Board Members: To Be or Not To Be Involved in Fundraising?

funding governance ngos donors
Tuesday, 9 October, 2007 - 06:56

By Ann Bown : Yes, that is the question and the answer is a loud and resounding YES!  Board members must take an interest in the raising of money, resources and awareness for their non-profit organisation. 

With more than twenty years in the non-profit sector, I now know what makes fundraising successful, and it is not by seeking a quick fix or a Super-woman or man of fundraising to wave a magic wand with the words: abracadabra or simsalabim.

Wizardry alone does not get the job done – it is hard work and as the old adage goes, “many hands make light work”. 

On average I train over 400 people a year in the (witch) craft of fundraising, each attendee dedicated to raising resources for their organisation speak in unison; "help, my board doesn’t understand me"

A number of myths surround the responsibility of who should do the fundraising. Fundraisers are often under tremendous pressure to perform and meet targets with little support or involvement from their leaders. In most instances, the leadership is reluctant to become involved in fundraising and displays a lack of understanding around the business of this noble work. I have heard boardmembers say, “I don’t have time, I feel uncomfortable asking people for money. I didn’t sign-on to do fundraising,” and some just do not believe it to be their role. That is the greatest myth. 

Let us review the Board’s main roles.

  • Watchdog: guardians of public interest, particularly for donors, beneficiaries and other stakeholders. Guardians of the brand, and reputation;
  • Strategic planning (role shared with management) and formal approval and adoption of the strategy;
  • Appoint, monitor and if necessary remove the CEO. Approve his/her appointment of management team, assisting as required;
  • Support for management and through them, the staff, to help them do their jobs better and ensure the organisation succeeds;
  • Understand the finances of the organisation, read and (having understood them) approve the accounts;
  • Trustees are also required to ensure that their organisation is fully open and accountable in providing a complete and detailed account of what the organisation has done with the money it has raised.

The process of getting the board involved with fundraising is vital for long-term sustainability as well as good governance, we need to consider and act on the following:

  • Why board members may be reluctant to fundraise and how to overcome these concerns;
  • Discover ways in which individual board members can participate in the fundraising process;
  • And finding ways to strengthening and building your fundraising team.

So who is responsible for implementing these actions? I would say the Chairperson along with the CEO or national director and the person who does the fundraising.

Why should Board members fundraise or establish a support team?  

  • To make sure that their organisations will survive;
  • To ensure that programmes are sustained until people’s lives are changed;
  • To continually grow the number of supporters and constituents;
  • To fulfil their legal responsibilities towards financial commitments.
  • Because they have to!

How can board members help?

  • Firstly, they must be prepared to ‘ask’;
  • Know and support the fundraising plan;
  • Commit and ‘do’ - use influence and affluence to open doors;
  • Mingle and network;
  • Supply lists of prospective donors and contacts;
  • Arrange appointments with prospective donors and jointly attend meetings with the fundraiser;
  • Make personal phone calls as a follow-up;
  • Host social gatherings for small groups of donors or prospective donors;
  • Add personal notes to letters of appeal;
  • Present awards to donors;
  • Make presentations to companies about the organisation;
  • Help with the development of fundraising marketing materials or assist with the long-range budgets;
  • Hand write thank you letters;
  • Agree to sell tickets to events – make the effort and bring in friends and colleagues;
  • Assist with capturing success stories;
  • Ensure that IT systems are ‘intelligent’ and manage the donor contact details;
  • Or find service providers; web designer, database systems, PR agencies who will work pro-bono or at cost.

Support your fundraisers

We have an estimated 30 percent annual turnover of ‘fundraisers’ and this is mainly due to burn-out and unreasonably high expectations to bring in the millions for organisations that have no real culture of ‘fundraising’ or philanthropic seeking.

In some instances, the Director or CEO is fundraising as well as managing operations and personnel – to be successful they would need to dedicate at least 70% of their time to raising funds, which is risky to the overall wellbeing of programmes and management.  Such demanding work has to be done seriously and professionally and not with a ‘by-the way we expect you to do some fundraising’ approach.

Some fundraisers are tasked with raising their own salary, which is not only insulting to a professional person but also risky – friendship raising is the key to long tem success and it is very difficult to nurture a relationship when you cannot pay your own rent or buy food for your children.

A vibrant civil society

South Africa is a competitive market for the donor Rand and there are new community-based organisation opening their doors daily – according to Bev Russell of Social Surveys it is creeping up and might be as high as 160 000 comprising of universities, faith-based organisations, unions, research agencies, non-government organisations, and grass-root groups. Each structure has its own board of willing individuals who believe in the cause and want to help but often they sign-on without any form of orientation or briefing around their legal responsibilities and obligations to fundraising.

Governance, Accountability, Transparency

A real wake-up call for board members to consider is the threat of being used for criminal or terrorist activities – money laundering. They should be approving the fundraising strategy and approaches whilst asking, “How are we raising our money, from whom and for what?”

The Commission of European Union report on Money Laundering and Terrorist Financing Typologies 2003-2004 stated, “The case examples presented during this year’s typologies exercise appeared to show that NPO’s can be misused in a variety of ways and for different purposes within the framework of terrorism financing. First of all, NPO’s can be used by terrorists and terrorist organisations to raise funds, as was the case for many of the larger NPO’s that had their assets frozen on the basis of the UN Security Council Resolution 1373 (2001)…. A number of the experts noted the importance of informal cash collection in many ethnic or religious communities and the difficulties in accurately monitoring those funds…. NPO’s can also be used by terrorists to move funds…. Finally, NPO’s can also be used to provide direct logistical support to terrorists or serve as a cover for their operations.”

Obsess about Fundraising

Those NPO’s with a strong fundraising culture, with leadership setting the pace in resource development, are highly successful and are able to plan the future knowing that they will be able to delivery on their Mission. We have to find time to obsess about raising funds and looking at the process seriously if we want to sustain our organisations.

- Written by Ann Bown of Charisma Communications, a financial sustainability consultant to the non-profit sector. Ann is the author of the book How to Fast-Track Your Board in Fundraising.

- Picture Courtesy of Rochdale Village.

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