Being a trustee feels like a weighty responsibility, now more than ever. There are so many important issues to get to grips with, including headlines such as, “MPs blame ‘negligent’ trustees for Kids Company collapse.”
Fundraising is often one of the areas in which many trustees have little or no experience, but in fact many of the skills and experiences they have from their business lives directly apply to fundraising: having a clear strategy, thinking long term, understanding the budget, checking out the competition, exploring the data, knowing your customers, and taking a leadership role. The following six questions will help trustees to explore these vital aspects of the fundraising health of their organisations.
1. How much have we raised over the last five years and what is the strategy for growing income over the next five years?
Focussing on only annual income will actually stifle income growth. Asking about past growth in fundraising and future plans will help you to understand the strategy for fundraising. Your lead fundraiser should be able to provide this kind of information. Exploring why fundraising has grown or fallen will help you understand the pressures your fundraisers are under and the strengths and weaknesses of the strategy.
2. How has the budget changed over the past five years and what is the investment plan for growing fundraising for the next five years?
No strategy can work without appropriate investment, and asking how the budget has changed over the past five years will be quite illuminating. How much have the fundraisers been able to achieve with the budget they have been given? What are the stretch points? Are you under- or over-invested? Too many organisations focus on incremental annual growth with similarly incremental investment, when perhaps a bolder approach to investment would lead a step change in fundraising income.
I found it fascinating to listen to the story of a fundraising director who on appointment had put together a five-year strategy which required an increase in fundraising staffing by five to drive up income. The board accepted his strategy and his targets, but instead of giving him the budget all at once, they said he could have one new team member a year for five years. Unsurprisingly, at the end of the five years, the team had not reached the targets. He had not actually had the required resources until year five. Had he had them all in year one, they might have exceeded expectations!
3. Which organisations do we benchmark ourselves against? How have they grown their fundraising income and what are their resources?
Of course, it is hard to judge fundraising performance without understanding what good looks like. It is always helpful to understand what other similar organisations are achieving and what your comparative strengths and weaknesses are. Your fundraisers might not have had the time to prioritise benchmarking, but supporting them to do so, or getting external benchmarking, will help to test the strength of their strategy.
4. How many individual donors do we have, how do we recruit them, what do we know about them, how do they choose to give (regularly, legacies, etc.), and what levels do they give at?
Ideally, your fundraisers should be able to provide you with well-informed data on the number of donors, how they are recruited, their profiles, how they chose to give (or are asked to give), and how much they are giving. This will help you to understand how fundraising is being organised. If your fundraisers are not able to provide you with this data, this might indicate a lack of resources being put into data management or an immature fundraising operation. It will also highlight strengths and vulnerabilities in your fundraising income. Are your donors all coming from one particular activity? Are you working hard to secure one-off gifts and not trying to encourage regular giving by direct debit?
5. How are we looking after our donors? How many do we lose each year? What is our budget for donor care?
Are you losing lots of donors each year? If so, are you doing enough to look after donors? In this tough climate, the importance of donor care cannot be underestimated. As the number of donors increases, the time and investment in donor care should also increase. It is easier and cheaper to hold onto and love a donor than to find a new one.
6. What do you need us to do?
Fundraising is a team game, and the fundraisers cannot deliver results without the whole organisation being behind them. This includes the trustees. Trustees should lead by example and make a thoughtful gift to the organisation. They should also be willing to help ask others to give, to make introductions, and to champion fundraising generally. It is the fundraiser’s job to make this role as easy and enjoyable as possible, but fundraising must be a vital part of the work of all trustees.
-Susie Hills, Managing Director