Everyone should be a fundraiser, even the Chief Executive

Or, Why disconnecting income generation from your core work spells disaster.

I have just re-discovered an article from the Guardian’s Voluntary Sector Network that sets out just how few Chief Executives of Voluntary Sector Organisations come from a Fundraising background (How to get ahead in…charity management, Debbie Andalo, 23/11/11). As a fundraiser, it is not a very cheery article, but really, thinking about some of the most classic problems raised by the groups and organisations I’ve worked with, it shouldn’t have come as much of a surprise.

But lack of surprise does not detract from the fact that the implied lack of value placed on income generating experience by boards appointing Chief Executives is, to be honest, bonkers.

According to Kevin Kibble, who spoke at the Institute of Fundraising’s London Regional Conference back in November, fundraisers ‘don’t speak the same language as the board’, and are focussed on customer care, rather than from the perspective of the beneficiary.

As part of the Sustainable Funding Project at NCVO, I find that very worrying indeed. And I’m really hoping he’s wrong. Let me set out why…

  1. If boards do not speak the same language as those that are raising the money, then surely that opens the organisation up to massive risk by disconnecting them from the source of their lifeblood?
  2. If those who generate income do not speak from the perspective of the beneficiary, how are they able to effectively (and appropriately) ‘sell’ the organisation? And how is the organisation able to ensure it is not funding-led? (You need the people who are negotiating funding to understand what is at stake and feel empowered to argue your case when the demands of the funder may be overbearing or inappropriate).
  3. As someone who has been a frontline fundraiser, never was my life made more difficult than when I was kept apart from the core working of the charity. The better involved the fundraiser, the better they are able to do their job, and the better able other people are to support them.
  4. Whilst many organisations are in the privileged position to have a ‘fundraiser’ (or even several), to confine raising money to a couple of key individuals opens the risk that opportunities are being missed and the organisation’s passion diluted just at the point it needs to be displayed. Board members can be great relationship builders, frontline staff (and even beneficiaries themselves) inspiring advocates of the organisation’s work. In this case, smaller organisations, where staff wear several ‘hats’, are immediately in a stronger position.
    And finally
  5. Don’t you think it’s a little bit rude to treat donations, grants, contracts, or other forms of income, as some sort of dirty aside, when they has been entrusted to your organisation by people who believe in the value of your work?

But I’d wager that those organisations that are thriving in these challenging times are precisely those who have integrated income generation with their core work. We certainly meet a lot of fantastic examples of engaged, knowledgeable fundraisers and hands-on boards and executives (take a look at some of our case studies). And our ‘Sustainable Sun Tool’, a model of what is involved in achieving financial sustainability, only has two of the six areas focused on funding or finance.

Campbell Robb, Chief Executive of Shelter remarked in Third Sector magazine last week that ‘people in the voluntary sector almost wanted to pretend that fundraising happened by magic’. I’d argue that in today’s financial climate, any organisation that doesn’t treat income generation as a completely integral part of what it does won’t require a fundraiser to be sustainable, they’ll require a magician.

Need a hand integrating your income generation?

Something to add? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Rosaline Jenkins

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Ros is NCVO's lead in Sustainable Funding, promoting a more sustainable, suitable and strategic approach to generating income of all kinds - donations, grants, contracts and trading. @RosJTweets

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