Did you find the tips in this interview helpful?
The full interview with Jennifer, and her answers to various fundraisers’ questions, and a whole library of training courses and webinar coaching and support from Rob Woods in the Bright Spot Members Club. Follow the link to find out more about our 25% discount on annual club membership.
There’s nothing new about the benefits of charities working with a board of volunteers to raise funds. This is a classic strategy and there is a reason it’s still used so widely – when it works well, it’s so much more effective than staff seeking funds for an appeal on their own.
But its not for the faint-hearted, and when it goes wrong it can be time-draining, stressful and frustrating. In this episode of the Fundraising Bright Spots podcast, we share an enduring interview from the resource library of the Bright Spot Members Club.
In this interview Rob Woods talks to Jennifer Coleman-Peers, a major donor fundraiser and social impact consultant whose extensive experience includes three years leading the Volunteer Board Fundraising team at the NSPCC. Jennifer and Rob discuss a range of ideas to help increase the up sides and decrease the risks that come with working with influential people to raise funds for your charity.
Takeaways and key ideas
- EFFECTIVE – When charities work with volunteers to help raise funds it can be very powerful. And when they form a board of influential and relatively powerful volunteers, it can make a big difference to a charities’ ability to generate high value funds (eg through major gifts, trusts and corporate partnerships).
- WHY IT WORKS – The reason it can be so powerful is that when people ask their friends and contacts to support a cause they care about, they are more likely to succeed than if someone from the charity makes that approach directly. This is why so many charities arrange events that you can seek sponsorship from your friends to take part in.
- BETTER RESULTS – When Jennifer conducted a thumbnail evaluation of the requests for major gifts (in this case, worth over £10,000) made for the NSPCC, the requests made by volunteers on behalf of the NSPCC were four times more likely to succeed than requests made by staff fundraisers.
- WHAT TO PREPARE – The potential rewards are great, but charities should not rush into this strategy ill-prepared. Jennifer believes there are four crucial elements that you need to get right if you are to want to reduce the risks of going ahead:
- MISSION / VISION – There must be a clearly articulated mission and vision for the charity, that makes sense to supporters.
2) PURPOSE OF BOARD – There must be a specific, clear purpose for what the board is raising funds for. This will be consistent with the overall mission and vision, but also specific for this appeal board. Has this case for support been articulated?
3) LEADERS BOUGHT IN – The leadership of the charity need to have understood and agreed to the implications of this way of working, including the time and diplomacy that they will need to invest with the board. Influential board members will want to talk to charity leaders other than the fundraiser.
4) OTHER TEAMS TOO – Other teams in the charity need to be prepared for the implications of this way of working. For instance, to respond to offers from volunteers to make introductions to corporates or trusts where they see potential for partnerships.
- WHICH CHAIR? When seeking a chair, the abilities / qualities Jennifer considers important are:
- The ability to lead the group
- The ability (and willingness) to leverage a network of people that can help
- The willingness to support financially somehow (because without this its very hard to encourage others to do the same
- To be an advocate for your cause
- HOW TO FIND A CHAIR / MEMBERS – If you don’t already have a network of influential people who care about your charity, an option is to invite a head-hunter / recruiter to find and make approaches to suitable people on your behalf. Some may do this pro bono.
- CLEAR EXPECTATIONS – To help increase the effectiveness of the board, be clear from the start about what it’s for and what your expectations are. Having a semi-formal process for this really helps. Jennifer advises using a (one page) Terms of Reference document for board members. It should show the purpose of the board, expectations and what they can expect from the charity.
- DEAL WITH PROBLEMS – When someone on the board is no longer committed or adding value, its best to address this, for the benefit of all concerned. Its fine for someone to care about your cause and support in some other way, but for that board to not suit their skills, interests or time commitments at that time. Do not let these situations fester. With support, deal with them proactively and diplomatically, to keep the board positive and active, which helps the morale and productivity of the whole board as well as your stress levels.
‘…As with all fundraising, you look at your kind of nearest and dearest first. So if you already have some major donors, are there any of those that have shown potential or interest in getting more involved with the organization?’
