertise related to governance, financial management and their specific area of work (for instance, education or social care). As a result, fundraising can seem a lower priority – charities may never get around to looking for trustees with fundraising experience, lack the contacts to find the right people, or not have a vacant space on their Board.
Many trustees therefore feel they lack the knowledge and confidence to support fundraising – but with a bit of encouragement, there’s so much they could do.
Leading the way on a whole-organisation commitment to fundraising
Fundraising relies so much on contacts and having a captive audience. However, for obvious reasons, smaller charities rarely have the large supporter bases, volunteer networks and marketing budgets enjoyed by household name charities. As a result, they need as much help as possible from all the people already involved in their work.
Charities raise more money when all their staff and trustees recognise the value of fundraising and the importance of supporting it however they can. That doesn’t mean people need to put their hands in their own pockets, or feel under pressure to always help in the same way. There are so many small things that trustees and staff can do that help to make a huge difference:
- Introductions - fundraising staff will always appreciate it if you introduce the charity to your own personal and professional contacts. People who think they’re not well-connected always have more useful contacts that they imagine, and sometimes one introduction can be a game-changer.
- Sharing your charity’s events, campaigns and social media updates – it only takes a moment, but can greatly expand your organisation's reach.
- Volunteering at events – this provides a morale boost to the fundraising team and helps keep costs down.
- Being a sounding board – working for a smaller charity can be a lonely experience, so fundraising staff often appreciate a second opinion on a funding application, feedback on an event idea or just the opportunity to talk through a tricky problem.
- Providing fundraising-friendly information – donors don’t give to charities, they give to causes – and the best way to bring your cause to life is through stories and information from your frontline staff and other people who know the organisation well.
As well as leading by example and providing hands-on support, great trustees can also shape the entire working culture of a charity, creating an environment where fundraising – and fundraisers – are able to thrive. Here are five ways of doing this:
- Compliance – to win back declining public trust, the charity sector has created a new approach to self-regulation – we have a new regulator, a Fundraising Preference Service and clarified legal fundraising duties for trustees. Trustees must understand this regulatory environment and ensure that your fundraising activities meet all the requirements. This means establishing compliance as an important issues, and creating a transparent environment where people feel able to raise and discuss concerns if needed.
- Donor centricity – financial difficulties can sometimes lead to charities putting undue pressure on their donors or focusing on short-term return, so it’s important for trustees to emphasise the value of putting donors front and centre. Excellent fundraising means building relationships and starting conversations, involving supporters in your plans, and treating donors as people, not cash cows.
- Investment – we all know that you can’t raise money without spending it, but in a tough financial climate it can be tempting to cut corners. This can have a bigger negative impact on your staff than you realise. Trustees are ultimately responsible for guarding against this – that means ensuring there’s sufficient staff capacity and supporting resources for your fundraising plans, and investing in training and development opportunities for staff.
- Space to breathe – too many fundraisers gradually become fire-fighters, with too many commitments to be able to do everything properly. Having the time and space to review activities, reflect on progress and plan improvements is so important. Staff don’t always recognise when they need to take a step back, so it’s often up to trustees to help prevent burnout and encourage reflection.
- Risk and innovation – new fundraising activities don’t always work, but the risk of failure is often smaller than the risk of standing still. If your charity is afraid of failing, you'll be reluctant to try anything new – so trustees need to encourage the right amount of risk-taking, and accept some possibility of failure as the price to pay for progress and innovation.
Developing a whole-organisation commitment to fundraising, and creating the right culture for fundraising to thrive, is of course easier when you have fundraising expertise on your Board. However, in a tough financial climate, you can’t wait until tomorrow to start. While most trustees won’t be able to help with all of the above, we guarantee that every trustee can do something - and staff will appreciate it more than you may expect.