I recently attended the North Arts Sector Trusts and Foundations Event hosted by the Community Foundation and Arts Council North, at the Baltic in Newcastle. It featured a series of really informative round table discussions where fundraisers from across the North shared knowledge and experience about their own fundraising.
One particularly interesting topic was how we can engage the board in fundraising. It seems to be a universal problem within arts organisations that fundraising is seen to be solely the job of the fundraisers; really it seems that there is insufficient buy-in from the top to influence real organisational change.
Did your board members become involved with your organisation for the right reasons?
Do their intentions match your organisation’s vision and aims? If the answer is “no” then it might be time to review their involvement.
What is stopping the board from engaging in fundraising?
Is it a lack of confidence, or something else? What can we do as fundraisers to reassure them and to enable them to make the ask? Our round-table discussions highlighted the importance of properly briefing your board so that they can advocate confidently for your organisation. The easier you make it for your board to talk about your organisation, the more comfortable they will be to engage with fundraising. This could be a simple as providing them with key information that provides a board-friendly overview, or sending them your latest fundraising video. They can’t share the success of the organisation with peers if they do not have the facts.
Is your board even aware of the value and relevance of their skills?
Whether they are a lawyer, accountant or business owner, many board members do not realise the power of their networks. They may not appreciate that providing introductions or sending invitations can be invaluable to us. It is our job as fundraisers to ascertain their comfort levels and to reassure them that their skills are vital to the financial stability of our organisations.
It is useful to undertake a regular skills audit of the board to identify the expertise, competencies and experience you currently have, and to identify the additional skills you might need. It would also be worth including fundraising in the responsibilities of the role during board recruitment. This way board members are required to acknowledge that fundraising is part of their ‘job’ from the outset.
It might also be valuable to create a Development Sub Committee – a small group of board members with a keen interest in the topic, who would lead board involvement in fundraising, who would keep the board informed and motivated, and who would free up other board members to apply their skill in other areas of governance.
Does your board realise how much the fundraising landscape has changed?
It would be patronising to assume that the board is not aware of the financial crisis and the effect it has had on arts funding. However they might not be aware of the sheer magnitude and impact of these cuts, and the extent to which we need to adapt. There is now more competition than ever for donations, grants and sponsorship. Fundraising can no longer be relied upon to simply “plug the gap” in the annual budget. There is a real need for critical governance and strategic leadership as ultimately the board is responsible for the financial wellbeing of the organisation. In this context, it would be foolish for the board not to take an interest in fundraising when it forms such a large part of an organisation’s budget.
Is it worth investing in training?
The logical response would be yes and there are funds available for leadership and governance development. Board away days and training should feature as part of the board’s commitment to your organisation. This enables the board to be self-critical and develop a well-rounded skill set. In the future, Arts Council England will be looking for a much more connected relationship with boards in order to strengthen resilience. They will also be encouraging a new peer to peer network of chairs to aid effective fundraising and share best practice.
There are lots of activities that we can be doing to change the way that our boards think about fundraising. Until we all start advocating for and enabling stronger board involvement fundraisers will forever be used to “fill a hole”, rather than being valued as an integral part of an organisation.