‘They can make a huge difference, but if you’re not set up for it, then you will spend hours of your time, managing the endless questions and the frustration that come from it. So, it’s absolutely worth investing in that earl stage to make sure you have the right foundation in place.’
Hello, this is Rob Woods. Welcome to episode 14 of the Fundraising Bright Spots podcast. This is the show for anyone who works in fundraising and who wants ideas for how to raise more money, really enjoy their job, and make a bigger difference.
Rob: If you’re a fundraiser, or the chief executive of a charity and you already work with a board of volunteer fundraisers, or you’ve heard about this tactic and would like to make it work for your organization but you have some reservations about the practicalities and the risks that it brings, then today’s episode should serve to demystify and hopefully inspire you.
Rob: Because today, I’m sharing advice from one of the world’s experts on how to work with volunteer boards to boost major donor, trust and corporate income by working with a board of senior volunteers. I’m particularly excited to bring you this content from inside the resource library in our Bright Spot Members Club, and which our members have told me they’ve found really helpful over the years. It’s part of an interview I did with a smart, experienced High Value fundraiser called Jennifer Coleman-Peers.
Rob: If you don’t know Jennifer, here’s a brief snapshot. She’s worked for charities for more than 16 years. For nine of those, she worked for the NSPCC, a large children’s charity in the UK. She did a variety of roles there. In fact, she joined as a graduate trainee. For four years, she was the head of volunteer board fundraising, responsible for a team of fundraisers raising two to three million pounds per year. She was also, for several years, the chair of the Institute of Fundraising’s volunteer board fundraising Special Interest Group.
Rob: This session with Jennifer includes some research into why working with a volunteer board helps you raise more money than if you tried to do High Value fundraising without one, the four things you need in place as a charity if you’re to go ahead with this approach, and practical advice about how to find and work with an effective chair and board members.
Rob: I made this interview with Jennifer several years ago. Since then, she’s come back into the club to answer members’ questions and each time we’ve worked with Jennifer, her calm, clear thinking, evidence-based approach has proved hugely helpful to myself and the members of the Bright Spot Club.
This episode of the Fundraising Bright Spots podcast is brought to you by the Bright Spot Members Club. As a practical alternative to one-off conferences and courses, whose impact can fade all too quickly, the Member’s Club is an online resource that gives you ongoing access to a whole library of video training courses, monthly coaching webinars, and live training events. It’s all designed to help you learn, enjoy your job, and raise more money. To join the 300 fundraisers already in the club, or just to find out more, go to brightspotfundraising.co.uk.
Rob: On the day of the interview, I went to meet Jennifer in the offices of the Institute of Imagination, a new museum for which Jennifer was the head of philanthropy, a role which included managing a board of volunteer fundraisers. At the time of publishing this episode, Jennifer splits her week between the museum and her independent work as a social impact consultant. The first question I asked Jennifer was about how she weighs up the pros and cons of working with senior volunteers in High Valley fundraising.
Jennifer: There are certainly days of working with volunteer boards where you think, “Why is this worth it?” when you’re having a particularly frustrating situation, but absolutely. I’m a huge advocate for working with volunteers. I think actually at any capacity, I mean we’re talking about fundraising today, but I think whatever you’re trying to achieve can only be enhanced by having a broader group of people pushing in the same direction.
Jennifer: From a fundraising perspective, I think you can access more networks, and you can deliver more fundraising, and ultimately raise more money if you’re a charity working with volunteers than you could possibly do on your own. Volunteer boards that we’re talking about, senior volunteers, so those people who are having kind of an influence, the captains of industry, they’re entrepreneurs, they’re running big trusts and foundations, these are the people that hold the keys to all sorts of different fundraising opportunities. If you can inspire them and engage them and get them working in the right way for your organization, and that’s obviously the challenge, but I think they can achieve incredible things.
Jennifer: So just to give a couple of examples, one is an annual art auction, which is an event that we held for the NSPCC. It was actually the start of a whole range of art based fundraising, and that led to further fundraising events later on. But it was driven by an artist. So Keith Tyson, very well-known contemporary artists, was really inspired by our work and joined our campaign board. Because of his connections, because of his reputation, he was able to engage other artists and, importantly, other buyers of art, collectors of art, to put together this incredible collection of contemporary pieces from people like Damien Hirst and Tracey Emin, which happened at Sotheby’s.
