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NEWS > General > Leaning in – How Boards Can Support Fundraising Teams to Ensure Charities Can Survive

Leaning in – How Boards Can Support Fundraising Teams to Ensure Charities Can Survive

Gaby Murphy, Interim CEO at Boardmatch on how boards can better support and understand fundraising.
6 Oct 2020

Gaby Murphy, Interim CEO at Boardmatch on how boards can better support and understand fundraising.

Earlier this year, I took up the role of Interim CEO at Boardmatch Ireland, which matches people who are keen to join a charity Board with organisations that are looking for new Board members. It is a completely free service and over the last few months we have seen a dramatic rise in both the numbers of people volunteering and signing up to our website and in charities seeking new skills and new people for their Board.


Alongside my Boardmatch role, I continue to work as a fundraising consultant and recently had the opportunity to talk to a meeting of Charities Institute Ireland’s Heads of Fundraising Group about the role that Boards play in fundraising.


As a fundraiser by profession for the last 25 years, I’ve often found the relationship between fundraising and Boards a complex one. I’ve worked with individual Board members who have instantly “got” fundraising and have engaged collaboratively to support the fundraising team through networking, introductions and practical support in the delivery of fundraising operations. I’ve worked with Board members who are donors, who are major donors or major fundraisers.  And  I’ve worked with those who struggle to find the balance between their Board role of providing governance and oversight of fundraising strategy, with getting more actively involved in a voluntary capacity in the support of the fundraising, through networking, introductions and donor cultivation. 


Governance and Oversight

The Board of Directors of any not-for-profit organisation has a clear remit to ensure that the organisation is well-run, meets the needs of its stakeholders and remains compliant with all relevant legislation and regulation. This extends to oversight of the fundraising strategy and it is important that the Board has a good grasp of the principles underlying an organisation’s fundraising strategy so that they can challenge the strategic thinking where required.


So far, so straight forward. But as many fundraisers find, there can often be a questioning of fundraising strategy by the Board and a desire by some Board members to re-shape the strategy based on their preference, rather than on hard data, evidence and the recommendations of the professional fundraisers hired by the organisation for their expertise.


Challenge is good, opinion is valid but it doesn’t trump data and professional expertise in the fields of legal, accountancy, human resources. And nor should it in the field of professional fundraising.


Building an Understanding of Professional Fundraising As fundraising is a relatively new profession, we fundraisers have a responsibility to build awareness and understanding amongst our Board and other stakeholders of the key principles of fundraising. We need to hold ourselves accountable to high standards, to the use of research, comparative data and evidence when making investment decisions and to ensuring that our teams have access to training and to continuous professional development. We also need to be open with Boards about the level of risk we are recommending and that forecasting fundraising income is only part science…and part dark arts! We will never be 100% correct in our forecasting but we should aim for 90% and be prepared to present the evidence for our decisions.


The Importance of Trust

And this leads to another critical factor in the Board – Fundraising relationship. Trust.

In last month’s Governance and Finance magazine, Tania Mason interviewed a senior fundraiser at Macmillan, who spoke of his experience in a previous organisation.


“If the trustees don’t trust the fundraisers, they can take a very sceptical or cynical approach to everything, which can feel quite undermining. Sometimes when I have asked trustees for advice I have had them tell me that the question I am asking is not the right question – they don’t want to give advice on the thing I asked them about, they want to talk about something completely different. Which really doesn’t help to build a mutually beneficial relationship.”


I’m sure this will be a not unfamiliar scenario to many Irish fundraisers and it underlines the need for us to build understanding of and respect for our profession generally, but particularly amongst our Boards.   Including a session on fundraising and revenue generation strategy in Board inductions can be helpful, as can setting a level of clarity around the role of the Board and individual Board members in relation to fundraising.   


The Board as Donors

And so to one of the thorniest issues relating to Boards and fundraising. Should Board members be asked to become donors? Opinion is divided on this. Few Irish organisations adopt the “Give, Get or Get Off” approach of our US cousins, but we should look to the approach of many of our higher education institutions who are leading the way here. Other organisations feel that it is completely inappropriate to solicit Board members for gifts of any level.  Some Board members feel that giving their time is how they contribute to the organisation.   My own view is that if your organisation is raising funds from the public, then Board members should be asked to make an annual contribution, at whatever they feel is the right level for them.


But perhaps we should leave this to our Board members to consider. In these difficult times, when charities are struggling to raise funds and individuals may be struggling with their own financial difficulties, are they comfortable asking the public for donations if they are not making a contribution themselves? And when asked for support by the Fundraising team, do they give advice or reach out to their own professional or personal networks to help develop new relationships and potential donors to the organisation.

Gaby can be contacted at:

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