Dr Daniel McDiarmid, Principal Consultant at AskRIGHT, comments on insights about Fundraising and Boards published by Professor Wendy Scaife. How much should they help with fundraising? What can they do to improve their performance?
Board members of Australian charities will be glad to hear that fundraisers have a more nuanced message for them than the American-sourced “Give, Get or Get-Off.”
While a few Australian non-profit boards are embracing giving and active fundraising roles for board members – I am thinking of the National Gallery of Victoria – others will be glad to hear a different tune.
What’s the Board Member’s responsibility in fundraising?
Prof. Wendy Scaife has contributed a chapter to a book published by the Australian Institute of Company Directors for their members who serve on non-profit boards. AICD members will be glad to hear an expression of their responsibility for fundraising that sits more comfortably alongside their other duties as directors. Scaife insists that board members should help with fundraising, but writes
This does not mean that board members have to suddenly become expert fundraisers, pressure friends or move way beyond their comfort zone in fostering organisational support. Instead, (…) smart monitoring and proactive support are the true gifts board members can make to the organisation’s work and its sustainability.”
In making the case for fundraising, she indicates that philanthropic funds are less constrained than other sources of revenue, and can be the funding that enables an organisation to achieve its distinctive mission even if most of its revenue comes from other sources. She also points to the reductions in government payments have thrust many organisations unwillingly into fundraising.
Five steps and tips for Board Members to improve fundraising performance
Drawing on previous research (Who’s asking for what? Fundraising and Leadership in Australian Nonprofits, ACPNS, 2015), Scaife refers to the uneven performance of Australian charity boards in fundraising, but suggests steps they can take to improve their performance.
2. Spend money to make money, and think long-term;
3. Measure, support and invest in what matters (I would add that getting the CEO to report the right fundraising indicators to the board is important in achieving this);
4. Empower the staff fundraising role (The direct report from fundraising CEO suggested here is right for most, but not all organisations. Even so, remember the golden rules of successful fundraising structure: everybody from Board Chair to fundraiser has a revenue target to meet; and fundraising never reports to marketing); and
5. Know your organisation’s supporters. (This is useful, although I am not sure I agree that it is necessary for board members to know the details of how much each major donors has given).
Professor Scaife also includes the tip, “Act on the board’s fiduciary duty to build an internal culture of philanthropy”. I am not sure that such a fiduciary exists. I will leave that to the lawyers to determine. I think the point would be better made as a tip for the board members “to provide leadership in giving to inspire the whole organisation and to build a culture of philanthropy”.
The tip on accessing fundraising tools and information would be better given to the fundraising director rather than board members, but lets the writer of the chapter plug the academic centres that are making such a useful contribution in this field.
Gone is the mantra “Give, Get or Get-Off”. It is not as alliterative, or even elegant in phrasing, but the phrase from this book chapter that I hope AICD members and other readers will take to heart is:
The Board’s role is strategizing exciting projects to take to donors”.