Jennifer: Again, using his connections, he got them to waive their buyer’s fee, waive their commission, so all the profits came to the NSPCC, and that event raised 1.5 million pounds, and that’s something that we wouldn’t have even dreamed possible if we were trying to do that as staff members.
Jennifer: I couldn’t possibly have just called Damien Hirst and said, “Would you give me a piece that will sell for like a million pounds?”
Rob: Yeah. The key thing is, the listener may be you thinking, “Well, in my organization, I wouldn’t have access to those kinds of connections.” That may be true, but the principle remains the same, does it not?
Jennifer: Absolutely, yes.
Rob: The principle is that however large or small or well-connected your organization is or isn’t, the principle remains the same, that if you go to people in your community who are relatively well-connected, they will be able to deliver value to you that the staff can’t. Is that right?
Jennifer: Absolutely. Thinking about it on the simplest level, peer-to- peer fundraising will always be more successful than staff and donor fundraising. If you think about that in your own situation, if your friend were to send you an email asking for sponsorship for a marathon they were running for X charity, how much more likely are you to sponsor friends than if you’ve got an email out of the blue from the charity itself asking you for a donation?
Jennifer: Of course, you’re much more likely to sponsor your friends than you are to just respond to a cold mail, and that’s exactly the same. The same principle applies. A friend asking a friend at whatever level in whatever network or a business contact is always going to be more successful than a cold approach from somebody.
Jennifer: Particularly, I think when you’re dealing with more senior people, there’s always this sort of hierarchy, the perception of somebody. Fundraiser from a charity is not going to be perceived at the same level as the CEO of a company or a famous artist or whatever it might be.
Jennifer: So I think teenagers fundraising from each other or running fundraising events through to the most senior people in society, the same principle applies.
Rob: I believe there was one thumbnail bit of research you conducted about major gift asks at the NSPCC.
Jennifer: Yes, so, we were trying to sort of answer that question of what added value is there from volunteers, because they’re not always easy? So, making sure that we were absolutely able to justify, and we looked at major gifts. So, at the NSPCC there was a team, steady team of people working to secure major gifts directly as staff. Then, we were fundraising through volunteers to secure major gifts.
Jennifer: From the small sample that we took, we were four times more likely to secure a major gift where it was asked for by a parent than when it was asked for by a staff member. So not only do you get the huge kind of increase in prospects and your prospect pool, so just from having a connection, they bring new names. But at the point of asking if a peer member is involved in the ask, they were four times more likely to be successful.
Rob: Right. So in a sense, compared to (just the staff alone ask) when the volunteer was involved, the ask results in a yes.
Rob: So, these worked. As in fact, my memory serves me correctly, this was looking at the up to hundred thousand pound gift level or something like that.
Jennifer: Yeah. So, anything from ten thousand up.
Rob: Ten thousand to a hundred thousand.
Rob: An ample sample. Just the staff member making the ask, the chances were not necessarily in your favour. Involve a senior person who knew that donor, almost always ended in a yes.
Rob: Thank you. So, our appetite is whetted if we’re a fundraiser who wants to make maximum value for our organization, we really need to consider this one. But it’s not all plain sailing, and probably you’ve learned the hard way as I have that there’s some things you need to get right. If I’m in an organization and I’m thinking, “Maybe this volunteer board strategy would really lift, especially our philanthropic income, what are some things that I should consider before I rush into this and actually going to set up a board?”
Jennifer: I think there are four things that you really should think about and make sure that you have in place, because if you set up a board without these, I think you’ve got an uphill struggle. It’s always going to be difficult, but I think if you have these four things in place, then you’ll be much more likely to be successful.
Jennifer: The first is, can you clearly articulate the mission and purpose of your organization? What is it you’re trying to achieve as a charity? Do you have a solid case for support? Is that compelling? Have you tested that with major donors? Have you tested that with volunteers? That obviously applies to any kind of fundraising, but it’s surprising the number of organizations that don’t have that clear articulation. So, I think that’s the first thing.
Jennifer: Secondly, can you then apply that to what you’re specifically asking your volunteers to achieve? The NSPCC, the mission is to end cruelty to children. There’s a clearly articulated case for support for the organization, but that’s a very broad mission. What is it that the volunteers are trying to achieve?
