After almost 20 years of running fundraising charities, I made it to my first fundraising conference a couple of years ago. I must admit to approaching it with some scepticism, expecting alchemy, rhetoric and conjuring tricks. But the International Fundraising Congress was full of rigorous analysis, evidence and carefully tested ideas - a great learning experience. The biggest surprise was that, although many seriously distinguished fundraising directors of major charities were there, I was almost alone as the chief executive of a large fundraising charity. I wondered where the others were, having expected to find them in droves.
Talking to colleagues afterwards, I realised that chief executives of charities mostly come through careers in charitable services, finance or general management rather than fundraising. In the UK, increasing numbers of us come from the corporate or statutory sectors, where raising capital or the annual vote of funds is a quite different proposition. And you're expected to know everything from day one as a chief executive.
A year later, I returned to run a session with Judy Beard from Macmillan on the relationship between the chief executive and the fundraising director.
We concluded that the central issue is trust from the chief executive in the fundraising director and confidence from the fundraising director in the chief executive's support.
Fast forward to last month, when more than 50 chief executives, fundraising, agency and some finance directors joined another session to help chief executives understand their fundraising operations. I asked four questions: how do you understand the fundraising numbers? How do you find the next great fundraising director? How do you understand the external agencies? And how do you reconcile the different information needs of the fundraising and finance functions?
There were two revelations for me. The first was that fundraising agencies will always try to bypass the fundraising professionals and create a direct relationship with the chief executive, who should never take the bait.
The second is that three people in different jobs looking at the same accounts see three different stories. The finance director sees funds received or committed, the fundraising director sees donations yet to come and the chief executive reads past organisational changes that will affect the ability to raise funds or spend them.