Generally speaking, many trustees and senior leaders still do not widely recognise the importance of fundraising. They are missing the point. This has implications for charities and civil society. It’s time to shift the dial in the sector both about the value of fundraising and fundraisers.

Fundraising is not all about the money

Thousands of people each year volunteer their time to raise funds for the causes that are important to them. This brings people and communities together.

Fundraising is about so much more than raising money though. It is the main way that people see and hear about charities and show their support. Fundraising plays an important role in engaging people in a much broader way too. This contributes to building trust in charities and the wider community.

The Institute of Fundraising recently released the discussion paper, Civil Society Futures: Reflections on fundraising’s role and contribution. It rightly says: “power, engagement, and connectivity that comes from fundraising is an absolutely essential part of civil society… To reduce fundraising to a financial transaction is to misunderstand everything that makes it worthwhile”.

Fundraisers as leaders of the future

As a sector, it needs value-led, innovative, strong, leadership now more than ever. The world is changing quickly. The skills of the past are not the skills we need to tackle the current commercial sector and the challenges of our time and future societies.

The charity sector is fairly risk averse as a general rule and most trustee boards recruiting a chief executive go for the ‘safe bet’ candidates, often from the operational or services side of the organisation. Finance directors are a popular choice most of the time.

When making choices they tend to go for the familiar, sometimes without realising it, or questioning themselves. It’s human nature, by doing this they perpetuate more of the same, it takes leadership, courage and vision to choose to see the big picture.

Why do fundraisers make great leaders?

Trustees and senior leaders are missing out by not seeing the true potential that fundraisers bring to their organisations and how they could be future leaders or even the organisation’s next chief executive.

There is often talk about the financial sustainability of the sector, yet we fail to see that having a strategic mindset is critical to navigating this huge challenge. Strategic thinking is a skill of every great fundraiser and one that all leaders should have.

Communication, vision and relationship building skills, passion, creativity, focus, the ability to motivate people, resilience and energy, are all attributes that impactful leaders need.  These are skills that great fundraisers have literally in bucket-loads. Indeed, fundraising is a profession and it takes real skill to be an effective fundraiser.

There is still a perception that anyone can ‘have a go at fundraising’. This is a short-sighted view and is holding these gems back as a profession. The Institute of Fundraising’s move to become a chartered body is a welcome step to help progress move away from this mis-understanding.

Culture alterations to make change happen

Many boards are often involved in fundraising activity, but not engaged at a strategic level. Trustees should be looking to see if there are skill gaps like this and address them – by recruiting a trustee or outside consultant who has expertise in fundraising (or should all trustees have some fundraising expertise?).

Trustees and senior leaders have the responsibility of setting the culture of an organisation and this includes a responsibility to change the perception of fundraising and fundraisers within the whole organisation. This is a leadership issue and it is a leader’s responsibility to make change happen in charities.

As trustees and senior leaders, we role model the behaviours we want to see in the organisation. We should be making sure we are being inclusive of all disciplines in charities. Too often I have seen organisations that work in departments and fundraising is out on a limb, or lumped in with “Marketing”. It is everyone’s responsibility to develop a ‘one team’ culture and that everyone in a charity feels their contribution is equally valued, regardless of what function they do.

It’s also a leader’s responsibility to make sure they offer plenty of development opportunities, including cross-functional learning and development opportunities for fundraisers, to develop their leadership skills so they are prepared to be senior leaders and future chief executives. More fundraisers will throw their hat into the leadership ring if we encourage them and offer opportunities.

Fundraising can make more of a positive difference

Brexit can only limit the grant funding available for many charities who previously were eligible for European funding.  Organisations who seek self-sustaining funding will always be around for longer.

Fundraising and fundraisers can positively contribute more to the future of charities and civil society as a whole.

We need more trustees and senior leaders now to recognise the value of, and shift their attitude towards, fundraising and fundraisers, so we can be fit for the future and be more impactful in addressing the big challenges ahead in society.

Want to explore bought in Consultancy Services for charities and fundraising skills, call me today or email to set up a coffee date.

Wendy Ward

Owner – Let’s Save Consultancy Services, servicing Yorkshire since 2015.

0772 9481010.


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