A trustee’s role in sustainable funding is…

Olof Williamson was a Senior Consultant at NCVO, looking at the latest thinking on funding, finance and public services. Olof has left NCVO and his posts have been retained for here for reference.

As a trustee of a voluntary organisation, you have a vital role to play in financial sustainability. But what exactly is that role? And should you be bringing in the cash yourself? That was the question we put to trustees on Tuesday at a new half day workshop in Great Yarmouth, Norfolk.

The big picture – oversight and strategy

pier_into_the_sea_-_perspective_-_distanceIf you are a trustee, committee or board member of a charity you have clear legal responsibilities for the stewardship of your organisation. My NCVO colleague Carrie Deacon took our 16 delegates (from all types of voluntary organisation) through the main legal duties. These include advancing the purposes of the charity, ensuring the charity remains solvent and using the charity’s funds and assets reasonably.

The crowd were pleased to get a clear run-down, and also discussed the different ‘hats’ a trustee may wear outside of their trustee role- volunteer, trustee, fundraiser, service user.  And people were telling us that they felt a strong sense of responsibility to the current and future beneficiaries of their work, and that the duties made sense. So that was the big picture sorted.

The detail – getting stuck in

But the reality is that for many small organisations, and some big ones too, the trustees just have to muck in with the fundraising.

Norfolk’s voluntary sector is suffering from the same economic crunch that the rest of the country faces, heightened by the rural setting that can make it harder to support people. As one delegate told us, she has to fill up her car twice a week instead of once due to the extra miles she covers in her charity work. The costs of distance are keenly felt in rural counties.

But our trustees were keen to embrace new opportunities too. And when we looked at potential new sources of income, many of the delegates were interested in finding sources of earned income, whether from contracting or from trading and enterprise activity.

To help broaden people’s thinking I used NCVO’s Sustainable Funding Income Spectrum (PDF, 474kb), plotting each organisation’s income on the chart.

Norfolk’s voluntary sector is also lucky because there are strong independent funders, and many of the organisations present had been supported by the Norfolk Community Foundation among others.

But it was obvious that most of the trustees present were already doing or were being asked to do a lot of fundraising, networking, application writing and more.

Separating the roles – how far should trustees go?

So how much should a trustee be expected to put in to the fundraising effort?

In the United States many charities expect their trustees to “give, get, or get out!” – in other words make a donation, bring in donations, or stop being a trustee.

When confronted with this prospect, many of our Great Yarmouth participants were annoyed that some organisations could give such an ultimatum. But on probing the issue, many people acknowledged they are already giving a lot of time, unclaimed expenses, and of course fundraising effort.

lifering_-_security_-_safetySo would you ask a trustee who wasn’t doing this to “get out”? Do you think your trustees are doing enough?

Or are they already going beyond the call of duty? Is it less risky if trustees don’t fundraise directly?

At the session we didn’t all agree where the balance lay, but it was a useful discussion. Trustee’s roles are constantly evolving, and should strike a balance between the need for strategic distance and the way we all just love to help out.

And the Norfolk voluntary sector are working hard at getting the balance right, which has to be a positive thing.

The Trustee’s Role in Sustainable Funding was a pilot training workshop from NCVO’s Sustainable Funding Project in partnership with Voluntary Norfolk and the Norfolk Sustainable Funding partners. It took place in Great Yarmouth on 20th March 2012.

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