Jennifer: So for example, one of the boards that I was responsible for at the NSPCC was raising money for therapeutic services. So, they had a very clear mission. They understood the context within which they were working, but it was overall though helping to end cruelty, but their specific responsibility, the thing that they could really make a difference on was therapeutic services, making sure that they were provided to the thousands of children that needed them each year.
Jennifer: We were able to tie specific financial targets to that, and they could see all of the money they were raising what that was contributing to that specific goal. So, the first two kind of go together: can you articulate the mission and vision of the organization, and can you then make that tangible and real for the volunteers? Can they make a difference to that?
Jennifer: I think the second two are more cultural. So, do you have senior buy-in to working with the volunteer board? So, the people that you’re trying to engage are the most senior people, there are chief executives inside there and captains of industry. You obviously as a fundraiser need to have your fantastic influencing skills, you need to build rapport and engagement with these people. But, you won’t be able to avoid them wanting to speak to your chief exec, to the person who’s running your services, to the people making decisions in your organization.
Jennifer: Time and time again, I’ve spoken to fundraisers who have had an idea for setting up a board and their chief exec and fundraising director have said, “Oh yeah, sounds like a great idea. You go off and do that.” That just won’t work. You can’t have the fundraiser just merrily working with the volunteer boards… They won’t have that. They will expect to speak to people at their level, whether that’s the chief exec or the finance director.
Jennifer: So, you really need to make sure that that senior team have understood that that has a time requirement. They will be expected to come to events, they’ll be expected to come to key meetings, and that is essentially the kind of price that they will have to pay in order to get the returns from the board. They will also have to face questions and challenges. So again, these people will have opinions. If you’ve sold them all on the mission and you’ve given them a clear remit in terms of fundraising, they’re going to have a say about that.
Jennifer: So, do they think, you’re running your services efficiently? Do they have an opinion about a better supplier they think you should use? They’re going to have suggestions, and your senior team need to be willing to handle those questions, handle those objections sensitively, and not shut them down and not shut them out because that will be a huge block to you. No matter how much relationship building you use, you won’t be able to keep on going if that’s the case.
Rob: Yeah. So let’s be clear, we’re not saying that the charity is necessarily going to have to take all this advice and go away and change its strategy, but we are, and most of the time, probably, let’s hope, using the most sensible supplier and so on. But, you are saying they might need to be prepared for the fact that the questions will come and, above all, that they need to be able to handle them in a sensitive way and a diplomatic way that takes on all the good intent of the volunteer, it doesn’t put their nose out of joint for expressing an opinion.
Jennifer: Absolutely. So again, they’re going to have to deploy their relationship building skills and the time that goes into doing that. Then the fourth thing, which again sort of kind of comes from that really, is then the buy-in and support of your fundraising colleagues. So obviously, it depends on the structure that you have in your fundraising team, but the likelihood is that there will be colleagues within your fundraising team who are responsible for other areas. So, you might have a corporate fundraising colleague or a community fundraising colleague.
Jennifer: If you are using your volunteer boards to its fullest extent, they will be making a difference to all areas of your fundraising. So, they might have a connection to a company they want you to engage, you’re going to be able to need to work with your corporate colleague to develop that relationship to work to get the most out of your volunteer.
Jennifer: So again, it’s no good if your fundraising colleagues are saying, “Oh yes, that’s great. You do your board, but I don’t want to engage with them.” They are also going to have to give up time and, again, use their relationship building skills to manage questions or suggestions that come from the volunteers. So again, you need that buy-in and if, again, the culture kind of flows from the top, so you need your senior team to buy-in and they need to model that to the team, that the fact your fundraising colleagues would also support you and to their brain from your board.
Rob: Yes. So, if right now the listener is thinking, “Well, I’ve got some of these four in place, but I have some concerns about some of them,” that it’s not the end of the world, it’s just the money to do some sort of really serious effort of influencing internally to improve the case for support or to really do whatever they can to help the senior team or their colleagues understand what will be expected. But, also be really clear, “Actually, we really can’t go ahead unless the whole organization wants to do this,” in a kind of a level of assertiveness and clarity in making that position is really essential, isn’t it?
