Fundraising finally gets its own seat on the board

Boards are only now thinking they need appropriate expertise, so fundraisers must step up to the mark and volunteer, writes Stephen Pidgeon

Stephen Pidgeon
Stephen Pidgeon

In December's Third Sector I described my deep satisfaction with the fundraising task, getting kind donors so interested in the plight of others that they take pleasure in making donations to change their lives.

As a fundraiser, I also now sit on a charity's board of trustees - relatively unusual in the sector, until now. In the past three months I've been approached to sit on the boards of five different charities that are looking for fundraising input for the first time. If any good has come out of our challenging year, this change of heart is part of it.

Fundraising is the major - or sole - source of income for the vast majority of charities, so it is crazy that boards are only now thinking they need appropriate expertise. But it's happening, so we fundraisers have to step up to the mark and volunteer.

Sitting on the board of the international volunteering charity VSO is one of the most pleasing things I do; it's an enormous privilege. I get to hear of, and see in detail, the impact of volunteers from all over the world, taken out of their comfort zones and placed in communities overseas - working with them, living with them and earning the same money as local people. The impact of the volunteering process is astounding: skilled volunteers achieve things in communities that are way beyond the capabilities of experts flown in and earning fat salaries.

And I've learned about an impressive scheme for young people in the UK aged between 18 and 25. The International Citizen Service is run by VSO but funded by the government. I'd never even heard of it, despite having three children in that age range. More than 10,000 young volunteers have now travelled to 32 countries around the world, contributing to small schemes that are tackling poverty. Each one of them is matched by a local volunteer of the same age; they live and work with them for the three months of the project.

One volunteer might be working with children who've been abandoned or abused. Another might be helping to develop an HIV/Aids awareness campaign, while another is helping people access healthcare. Those are their tasks, but the truly exciting thing is what happens when they do them and what happens afterwards. The official bumf talks of a "cultural change" - something of an understatement for a process that completely transforms the lives of two influential young people working together: the volunteer from the UK and the local counterpart. And what a smart investment by the UK government.

An essential part of the ICS scheme is that in the six months after their return, UK volunteers are expected to take part in an Action at Home project, on issues such as gender, disability or education. They can chose from hundreds or create their own.

There are so many exciting things happening in charities and fundraising is at the heart of them all. Isn't that great?

Happy New Year!

Stephen Pidgeon is a consultant and a teacher

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