Community Foundations are recently created philanthropic intermediaries, which, conceptually speaking, are one of the most interesting new developments in local community-based philanthropy of the last few years.
Their experiences are interesting and it is helpful to look at the approach to governance of people active in a Community Foundation.
Founded in 2008, its activities cover the territory of the Aosta Valley – a small region distinguished by different identities, a feature that makes it a good place to test activities stemming from a long-standing philanthropic tradition (an interesting book on this subject was published in 2013: Solidarité et Subsidiarité en Vallée d’Aoste: une symbiose séculaire).
Luigino Vallet* has been President of the foundation since it was formed, and, consequently, has promoted its formation, its consolidation as a community player and its development. Above all, he is someone with a deep passion for everything to do with “care for the community”.
We developed a board coaching consultancy program with the foundation, which has led to a number of significant changes in the perception of board members’ role, starting inside the board itself.
I’d like to ask you how one can acquire a clear understanding of one’s role as a member of the governing body in the development of an organisation?
The answer could be that this understanding is acquired almost automatically through a certain experience in the management of organisations – in the profit sector, in government and in the voluntary sector. The important thing is to be clear about the mission of the organisation and to plan activities in a coordinated fashion between the board, the operating structure and the recipients of the organisation’s mission.
One of the often critical issues for management bodies is the “relationship” with fundraising, which is often (mistakenly) seen as “begging from one’s friends” and as such experienced with ill-concealed irritation.
Whereas since one of the core objectives of the Community Foundation is to “foster a donation culture”, it has always encouraged the diffusion of appeals for donations, thus fulfilling its role as a philanthropic intermediary in the community.
But how is fundraising seen internally?
In the last few years, there has been a change in the internal view among the foundation’s directors. Initially, fundraising was seen as a way of doing charitable work at an aggregate level. Over time, by working on the perceived needs of the community, we have tried to move to a fundraising approach that supports local players in the voluntary sector and also to catalyse other resources, not only of a financial nature, and to steer the funds raised to projects and activities with effective impacts on the territory.
Some of the work of the board coaching program envisaged a more “international” approach, with the assumption of formal commitments by board members, both those already in office and as a platform for the selection of candidates for the board in the future.
Have you seen a change in board members’ understanding of their role, in terms of participation, sharing, and real commitment?
Our work with you was met with a certain degree of enthusiasm at the start of the program.
My perception is that things were slowly acquired, especially after the identification, discussion and approval of the “directors’ guidelines”. The guidelines have been a great help in recent weeks with the imminent arrival of potential new directors, who will probably join at the next board meeting.
There is also a greater willingness to donate at personal level.
Finally, the program envisages a commitment by the foundation to provide periodic training – and for the directors to take it up – thus creating more occasions for discussion to understand the importance of the role of the directors in their own community and consequently to act as “ambassadors” for the foundation.
I’d like to end by asking you for a suggestion for your “colleagues'” – presidents or directors of Voluntary Sector organisations – on the issue of boards and fundraising, meaning fundraising in its wider significance as a sustainability tool that brings together, creates development, encourages virtuous relationships.
Giving suggestions to “colleagues” in other organisations that differ greatly is a difficult task and could conceal a certain presumptuousness on my part. For example, there are clearly many differences even among the community foundations (take the most recent Assifero meeting in Brescia last October).
I would simply suggest that the boards of the organisations take great care in choosing both “political” and “technical” directors, and once they have chosen them, that they follow their development and motivation with meetings to discuss activities to be planned and implemented. This should create a climate of mutual trust that can be made tangible to donors.
Also, as regards directors, time should be devoted to discussing the pursuit of the organisation’s mission and building up a shared vision among the directors of the organisation’s role.
Therefore, on the specific question of fundraising, I would say that a donor-oriented approach should be constantly followed, which means providing donors with advance information on what they are being asked to support, and, later, with meaningful reports on how the funds raised have been used. I think this is also a way to strengthen the ties of trust between donors and the fundraising organisation, without which it is impossible to activate virtuous processes that foster sustainable and consistent community growth.