Jennifer: Absolutely. I say they can add enormous value. They can make a huge difference, but if you’re not set up, then you will spend hours of your time, and your colleagues’ time, managing the endless questions and the mess and the frustration that will come from it. So, it’s absolutely worth investing in that early stage to make sure that you have the right foundation in place.
Rob: Yes, and I guess some of the carrot and stick, the stick part of this is if you sense you’re senior team really aren’t getting this, the bottom line is, unless we get these fourl, you might have all of the hassle but not get those rich returns.
Jennifer: Absolutely. I’ve seen examples of that where boards haven’t been managed in the right way. They are huge time suckers, because they’re, again, these people are demanding. You can spend enormous amounts of time trying to build bridges to kind of make up for lost ground, but if you don’t have those things in place, and it’s not working, and they’re very hard to shut down. You then run the risk of damaging reputation because just as you can use a volunteer to positively influence the network, just as easy for them to negatively influence the network.
Jennifer: So, what you don’t want is the annoyed volunteers who are going off and badmouthing the organization for not having given them the respect that they think they deserve.
Rob: So, this tactic has rich rewards, but really only for an organization and the senior team that go into it with their eyes open and are really serious about doing what is necessary to make it work for all parts.
Jennifer: Absolutely, yes.
Rob: Thank you. Then, I had a question about how you go out searching, assuming you’ve decided it is right for us, how do you, A find the board members and, B, the chair? In which order do you do it?
Jennifer: So, I think once you’ve decided you’re going ahead, you’re kind of clear that you’ve got a good foundation in place. You need to be clear about what it is you’re expecting the board to deliver. So, hopefully you’ve got a clear sense of the remit in terms of the mission that they’re delivering, what financial target are you setting? Obviously as you referenced earlier, some charities that might be millions, for some it might just be tens of thousands.
Jennifer: So depending on what scale you’re talking about, and what areas are you hoping to access. So, are you able to deal with a major giving program if your volunteer starts securing major gifts? Have you got a corporate team or ability to develop corporate? So, think about the kinds of people that you want to engage, and also the kinds of people that you already have contact with.
Jennifer: So obviously, as with all fundraising, you look at your kind of nearest and dearest first. So if you already have some major donors, are there any of those that have shown potential or interest in getting more involved with the organization? Or, there’s a couple of trustees maybe who have shown a particular interest in fundraising and have introduced contacts before.
Jennifer: So in most cases, there will be somebody, at least one person, within your network of supporters who has the potential to kind of help you get this going and growing.
Rob: That person may or may not be your vision for who would be the good chair in the long run. You were saying find someone who could help you kind of get it going and the start, getting people in a room.
Jennifer: Absolutely, yes. So for example, here at the children’s museum, we are in the process of setting up our campaign boards and identified a couple of people who had already supported and had been involved. Neither of them are potentials chairs but were both passionate about helping us deliver the income you need for the campaign. We kind of proposed to them a set of kind of job descriptions, essentially. So, what we were looking for in terms of a chair and what we were looking for in terms of board members.
Jennifer: Given the scale of the campaign, we’re also looking for somebody who kind of has a good profile and is very senior, can access gifts at million pound plus level. So, we’ve got quite specific requirements, I guess, in terms of what we’re looking for. As compassionate, as committed as the couple of volunteers are, neither of them quite fit that description in terms of profile and leverage networks.
Jennifer: So, we shared that description with them. They could kind of clearly see for themselves that they didn’t fit that description either.
Rob: So, do you think that help, in that communication with them, that you already written down on a piece of paper the right chair to achieve what we need to achieve for the children’s museum will have, there are at least three or four things that are musts on our list?
Rob: You can show them that, and then it wasn’t personal. They could opt out.
Jennifer: Exactly. So, they essentially self-selected. They kind of said to me, rather than me having to say to them, “I don’t think I can fit the bill, but I want to help you find them.”
Jennifer: So, we’ve worked with those two people to start with, and then growing that to six people now. Again, none of them are going to be the chair, but they’re all working with those two to secure that chair. So for us, it came from those couple of people. I think if you’re really stuck, if you can’t think of even one person within your network or you’re already struggling to get them engaged, then you can also go down the recruitment route.
