Trustees need to engage better with fundraising, striking a careful balance between being realistic, ambitious and ethical. Valerie Morton sets out four key principles that will help get the formula right
In the past it has not been unusual though for trustees to see their role in fundraising as simply setting the target, getting reports to show whether the target is being reached, and the occasional panic if income is down and difficult decisions have to be made. But the front page exposures of fundraising techniques (used by some, not all charities) have been a wake-up call, and there is a growing understanding that the governance of fundraising is a joint responsibility of all trustees.
Basically, the buck stops with you.
The Charity Commission is currently consulting over a revision to their guidance (CC20) Charities and Fundraising (which is of course essential reading for all trustees) but the core principles are likely to remain the same.
So what should you, as a trustee, be doing?
1. Understand fundraising
While no one expects you to know all the ins and outs of fundraising, you should make sure you keep abreast of latest trends.
For fundraising news, sites such as thirdsector.co.uk and civilsociety.co.uk are invaluable, while nfpsynergy.net publishes helpful round-ups of fundraising trends and research. There are also many useful blogs (including the one you're reading right now) offering insight that will help you keep your finger on the fundraising pulse.
Talk every so often to whoever is in charge of fundraising in your charity to get them to explain the principles and familiarise yourself with the structure of the Codes of Practice for fundraising (currently set by the Institute of Fundraising and available on their website).
All this will help you understand the donors’ perspective, which is critical to any fundraising operation.
2. Set the parameters for the fundraising strategy
There needs to be a clear target for net income. While this needs to be realistic, there should also be discussions about appetite for growth, if demand for the charity’s work is likely to increase. Other decisions for trustees to make include:
- Are you able/prepared to invest in fundraising to support future income growth?
- Do you expect income to be raised at a certain minimum cost ratio?
- Are you comfortable will any fundraising techniques being used?
- Are there any ethical issues to consider?
It goes without saying that discussions around all these issues need to be informed by your fundraiser.
3. Make sure you are confident the fundraising strategy is appropriate
It is not your role to get involved in the nitty gritty of the strategy, but it IS your role to gain assurance that the fundraising strategy is fit for purpose. Plan some questions that will test the strategy’s appropriateness and robustness. Examples might include:
- What are the keys risks in this strategy?
- What level of confidence do you have that the target can be achieved?
- Is the budget (income and expenditure) phased, and if so, how have you ensured the phasing is reasonably accurate?
- What plans do you have should results be significantly under target at month 6?
- On what basis have you budgeted for a response rate of x% per average donation, or y% for direct mail (for example)?
- How do your projections benchmark against industry performance levels?
4. Get the right balance between interest and interference
You are making decisions in the interests of the charity – not to reflect your personal views. You may love high-profile gala events, but that does not mean they are right for your charity. You may hate raffles and lotteries, but they may be an ideal source of income for some charities.
You need support your charity’s fundraising – engaging your contacts when appropriate, popping in to say well done to fundraisers after a busy event and, where possible, giving in a practical way as well as through your time.
Sadly, there are still some trustees around who fall into the ‘have you ever thought of putting on a fashion show?’ camp. Gritted teeth should give you a clue when you have gone too far.
Valerie Morton is a fundraiser and consultant