Engaging your board in fundraising | tips from arts professionals
Victoria and Tasmania State Manager Steven Richardson on the role of boards in fundraising
The idea that board members of not for profit arts organisations should not only donate their time but also make a financial contribution to the organisation they serve is a polarising issue.
At a recent Creative Partnerships seminar I was surprised at the level of passion displayed when this issue was raised. On one side of the argument: “I’m already giving of my time and expertise, why should I have to give money as well?” On the other side: “How can you expect others to donate if your board is not setting the example?”
It’s beyond question that boards do have a role to play in fundraising (see James Boyd’s post on using your board strategically) but the nuances of that role, where it begins and ends and what can be expected by the executive of the board remains the subject of some discussion.
I approached four experienced arts professionals for their best tips around Board engagement in fundraising. Here’s what they had to say:
“It’s a collective responsibility”
David Francis, CEO of Four Winds Festival
Find out what individual board members comfort zones are in relation to fundraising…some like to host or welcome and leave the asking to others; others may like to make an ask, but to a whole group en masse whilst others may prefer a 1-2-1 approach with potential donors; some board members may prefer just to make their own donation and stay more in the background. Once this is established, build the campaign with clear roles for the board around their comfort zones and work together as a team to cover all angles.
Ask the board for help, and establish how they’d like to help, it ensures everyone has the same expectations of one another. One valuable contribution is for board members to suggest potential donors. However, before they hand over their contacts they need to be absolutely convinced of the quality and worth of the campaign and that their contacts will be well looked after.
Clear milestones relating to fundraising keeps the board, engaged. If it’s going well, great, everyone can celebrate success together. If not, they can help think about how to reframe the campaign…it’s a collective responsibility.
My comments are from the perspective of a small arts organisation with no dedicated staff member for fundraising. In this case the involvement of the board in terms of providing practical help and support is crucial.
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“If our Board hadn’t contributed financially over the past fifteen years, we wouldn’t exist today”.
Mary Lou Jelbart, CEO 45 Downstairs
I think Board giving should be, if not mandatory, certainly an accepted part of the organisation culture. It is very hard for most arts managers to make those connections with philanthropic organisations or high net worth individuals.
If our Board hadn’t contributed financially over the past fifteen years, we wouldn’t exist today. Our case may be unusual in that we have not had a substantial changeover of Board members, and three Board members have contributed varying amounts each year since our inception in 2002. Another donor joined the Board two years ago. Others have given extremely valuable pro bono assistance as financial advisor/Treasurer and public officer/secretary.
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“What raises money for Big hART is the organisation’s values, integrity, results, evidence and narrative”
Scott Rankin, Artistic Director and CEO of Big hArt
Our board does not raise money. Or give money. I don’t want them to.
What raises money for Big hART is the organisation’s values, integrity, results, evidence and narrative. Stewardship of these things is a much tougher task for a board. Board members are not trained in this kind of governance… otherwise the world would a better place.
We could insist our board give ‘give’, and if they don’t, ‘get’, but ultimately for spare change, short-term board members gain a lot of power without much investment.
Of far more value is a board that is deeply embedded in the work, over time, and who understand the pressure of delivering diligently and with integrity in high needs communities.
Who know the importance of cultural rights and social rights, and will stand with you to ensure there is no organisational mission creep, when you are exhausted in the field. Who will watch that the vision for the company doesn’t get bent out of shape by “ambulance chasing” when funding is low. Who know the importance of the longer narrative of the company, rather than short term-ism.
A board that actually knows the nature of the work you are engaged in and doesn’t sprout the weasel words of the “cultural industries” and doesn’t think like the board of a 19th century button manufacturing company. That is where a board gets its value. Hang on to them.
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“The old give, get or get off maxim is not a nuanced view of what it takes to contribute at board level”
Vivia Hickman, Chair, Next Wave Festival and former CEO, Melbourne International Arts Festival
It is essential that prospective board members are made aware before they join the board that fundraising is going to be a part of what is required of them, if that is indeed the case.
What is asked of board members must match their capacity to contribute meaningfully to fundraising efforts. Not all board members have deep pockets or endless networks of high net worth individuals! The old give, get or get off maxim is not a nuanced view of what it takes to contribute at board level.
If board members are expected to make financial contributions, this needs to be made expressly clear from the outset. It may not be an unreasonable expectation at the ‘big end of town’ board level. But for smaller companies, you could miss out on fantastic board talent if this criterion was used to rule out prospective directors.
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These are diverse views, but there are obvious commonalities too.
It’s a fact that board giving sets a good example and shows staff, volunteers and other donors that the board is fully committed to the cause and to fundraising for the organisation. This doesn’t mean huge sums of money need to change hands, but it shows that a board is giving to its capacity.
When giving is less than 100%, donors, including foundations and other institutional givers, might start to ask questions. A giving board is a powerful gesture that demonstrates ‘skin in the game’ and can have a galvanising effect on staff and potential supporters.
In practical terms, think of a scenario in which a board member is soliciting donations. A potential donor says: “I’m really interested in your organisation and this project really excites me. How much do you donate as a committed supporter?” Imagine if the response is: “I’d like to give more but I do give to my capacity”. Now imagine another response: “I don’t give money, I only give my time.” Which experience is more positive?
The gift your board makes can be large or small. Regardless of value, it needs to be a gift each board member stands by and is personally proud of making.