Jennifer: So, I know a number of charities who have successfully worked with Headhunters to identify someone external to their networks, but who’s looking for a charity role. So again, if you’ve got a really clear description of what it is that you’re looking for, essentially a job description, the person specification, there are people out there who will, sometimes pro bono and sometimes for a fee, will help you identify that person.
Jennifer: So, think about the sorts of professionals who are looking for a portfolio career, who are maybe taking a number of non-exec positions. Quite often, they will now say, “I would also like a charity role to be part of my portfolio.” So, there is always that route. So even if you’re sitting there thinking, “I just can’t think of anyone. We’re starting from a position of a blank sheet of paper,” then don’t rule this method out because you could still look for somebody new from outside the organization.
Rob: Yes, it’s especially tantalizing to me that potentially, that head-hunter might do that as a pro bono thing. There must be recruiters and head-hunters out there. Most people I know, know some big recruiter they’ve already worked with.
Jennifer: Absolutely, absolutely.
Rob: So, that’s a really good tactic that need not cost you if you really don’t already have the networks.
Jennifer: Yeah, absolutely.
Rob: I think you’ve alluded to them, and they might shift a little bit depending on the organization and the campaign, but if you were to go for a default two or three qualities that are likely to be found in a successful chair of a volunteer board, what might those two or three be on the top of your list?
Jennifer: So, I think the first one has to be that they are influential in their network. So again, the scale and scope of that network will vary depending on what you’re trying to achieve, but they need to be someone who is perceived by their peers as being someone of influence, someone who they would take a phone call from, that they would be willing to come to an event for.
Jennifer: So, the person who’s leading your board, the most influential person has to be able to pull those strings. So, that will kind of automatically weed out some people who might be able to be a board member, so they might still have all these other qualities, but if they don’t have that key thing of being the most influential, the kind of person who can sit at the head of the table, then that would rule them out.
Jennifer: If they have that, they also need to be willing to use that network. So, there are some people in some industries you might be very well connected, but where they’re not the client, they have client relationships. So just because somebody has a great black book…
Rob: For instance, they’re a supplier, they’ve got an amazing little black book, but they’d be in a conflict of interests to be going out and telling people what to do or making too many asks. It just would be bad for their business.
Jennifer: Yes. Exactly. So, they have to have the networks, but they also have to be willing to leverage those networks for you.
Jennifer: There might be some people who it wouldn’t even be a conflict of interest, but they just don’t, from a character perspective, they didn’t feel comfortable with it and there’s nothing you can do to kind of unlock that unease that they have.
Rob: Yes. The reality is, some people are comfortable and some are not. You need to clear about that from the start, rather than really later.
Jennifer: Yes, absolutely.
Rob: So, what else?
Jennifer: So, they also need to be willing to give. So again, if you’re looking at this person as the leader of your campaign and the other person’s leading the charge, they need to also do that with the support that they bring. So if they are tasking their board and then the board are going out to their networks, asking for gifts in whatever format that might take, if they haven’t been willing to make that investment themselves, that whole chain kind of collapses.
Jennifer: There are a whole range of ways they can do that. It might be a gift to through their company, it might be through a trust, it could be gifts over time. Although ideally, you want that to be the lead gift, so you’d like them to give the biggest gift through their board, it doesn’t have to be the case if maybe there are other things that they bring in, but I do think the principle of giving personally is incredibly important.
Rob: Again, must they have actually signed the cheque or the company started to do the giving before you appointed them as chair or if you’re a bit more relaxed about it, “We might never get going at all.”
Jennifer: Yes, exactly. I think then they have to sign up to the principle of it.
Rob: Yes, and you believe that.
Jennifer: Yes, so again, I’m thinking about the campaign board, I’m starting here, so we’re starting from that starting position. We are very clear from the beginning that one of the requirements, not just for the chair but for all of the members, was to give. We know we’ve been working with them to set up in various things in terms of our approach and our prospect list.
Jennifer: It’s only now, maybe six months after we had kind of set that requirement, that I’m now having conversations with each of them about, “Okay, so you know that part of the deal. Have you thought about it? What level are you thinking? How can we now make that gift a reality?”
