Engaging Trustees in Fundraising

As consultants, often helping charities to run large capital appeals, one of our critical tasks is to successfully solicit the trustees help and over the years our advice has evolved into clear steps.

To any fundraiser, I would say that having the trustees actively on your side is vital to achieving your goals, especially if those goals are at all ambitious – and they certainly should be!

The first step is to have the backing of the right people. That is usually your CEO (who may also be your boss – who, if not, is your first step) and then the Chair of the Board. As a new CEO, heavily influenced by a previous highly successful boss, I once went directly to the Board without bringing the Chair and key players on side first. They listened politely and on leaving the room I felt I had done a brilliant job of winning them over. Then they invited me back in and sacked me.

So, proceed with caution, first bring your CEO on board and ask for their help in approaching the Chair. Then outline to the Chair what the benefits to your beneficiaries will be, how you will achieve that (you may even need to explain how fundraising works) and what he and the other trustees can do to help. This will often be to make at least a token donation so that you can say each trustee has given. It is best if the Chair gives first and then asks the others personally, but when they are together, and follows that up with a call within a few days. Note that there may be other significant trustees you need to court, like the Hon Treasurer; sometimes they can be more important than a weak Chair. Also note, you may need to start with simply giving the trustees a talk about how fundraising works in general and your organisations fundraising in particular.

There is a magic to getting the trustees to give as it illustrates the power of peer group pressure and, once a trustee has donated, they will be empowered to ask others or at least to open their contacts to you. Don’t assume that these contacts will now fall into your lap. The usual response is, “I don’t know anyone”. Instead, be prepared by researching the people they may know. What other committees do they sit on and who they may know in their professional life, etc? Of course, you must have regard to the data protection laws in doing this, but it enables you to say, “Do you know any of these people?” Which will get you much further down the road must faster than asking, “Who do you know”.

Lastly, but most importantly, treat your trustees like your donors. Always remind them of the importance of the cause e.g. through stories and examples of people’s suffering. Show them how much more effective the organisation can be and how much this may cost.

Thank them sincerely and ask them to help again, but don’t imagine they will be a key source of funds unless you know them to be wealthy people. Do invite them to events but, if possible, after they have given. They should feel that as trustees they are in a privileged position, but they should not be led to expect to attend every event. Indeed, it is part of your job to brief trustees on their role at events; which may be to find and chat to a few named major donors and to report back (before they go home!) on which aspect of the organisation those donors were most interested etc.

So – cultivate, inform, ask, thank and invite, then repeat…

Oh, and don’t forget to work on that Board Manual – or write one!

John Baguley, Chair, Group IFC