Trustees and fundraisers - a difficult relationship

It's a case of managing enthusiasm and channeling it effectively, says Valerie Morton

Valerie Morton
Valerie Morton

Q: How do I get my trustees appropriately involved in our fundraising?

A: I find it interesting that, for every time someone working for a charity tells me its trustees don't understand or want to know about fundraising, there is someone else who complains about the opposite - trustees spending too much time on the nitty-gritty of fundraising work and diverting fundraisers from their agreed strategies by expecting them to follow up their personal fundraising agendas.

This is because fundraising is one of those unique activities that can be carried out by amateurs and professionals alike - but in very different ways. It's like comparing frozen peas to fresh ones - technically they are the same, but an alien landing on the planet would think they were different vegetables. In addition, volunteer fundraisers, without whom our charities would not be able to undertake half the work they do, often find it difficult to appreciate that subtle but important difference between the two ways of working.

This situation can be manageable when there is genuine enthusiasm among trustees that simply needs to be channelled effectively. But when the crux of the issue is a lack of recognition of the intricacies of fundraising and the specialist expertise required, patience and morale can wear thin.

So if that's the analysis, what's the solution? First - and I appreciate that this is easier said than done - get the right trustees. Yes, we need people with business and management skills to ensure they are able to fulfil their legal and strategic responsibilities. Just as importantly, however, we need people who have had some exposure to the culture of the not-for-profit sector. This might be as a donor, carer or service user, or through involvement in their local community in their spare time.

Second, help them to appreciate the professionalism of fundraising by putting in place a training programme for trustees, and make sure this is part of the induction programme for new trustees. Not doing so implies that fundraising is something so obvious that everyone knows about it, which merely reinforces the problem.

The third action point is to set up some 'back to the shop floor' sessions. Company executives recognise the value of spending a day on the tills or working on the production line, so why shouldn't trustees spend the occasional day researching trusts or volunteering at events?

Finally, there is nothing that breeds confidence better than openness, honesty and success. Present a clear, well-structured fundraising strategy for approval. Make sure the trustees of your charity join in the celebrations when things go well, but be frank with them when things do not.

Above all, wow them with your professionalism.

Valerie Morton is a trainer, fundraiser and consultant

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