Mobilising trustees for fundraising success

This is a guest blog from Lucy Blythe, Director of Philia International, who spoke at our Sustainable Funding Conference in November 2011.

Philia International is a not-for-profit board and leadership consultancy, and we asked Lucy to share her thoughts on getting trustees more involved in fundraising, and how to recruit new trustees.

What can you ask of trustees to help with fundraising?

Lucy_BlytheTrustees have a made a commitment to your charity so you should be able to ask them to make your charity at least one of their top three charity commitments.

Trustees should be informed and passionate ambassadors of your cause – make sure you give them the information they need to be confident and persuasive advocates.

Trustees should be able to help you identify sources of support – even if they don’t know potential donors themselves they will have ideas, read papers, hear of people in the field, so ask them for their suggestions.

You can ask your trustees to open doors and introduce you to people, help with cultivating prospective donors, invite their contacts to events, but you should have the Chairman’s support in doing this, and he or she may be the best person to ask the Trustees to help.  You need to be sensitive to what Trustees are willing to do; many will not be willing to ask anyone for support, but might introduce their friends to the work of the charity and then leave it to the staff leadership to follow up.

Trustees can, and in my view should, demonstrate leadership through their own gifts – if your whole board gives (generously, according to their capacity) it sends a strong message about their belief in the charity and the strength of leadership.  But even small symbolic amounts from the whole board allow you to say that every trustee gives – an important message for other donors to hear.

One fun way to involve trustees – especially those nervous about getting involved in fundraising – is ask them to them to help thank existing donors.  Making a phone call or writing a note to thank a donor is a very pleasant and useful task.  It doesn’t involve asking anyone for money, and improves trustees’ confidence and ability to articulate your cause, often therefore deepening their commitment to it.  Donors especially appreciate hearing from trustees as they are usually peer-level volunteers.

Listen to Lucy’s ideas on what can you ask of trustees to help with fundraising.


Tips on working with trustees to fundraise

  • Typically, trustees are busy people with lots of commitments, but if you make it easy, they are usually keen to help.  Don’t be afraid of asking, but make sure you have the support of your Chairman and your Chief Executive in doing so.
  • Make sure that you are very responsive, respectful and grateful for Trustee’s assistance with fundraising, whatever form it takes.  They are usually keen for a challenge as long as you provide high-quality guidance and information.  Your confidence will reassure them.
  • Strive to be prepared, professional, and trustworthy – get back to them and follow up on anything you promise.  Be honest if you don’t know something or can’t do something they ask.
  • Be appreciative of the time they spend on behalf of the charity and thank them.
  • Be inspiring and fun to work with, and reflect back to them any results that arise from anything they have done – they’ll want to work with you again.
  • If you do your research and plan carefully, you can make sure your trustees  succeed on the charity’s behalf and want to help again and again.

Listen to Lucy’s tips on working with trustees to fundraise.


Recruiting trustees for your board

This information is primarily for the chairperson and other board members but it is useful background for others working within an organisation.

It’s really important that charities should make succession planning a continuous concern – if they are always thinking ahead, they are most likely to find and secure the best candidates.

First you need to be clear about the role of the board and the medium-term aims of the organisation.  Ask the question: what will you need on your board during the next five years?  What skills, experience and spheres of influence will you need to make sure your charity succeeds?

You might want to do a skills assessment looking at the attributes of existing board members, identifying future needs and identifying any gaps.  You can then focus on what you agree are the most important of these gaps in your next recruitment round.

Assign responsibility to someone in the organisation to oversee this process so that board development is not left on the back burner when other urgent (but not necessarily as important) matters arise.

Timetable realistically and allow lots of time for research and networking to make sure you find the best people possible.

Prepare an engaging and honest information pack for any potential candidates so they are clear about what will be expected of the new Trustee, and give them a vivid picture of the possible impact of their successful tenure on the board.

Developing the board, like fundraising, is about relationship building with a mission. It should be a long term and continuous process to discover and align, in a shared vision, the best possible people to lead the organisation to make the greatest positive difference in society.

Tips for best practice Trustee recruitment

  • Plan for it
  • Build relationships with potential trustees
  • Horizon scan
  • Keep an open mind and welcome diversity on the board
  • Do your research in advance
  • Allow plenty of time for the process at least 6  if not 18 months if you are looking ahead
  • Be honest in the briefing and qualification of your candidates – if you want them to do something specific (e.g. open up their address book, or chair the finance committee) tell them, but allow them to bow out gracefully if they aren’t keen
  • Ask them the difficult questions – you need to know that they will do the work you need them to do
  • Make the process itself fair and transparent
  • Support new Trustees in joining the board team

©2011, OK to use with permission and crediting Philia International

Thanks to Lucy for sharing her insight and top tips with us. If you are after more inspiration then try our further reading list.

Further reading

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