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Getting your board onboard

Seven top tips for engaging your board in fundraising, from our Catalyst:Evolve programme evaluation
06.11.2019

​Between August 2018 and March 2019, in partnership with Achates Philanthropy we undertook an evaluation of the second year of Art Council England’s Catalyst:Evolve programme, which supports arts organisations to build their fundraising capacity.

During this time, we discussed fundraising with over 95 small and medium arts organisations across England. Their organisational profiles and fundraising profiles differed: some already had experience of fundraising, some others had only recently started, some are located in major urban centres, some others in rural communities. Some support cutting edge artistic programmes whilst others focus on delivering creative education.

Their fundraising journeys are as diverse as their profiles. Yet all of them shared an interest in the same question: how to effectively engage Board Members in fundraising?

Here are our seven top tips from our evaluation:

1. Support your board through the cultural change that fundraising requires

Recognise that boards need a little help to get on board. Many of them may have never been involved in fundraising before, so they may not fully understand fundraising or believe they have the skills or experience to help.

Training from an experienced fundraiser can help your board to understand what fundraising is about. Also try having one-to-one conversations where board members can express their thoughts and ask questions freely. This can help to clarify what you need from them and give you the opportunity to address any concerns.

2. Involve your board in business planning

As Caroline McCormick highlights in her blog post, Why Fundraising Is the Business of Boards, getting your board involved in writing your business plan can help them to understand what you’re trying to achieve and why a new approach is necessary. A business plan typically includes:

  • Why your organisation exists and what makes you different from others
  • What problems are you trying to solve and how are you doing this
  • Who benefits from your work
  • Detailed targets and objectives (e.g. number of shows, visitors)
  • The financial and non-financial resources needed to progress towards targets and objectives.

Getting your board involved in creating this plan can help them understand the how and why of your fundraising strategy and make them feel like they have a stake in its success.

3. Help board members live up to their responsibilities through clear governance systems

Get Board Members to see fundraising as part of their core responsibility. UK charity law requires board members to take part in fundraising and it is therefore critical to prepare an action plan to:

  • Make them away of their legal responsibilities around fundraising, and include these responsibilities in a new board member contract
  • Clarify their tasks and responsibilities (which are aligned to, and distinct from, those of core staff)
  • Include fundraising in the agenda of every board meeting.

4. Continue to clarify what fundraising is really about

The (mis)belief that fundraising is simply “asking people for money” is still very common in the arts. We also know that “asking people for money” often feels like an embarrassing or inappropriate thing to do.

It’s up to us as arts professionals and fundraisers to show board members that fundraising is more than putting odd requests for money out. It means establishing and nurturing relationships and inviting individuals or organisations to get closer to your work.

5. Get your Board Members to choose their roles

Help your board to see that fundraising is not done through one off meetings, but through a wide range of ongoing activities. Encourage them to decide which projects and activities they feel comfortable supporting – whether it’s attending events, answering questions from potential donors, promoting new initiatives, sending out thank-you letters, or connecting the fundraising team to an individual who might be interesting in giving, there are so many ways board members can contribute!

6. Appoint a fundraising champion

Appointing a member of the board to be a fundraising champion can be a game changer when it comes to board engagement. A fundraising champion will typically:

  • Chair progress on fundraising progress during board meetings
  • Link the fundraising team with the rest of the board
  • Motivate other members to take part
  • Provide examples of good practice.

7. Ensure your board can access relevant tools

Finally, once your board understand and embrace fundraising, ensure they can access simple practical tools to help them get started:

  • Draft emails that they can refer to when approaching their networks
  • Provide approved lines for them to use on social media and when talking to potential donors
  • Design impact leaflets and other digital assets that communicates the organisation’s key numbers in a visually friendly way
  • Create new gift ranges and ways for people to donate so board members have a variety options to recommend.

Our first-year Catalyst:Evolve evaluation material, including the Year 1 report, video-blogs, and podcasts are here.

For more on BOP’s impact evaluations see here.

This is the second in our series of blogs sharing key findings from the evaluation. Our first on building fundraising capacity is here.

- Rossella Traverso, Richard Naylor, Caroline McCormick

Image credit: Vadim Fomenok