Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Professional fundraisers and charity trustees.

 [This article, by me, originally appeared on the Institute of Fundraising trusts special interest group mailing list].

Fundraising is a bit like teaching. Everyone has been to school so they think they are an expert on teaching. Everyone has put a coin in a collecting tin so they think they are an expert on fundraising. Like the trustee who insisted that a particular small community event could easily make £10,000 profit if only I ran it properly…

My experience is that trustees of small and medium size charities prefer:

  1. Capital appeals (easier to understand than complex revenue funding packagesand results in something physical that they can point to in the future).
  2. Events (that they can be seen at, but that don't necessarily make any money).Even if this is at the expense of revenue fundraising. 

  1. Expect returns on investment which are higher than those which would be expected by larger charities. 
  2. Are usually opposed to professionalizing the presentation of the organisation even if that costs no more than is currently being spent.

The root of this seems to be a fear of personal social exposure. They do not want to meet someone socially who knows they are a trustee of the charity and mentions it to them. The best example of this is the chairman of a charity I used to work for who, when we were recruiting celebrity patrons, said "I don't think we want any of those vaudeville types involved". He meant that he didn't want to be embarrassed by certain celebs involvement in the charity because they were not his kind of people even if they would be beneficial to the charity. The same chairman also told me that I was making too much of our case for funding and that we were simply not as important a cause as some of the bigger charities in our field. That’s a personal embarrassed issue too. People were mentioning it to him because we were getting more publicity. 

Trustees also feel a bit guilty sometimes for not helping fundraisers. For example, they sometimes think they have influence with people or organisations, but then find that when they try to use that influence that they don't really have it. If that happens once its unlikely that trustee will try and help again.

A lot of trustees in smaller charities are retired pubic sector executives who got where they got by being Teflon coated. They won't risk getting involved in things which might have a negative outcome. They don't know they behave like this, its just part of their "being".

The best situation any fundraiser can hope for is trustees who do nothing to help, but don't obstruct their work either.