The 4 steps to patron success
If you’re thinking of asking someone to be a patron or ambassador for your organisation, it’s important to be prepared.
Our State Manager for NSW and the ACT, Marie-Louise Carroll offers four practical steps to finding and nurturing a patron for your organisation.
What is a patron and does your organisation need one?
A patron (also known as an ambassador) is someone who agrees to lend their name to your organisation as a way of supporting you, usually because they have a long history of support for your organisation or a high profile, and are able to generate media coverage for your organisation or bring in donations.
The primary role of a patron is to lend credibility and support. They don’t play a formal part in the organisation, but are usually listed on letterheads, appeal brochures and publicity material to help raise awareness and support.
Step 1: Choosing a patron
When you’re choosing someone to act as your patron, make sure they:
- share the values of the organisation
- understand their role
- know precisely what they will be asked to do
Effective patrons will often have a long history of association with your organisation and should be well-informed about the work your organisation does. They will put in a good word for the organisation when it counts. They’ll attend events (including, most importantly, fundraising events) and will be seen to be positively and publicly supportive of the work of the organisation.
First of all you and your board need to think about the sort of patron that could best fit with your goals and mission. Even if someone well known has offered themselves to you as a patron you need to be sure they are the right fit and can meet your needs.
Step 2: The approach
If you’ve identified someone who has the right profile, influence and networks for your organisation you can approach them with a letter which sets out who you are, what you do and what you would expect of a patron.
As with approaching a donor prospect, make use of someone connected with your organisation with a link to the would-be patron to make that initial approach.
If the person you’ve approached is keen, follow up with a conversation to clarify expectations on both sides.
Step 3: The agreement
A patron’s role varies from situation to situation, so clarifying expectations in a letter agreement at the start of the relationship is essential. And sitting down with the would-be patron to agree on how you can best use their profile, knowledge, influence and contacts to help you is the way to go.
If you expect your patron to perform any specific function (such as open a season launch or chair an annual fundraising event) then it’s vital this is crystal clear and agreed in writing. It’s all about being straight up with how they can help you and what is a reasonable level of contribution in terms of time, given most patrons are incredibly busy people.
Of course if you want a patron to work effectively for your organisation, you need to help them! They’ll need a proper induction with the appropriate education about your work, with briefings along the way. They should be invited to important events, particularly fundraising or “friend raising” focused events and be given a detailed briefing on the case for support and key messages as well as who is in the audience.
Generally patrons are not trustees or management committee members so they do not attend meetings and do not carry any governance responsibilities or liabilities. Make this is clear in the letter agreement.
It’s wise to reach an agreement on how much time the patron can commit to you each year. This allows the CEO to “ration” the use of the patron and ensure they are included in the events and campaigns that really count.
Step 4: Nurturing the relationship
Once a patron is engaged, communication should be ongoing and the relationship well-managed so they stay connected to the organisation.
You should be mindful that on the odd occasion a patron can become a liability (negative press, involvement in a scandal etc). You need to ensure there is the ability to gracefully exit the relationship as the reputation of your organisation is paramount.
And remember, the most effective patron will have a passion for what you do. If they have a real interest in your work and mission and a strong personal connection, they can bring you great benefits. And as with any other supporter or donor, it’s a two-way relationship so their experience with you should be genuinely enjoyable and satisfying.