That Mythical Beast...
the Fundraising Board.
So here I am again, shaking my head when everyone else is nodding in agreement.
I read a terrific blog this morning on questions fundraisers should ask the organisation during the interview process. You can read it here: http://t.co/i5gyKoMfuL *
I agree with pretty much everything except:
2) It’s the job of the board of directors to work with you in setting the development goals and in raising the necessary funds, not yours alone. Does 100% of the board make a gift or get a gift? Are they required to give? How involved is the board in fundraising? Is there a board committee whose sole purpose it is to cultivate donors, to share contacts and to make “the ask”?
Yes, it is their job. But the reality on the ground, for small and medium sized charities, is far from that ideal. This ideal is flogged constantly at all our fundraising conferences in the US. But it's largely determined by the size of your charity.
First let's take a look at the US charity sector by size. There are over 1.5 million charites. Only about 40,000(2.6%) have a budget over €1 million and only about 10,000(.66%) have a budget over $10 million. (2012 est.)
The bigger the charity, the better it looks on a c.v. to be a board member. Those charities can attract some pretty heavy hitters who have the connections and the confidence to raise big money. Once you have a few heavy hitters it attracts a lot of ambitious people who want to be part of that network.
However, the boards of smaller charities are usually made up of people from the community who have some programmatic expertise, or have volunteered in or been touched by the programmes. They tend to be heavily focused on mission and services, not on fundraising. They hire fundraising staff so they don't have to do it.
Here are the various board scenarios I've seen in action:
The Heavy Hitters - Your charity board is one of the rungs toward the top of the social & business ladder. You probably have a waiting list of people who want to play with the big guys.
The Engaged Board with a variety of skills - They all give, even though some of them only give$100 a year. A few have connections they share. They sell tickets, help bring in a few sponsors and secure auction items for the gala. One or two might....might get involved in a major ask.
The Working Board - These people have all come to the board through some level of involvement or expertise in the programmes. They're generally supportive of fundraising but don't want to be involved.
The Well Meaning but Clueless Board - This is usually a charity moving from all volunteer to their first paid staff, including a fundraiser. They don't understand why you can't just do more bake sales and pub quizzes to bring in the $1 million they hired you to raise. Ah bless... such nice people.
The Nightmare Board - These social climbing showboats want you to make a name for them. They want high profile events and lots of publicity but they bring very little to the table. They'll make your life miserable, blaming you for the failure of all their bad ideas. We've all been there....walk away!
I'm sure there are a number of variations on these themes. But my point is, the ideal that is constantly flogged to us is exactly that, an ideal. So go ahead and work toward it. But, if you'll only work in charities that meet the ideal... you're a precious little so and so. Good luck with that.
For those of us who work in small and medium sized charities, relax and work with what you've got. You may be able to move it toward the ideal or you may not. But you're still responsible for raising funds. Don't use the Board as an excuse. Work around it...that's just reality. If it's a nightmare, walk away.