Jennifer: Everyone that I’ve spoken to has kind of gone, “Oh, yes. I know that’s something I need to do. I’ve been thinking about it, let’s have a further conversation.” So I think as long as you’re very clear from the beginning and everyone knows the deal, that conversation is then quite easy. So as long as they’ve signed up to the terms of reference, it should then follow.
Rob: Yes. That’s your two or three. Anything else we need to be careful of? Things to look out for?
Jennifer: So, I think they need to be passionate advocates for your cause. So, there are lots of people who would be great volunteers, who’ve got the networks, who are willing to support, but they have to be able to influence their networks. If they’re not bought into what your organization is doing, if they cynical or critical, or maybe they don’t necessarily agree with your approach, again, you’re always going to come up against that because yes, in theory, they’ll ask their friends, but actually no, they won’t because they’re not happy yet.
Rob: But you’re not saying, at the time you approach them, they need to have been a lifelong fan.
Jennifer: No, no.
Rob: I mean, you might be, and that’s all okay. But, they might have these other qualities and be willing to explore and become really passionate about this particular thing.
Rob: But really, it’s the other way around. You’re saying, if you sense some problem or conflict between them and their willingness to get behind you that, then that should be a warning too. It kind of sounds obvious in a way when we say it than like this, but we could be seduced by the other things, couldn’t we?
Jennifer: Absolutely, absolutely. Again, you’d just be setting yourself up for trouble if you don’t address it. So as you said before, there are lots of other things that you can layer onto it, and depending on your charity, you might want to build extra things in terms of reference around number of meetings they come to per year and how they might address their prospect team or whatever, but those are the things I think are essential.
Jennifer: So, the ability to lead, the ability to leverage networks, and the willingness to give, and the passion for your organization.
Rob: I see what you’re saying. Then similar to that but not quite the same, is in terms of what you say to the new board members from the start. Again, I know things have gone wrong and sometimes with this strategy where organizations weren’t clear enough, do you go so far as to say that there should be a contract people even sign when they become a board member or is it, and is there a spectrum here – just how formal do you make it. How have you tended to make it work in terms of showing board members clearly what this is and what it is not about?
Jennifer: The minimum I would always do is have a written terms of reference.
Rob: It might be a couple of pages?
Jennifer: One page. It shouldn’t be more than a page. On that, you should have what you expect the board member to do, so things that we’ve just talked about or whatever else you want to include, but it should also have what they can expect from you as an organization. So, who is the main point of contact? What kind of support can they expect to give so that it’s a mutual arrangement. It’s not just, “We as an organization are demanding of you.” It’s also, “This is what you can expect.”
Jennifer: So at the minimum, I’d have that as a printed document that they have, that they keep, that is referred to. I think in an ideal world, if your chair is really kind of bought in and had to do that, then to actually get people to sign up to that, physically, I think is a great thing.
Jennifer: Again, one of the chairs that I worked with at the NSPCC was really keen on that. He took over chairing a board that had previously been operating and had terms of reference, but in a slightly looser, had them kind of written down but not signed up to. He used the opportunity of starting as a chair to say, “Right, going to clear the decks, make sure everything’s clear. This is an opportunity to refresh,” and he wrote to every board member and said, “The support you’ve given to date has been fantastic.” Just to remind you, these are the things that you have to agree to as a board member.”
Jennifer: He actually included in his letter the reference to the fact that it was a real privilege to sit on the board. So, he was really kind of a real advocate to be able to go out to your networks and your friends and say, “I am a member of a board of NSPCC,” that’s a big deal. People put that in their CVs. I often see on people’s professional profiles, the boards that they belong to for an organization.
Jennifer: So, he was very clear about saying, “This is a privilege for you. There is an expectation of what you will deliver.”
Jennifer: “I really hope that you can continue to deliver that. If so, please sign this and send it back to me. If not, there are lots of other ways that you can support the organization,” and I think that’s something to really be mindful of is that you shouldn’t have to feel that you’re stuck. It’s never an either or. It’s not either they’re a board member or they’re not a supporter. There are a whole other range of ways that they can get involved.
