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Fundraisers as trustees: a powerful role

92% of fundraisers say that having a fundraiser on their charity’s board would help them with their job. Samir Savant considers the barriers and the benefits to fundraisers becoming trustees


Within the last year the relationship between boards of charities and the staff who raise money for them has changed radically. The Fundraising Regulator has come into being, and the Charity Commission has issued Charity fundraising: a guide to trustee duties  (CC20). Trustees are required to have more active an overview of fundraising than ever before, and fundraisers will have to work more closely with their boards.


Trustees do not need to be fundraising experts, but boards do need to have a thorough understanding of fundraising and be aware of latest best practice.


Surely this can only be a good thing? How many times have I heard fundraisers complain that their boards do not understand what they do? The devil is in the detail of course. In reality, many boards are struggling to come to terms with maintaining good governance in an era of greater scrutiny and regulation.


I would suggest that a good way to embed excellent fundraising practice across our sector is for more fundraisers to become trustees. And it would seem that this is a view widely held among fundraisers. In the IoF’s Get Raising report , 92% of fundraisers surveyed said that having a fundraiser on their board would help them with their job, 81% said that fundraising skills and experience were lacking among their trustees, and 78% said that the idea of becoming a trustee appealed to them.  


Fundraisers as trustees

A lot of charities, particularly smaller ones, simply do not have the resource to employ full-time fundraising staff and are desperately in need of strategic advice from experienced fundraisers – often for the most straightforward but crucial things such as developing a robust and meaningful case for support – so we should all do our bit. More and more fundraisers are becoming trustees and there are some excellent high-profile examples – Lucy Caldicott (CEO of UpRising ) and Meredith Niles (fundraising director at Marie Curie) are both trustees of several charities.


I would thoroughly recommend it, especially if the charity for which you are a trustee is significantly different from the charity for which you fundraise, perhaps reflecting your own personal interests and passions. I am a trustee of Shobana Jeyasingh Dance , and have really enjoyed the experience. As a fundraiser, it has made me much more aware of strategy and financial planning, and I have also been required to review and comment on a broad range of fundraising and marketing activities, allowing me to develop wider sector knowledge.


Benefits for charities of having a fundraisers as trustees

At a basic level, the fundraising trustee is there to provide expert knowledge and specialist advice which is lacking in so many boards, particularly smaller ones. As the Get Raising report points out [], having a fundraising trustee “can help charity boards embed an informed and innovative fundraising strategy, manage risk appropriately and ensure compliance”.


Even larger charities with well-established fundraising departments can benefit from the sense check of having an experienced voice among their trustees, and to help counter the cynicism about fundraising that often exists at board level.


Benefits for fundraisers of being trustees

Many fundraisers who are trustees comment on the value of learning more about governance and strategic planning, which has then helped them in their day-to-day job, particularly in engaging better with their own board. As a trustee you get involved in much broader aspects of running a charity, which will give you a more informed perspective as a fundraiser, and of course it is a great opportunity to make a tangible difference with a cause you care about outside of your workplace.


Barriers to success

So far, so good, but why aren’t more fundraisers stepping up to becoming trustees? There are several barriers, real and perceived. Fundraisers often feel that they are not the ‘right fit’ for the charities they want to represent, that being a trustee will take up too much time and that there would be conflicts of interest if they were required to approach their existing donors and contacts. Boards should be realistic and mindful of these issues in recruiting fundraising-focused trustees, and fundraisers should articulate their concerns so that there is transparency and honesty on both sides.


Next steps

I would urge all fundraisers to think about joining a board. If this has inspired you to find out more, there are plenty of places you can look for opportunities. Many recruitment companies handle trustee roles as well as those for paid staff and you could also look at the roles available on volunteering websites such as Do-It  or Trustees Unlimited . If there is a charity whose work you admire, why not simply contact them and say that you are interested to find out more? Remember that it is important that any board you wish to join is well run and totally aligned to the strategic vision of the charity.  


Samir Savant (@samir_savant) has fundraised for 18 years in the cultural sector. He is currently festival director of the London Handel Festival , chair of the Professional Development Sub-Committee of the IoF’s Cultural Sector Network  and a trustee of Shobana Jeyasingh Dance.

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