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The Board of Directors as seen by fundraisers

Interview with Stefano Malfatti, Director of communication and fundraising at Istituto Serafico, Assisi

I asked Stefano*, a leading fundraising expert (President of the Associazione Festival del Fundraising and winner of the 2014 Global Fundraising Award) – follow him on his blog – to talk about the question of the relationship between fundraiser and Board.

Stefano has wide experience in organisations of different sizes active in a variety of sectors and with different approaches. So his viewpoint is fundamental in building up an understanding of how the way that boards work and, at the same time, the approach of fundraisers, can create a vision for the development of the organisation’s mission.

Stefano and I have known each other for many years, we have debated at fundraising meetings and events, and his “Piedmontese” approach to communication (despite many years spent living and working in Milan) to communication is similar to my own way of thinking.

Stefano, first of all, thank you for your time. I’m very pleased to talk about boards from the viewpoint of fundraisers with you, given your great experience and your open personal approach.
The first question I want to ask you is about your current role as communication and fundraising director at the Istituto Serafico in Assisi, which means you’re constantly dealing with the organisation’s board.
Has this relationship always existed in your professional experience, past and present, or have there been situations when it has been, if not absent, then sporadic? And if so, what impact has this difference had on your work?

Thank you for giving me the opportunity to talk about a question of interest to us both, Simona, which we consider fundamental for a healthy approach to our profession.
My work at the Serafico in the last few years has consolidated my belief that a close relationship with the board cannot fail to strengthen all the dynamics of communication and fundraising. This is where our job starts and ends: strong and effective fundraising is impossible without a board that produces strong, disruptive, innovative and challenging ideas, even on a purely economic level. You can’t get very far if your only objective is the bottom line, balancing the books. The interest of board members who ask questions, examine details and want to understand the formulas to judge the success of a campaign is a stimulus to work well and to improve constantly, and to see each board member as an authoritative colleague rather than a policeman who checks, counts and restrains.
Here too, discussion is key: it is always a driver for growth in both directions, and working with a board that interacts with our activities at different levels simply accelerates something that is in itself propulsive (fundraising) and helps avoid inertia, which is detrimental to the action and image of a non-profit organisation.
In some of my previous jobs, this driver was sometimes absent, not so much because of a reluctance to engage, but rather because of the organisation’s extended and fragmented territorial presence, which inevitably shifts the focus of problems to more complex questions, and limits closer, more incisive engagement.

Can you give us an example of how a well-established relationship between Board and fundraiser facilitates and stimulates the role of the fundraiser while making the board aware of its responsibilities and encouraging it to act?

There are countless examples, and this could turn into a full-blown dissertation; I’ll just list a few and explain why each one is so important:
Sharing planning: this helps the board understand the feasibility and scheduling of projects, and provides the fundraiser with a concrete idea of what they need to achieve and why (a sort of circular letter);
Planning the budget step-by-step: the board doesn’t just say yes or no. It wants to understand why it should invest in one direction rather than another; the challenge for the fundraiser is to not simply toss a series of initiatives on to the table, but to put their key elements into context, and not purely from a financial viewpoint;
Checking progress: this makes it possible to share with the board the opportunities taken or the difficulties experienced during the initiative, to understand the reasons why and to try and remove them in future; all this in an atmosphere of shared awareness, without either side ever feeling they are “under scrutiny”;
• Deliberately proposing new challenges: this is important from both sides to help the organisation progress: I have to mention legacy campaigns as an example of a tool that is as important for the organisation as it is difficult and complicated; especially if the profession or contacts of some of the board members could be a lever for this unique kind of campaign.

Do you have any suggestions you would like to share on the question of board engagement with fundraising, which in your experience has helped make your work easier and more effective?

I have never worked “on my own” at the Serafico, either on fundraising or on communication. As you know, the Serafico operates within a delimited area (Umbria) but with patients arriving from across Italy. With regard to corporate fundraising and relations with the press and the media, the fact that the institute’s president, with her contacts and direct relations, has not only made herself available for fundraising and communication, but continues to want to examine every single detail to make her contribution more decisive and significant and give each initiative the right impetus, has been of fundamental importance.
As a result, the rest of the board (on the basis of the member-get-member mechanism) strives to provide the institute with the best possible service, often following our indications and approach focusing on relations with donors and potential donors.
This is a not insignificant driver for optimal fundraising and communication.

Stefano Malfatti has more than 20 years’ experience in non-profit management, and since January 2016 has been communication and fundraising director at the Istituto Serafico in Assisi. He has held a number of positions during his career: at the Don Gnocchi foundation as a management controller in the General Management Division and later as head of the private office of the Presidency. For the last 15 years he has developed fundraising strategies in non-profit healthcare organisations, focusing his attention and experience on bequests. A blogger, trainer and educator on fundraising issues, he is a lecturer and speaker at some of the leading educational establishments in the non-profit area and on master degree courses, and has published papers on legacy fundraising. In 2014 he won the Italian Fundraising Award and in October that year the Global Fundraising Award assigned by an international jury in Amsterdam. He is president of the Fundraising Festival Association, and a member of the ASSIF (Associazione Italiana Fundraiser) and the AFP (Association Fundraising Professionals USA – International Chapter).

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