Rob: Yes, that’s certainly important, isn’t it? This way of supporting a charity is not for everybody. It doesn’t make them a bad person. It’s just, whether they like meetings, whether they’ve got time or money, they may or may not be right supporting your cause in this way. Moving away from this either / or way of thinking can really free you up, and hopefully help you have a robust discussion and that could be good for both parties if currently you’ve got a board member, or even a chair, and it’s not working.
Jennifer: Absolutely. I think the other thing is to remember that that might change over time. So, you might recruit the best board member in the world and they might do fantastic things for you for two years and be brilliant, but then they might change their job, or they might have a family, or they might move, and suddenly they’re not able to fulfill the requirements that they did before. Actually, that’s fine.
Jennifer: It’s okay for them to step down. It’s okay for them to continue supporting in a different way. I think if you have that clear terms of reference that you can refer them back to you and say, “I know how committed you are to the charity, but you’re not being able to fulfill these requirements.” As you about, “That’s fine. That’s okay. Here are some other things you might want to think of.”
Jennifer: Because, actually, I think, again, I’ve worked with so many volunteers where they are really committed to it, they really, really want to make a difference for your charity, but for whatever reason they’re unable to, and they feel guilty.
Jennifer: Yes. Giving and supporting should be a joyful experience. We talk about the joy of giving, but actually if they’re sitting there thinking, “Oh, I really want to help, but I feel like I’m letting them down. I haven’t been able to go to the last two meetings. I’m letting the beneficiaries down,” that’s not a good feeling.
Jennifer: Then in the long run, that’s going to damage the relationship. So much better to be transparent and open, address the issue sooner rather than later. If it’s the case that they want to take a sabbatical, great. If it’s a case of moving them to a different role, absolutely fine.
Rob: Yes. I think this is one of the key learnings I’ve found in this way of working and from the advice you were giving us today – if the listener already has a board and some things aren’t working out, the chair or some of the members is not working, the key thing you’re saying is don’t just suffer it.
Rob: It’s bad for both parties, get proactive, work out a strategy either you on your own or you with your manager, or your chief exec or someone, and go and have this sensible chat, where you end up with win-win for both parties, even if that means you might lose a board member. Better to lose them from that role and get a decent board.
Jennifer: Absolutely, and I think the really important thing to remember is that in all likelihood, this person is incredibly committed to your charity. They’re passionate about what you’re trying to achieve. They know they didn’t volunteer to just be annoying and to cause problems. They want to make a difference. So as a fundraiser, you’re on the receiving end potentially of some challenging issues, challenging behaviour.
Jennifer: If you think about it from their perspective, actually they want to make a difference to your charity. How can you help them to do that? If you always kind of come back to thinking about it from that point of view, that might kind of unlock the issue and you might realize actually it is because they’re too busy, or they’ve got commitments elsewhere. How can you make that easy for them?
Rob: Yes. So, I hope you found this excerpt from my interview with Jennifer helpful. For a short summary of the key ideas, do check out the episode notes on the blog and podcast section of our Bright Spot Fundraising website. As you may know, I try to keep these podcast episodes under half an hour, but if you’re a member of the Bright Spot Members Club, you’ll be able to access the full interview in the club online.
Rob: This includes Jennifer’s tactics to help boards increase income by embracing the notion of major donor fundraising, rather than defaulting to the glitzy gala dinners that they’re often drawn to, but which you may be aware are very time intensive and tend to have a much lower return on investment compared to major donor fundraising.
Rob: If you’re not yet a member of the Bright Spot Members Club, it’s well worth checking out, as there are lots of resources in the club to help your fundraising, including a great session we recorded from when members wanted to get advice from Jennifer on a range of topics, including some of the ideas we talked about in today’s interview.
Rob: So if you’re curious about how the club gives ongoing support and inspiration as an alternative to one-off conference days, you can find out more by checking out the website, brightspotmembersclub.co.uk/join.
Rob: Finally, thank you so much for listening today. Over the last two decades, whenever I’ve interviewed super successful fundraisers like Jennifer, I’ve noticed that one thing they all have in common is their willingness to keep learning throughout their career. But, I also know that this isn’t always easy, so thank you for being one of the ones who do. So, until the next time, best of luck with your fundraising.