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Should the board (really) be involved in fundraising?

The only right answer – just to eliminate any doubts – is: yes, the board (the directors) should put fundraising at the heart of their role in the governance of the organisation.

Furthermore, again to get rid of any doubts and avoid misunderstandings: this applies when you’re on the board because you’re the nominee of a related institutional body, and also when you’re on the board simply at the invitation of the chairman who’s a friend of yours. And even if you’re on the board because you accepted a candidacy without realising that fundraising would come up.

And please note that I say fundraising, not collecting funds, because what we’re talking about are all those strategic activities whose purpose is the organisation’s future sustainability – an entirely different thing from simply collecting funds; it involves strategy, your idea of the future of the organisation of whose board you are a member, all the volunteers, the projects, communication and your approach to external relations, and so on.

In my experience in Italy (that is, with Italian non-profit organisations), it is frequently the case that directors do not know and/or are not enthusiastic about the idea that fundraising is one of the activities they are expected to deal with.
Because the underlying concern is always the same: “I’ll have to ask my friends and acquaintances for money.”. It doesn’t matter that fundraising is not really about this, or that it starts from another, more noble way of thinking. People get hung up on the idea that fundraising is begging for alms.
And this – quite rightly – would put anyone off.

I’ll talk about fundraising training for boards of directors in another blog.
What I want to do here is share a few thoughts on why fundraising should always be a “problem” for the board.
I’ll do this logically, point by point:

 

– the first and most important reason is related to the actual significance of fundraising. If we assume that fundraising is, first of all, a question of relations among the believers in a cause, and that donors are the first believers because they are personally committed (through their donations) to the promotion of the cause, saying that a director – who represents the political and strategic apex of the cause, who embodies its value system, who has the duty and the honour of promoting and developing the cause – has to commit personally to the activity that ensures a future for that cause is a tautology.

When you put it like that, it makes logical sense, doesn’t it?
That’s because in practice… it does make logical sense!

This is what the motive is “all” about: moral support for the cause, for the values expressed by the cause.

It encompasses the pride of belonging, the sense of representing a world of values where fundraising should be a point of honour.

And this is the difference I see every day in my work with foreign organisations or organisations whose board is composed of non-Italians, especially if they’re people from the Anglo-Saxon nations.
The desire to commit oneself to one’s role (and the awareness that one should do so) as a model for a community that looks to the organisation of which one is a director is something I see, often, when membership of the board is a source of pride and an expression of “weight” in one’s community.
In these situations, I have often encouraged the chair or the directors to use this weight to generate emulative effects to support fundraising campaigns … and it has always worked.

 

because – and this is another reason – fundraising by the members of the board can, notably, take the form of fundraising “among one’s peers”.

Let me explain: except in special cases, potential board members are usually selected among people whose expertise, position and professional profile, acknowledged prestige in their community, “name” visibility, extended network of acquaintances (here are some suggestion on how to find the candidates your organisation needs – link to the post on recruiting directors), mean they play a preeminent role in their area of operation. And this has a natural logic connected to the weight to be given to the impact of the organisation (of its cause).

For this reason, directors are usually people whose “natural” network of acquaintances constitutes an excellent pool for awareness-raising, promotion and engagement activities – everything you need for fundraising (I said it wasn’t a question of collecting funds!).

When the director activates this network, it means they project the organisation into contexts it otherwise wouldn’t have reached.

But it also means, for the director, emphasising the prestige of the position they hold, underlining the importance of the mission they represent, stimulating and encouraging the dissemination of that mission in order to broaden the circle of people who are familiar with it and talk about it.

This is the role of the board with respect to fundraising.
It doesn’t necessarily involve “asking friends for money” – often it does, and, as we’ll see in another post, this doesn’t have to be traumatic since we’re talking about projects set up to resolve problems or create opportunities, not about alms offered for pity’s sake (not that there’s anything wrong with that, but it isn’t usually enjoyable).

We’ll return to the topic with some real examples taken from daily experience.
But what I want to emphasise now is that next time, before becoming alarmed if the word fundraising is associated with a proposal to join the board of an organisation, ask yourself a question: do I believe in the importance of the cause the organisation is promoting? Is it a cause that affects my life, my values, the things I’m fighting for?

If the answer is yes, fundraising will be one of the activities that will give you the greatest happiness and pride as you try, each one of us in our own small way, to improve the reality around us.

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About Simona Biancu

After a long experience in the field of HR and external relations within the University sector, she approached the world of fundraising. Specialized at the Fundraising school from Università di Bologna, she is author and contributor for many blogs about fundraising and member of the Italian Association of Fundraisers and the UK Institute of Fundraising.

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