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Having trouble getting your Board on board? Heidi Reid explains the strategies Berry Street used to prioritise fundraising across the organisation

The InfluencersHow would you rate your ability to influence others? If you’re a fundraiser, this is what we do: we influence others to give, to learn more, to become more involved. But what if I asked about your influence within your organisation, not just with donors and supporters?

As fundraisers, we know what makes our donors tick. We know their interests, and we create communications, messages and experiences to engage them in our cause.

But fundraising isn’t easy in the complex and changing environment of today. We need more than just good ideas and tactics. We need organisations that understand donors and put them at the heart of our communications. We need tools, strategies, campaigns and processes that value donors, and take into account the required investment and returns over a multi-year perspective.

For this to happen, we need a shared understanding and commitment across the organisation — around how and why donors are core to our growth, success and long-term sustainability. And this internal ‘ownership’ of fundraising and philanthropy needs to start at the top — at the Board and Executive level.

And although making this happen isn’t a simple process, our experience as fundraisers in understanding people and developing engaging messages and experiences is key in influencing how fundraising is prioritised. 

Speak their language…

Do you know what motivates your Board? What are the organisational vision and goals they are focused on achieving? Once you have this information, you can start to develop a plan to demonstrate how your fundraising or philanthropy strategy will help achieve these goals.

At Berry Street, one of the key goals in our Strategic Plan is to reorientate the child and family service system towards early intervention and prevention. This requires significant investment in early intervention programs that are initially funded by philanthropy and fundraising. This means we need donors who are motivated by our new vision of social change rather than the ‘charity’ model, and will give to emerging issues before they escalate to become serious problems. 

We needed to present to the Board the new donors we wanted to attract, how they would be different from many of our current donors, and that attracting and retaining them was not only desirable, it was key to delivering the Strategic Plan. This was a vital step in engaging the Board in the implementation of our strategy.

Share your strategy…

Look for ways to communicate the long-term impacts of investing in fundraising and philanthropy to your manager and Board, one-on-one and en masse. Develop a presentation with visuals and a strong narrative to describe your goals, the process and anticipated outcomes over a multi-year period. 

As fundraisers, it’s tempting to have a very focused mentality, where we just do the fundraising, but it’s really important to share and seek feedback from others within the organisation. These conversations are an opportunity to build shared understanding and ownership of your fundraising strategy and the outcomes.

Another of Berry Street’s organisational goals relates to financial sustainability. We looked at the long-term return on fundraising investment over a five-year period, and determined that regular giving was a way that we could grow the database and our independent income. However this required a significant investment in years one and two, leading to higher returns over subsequent years.

We outlined the strategy and the anticipated costs and income each year for five years, highlighting assumptions based on benchmarking and where we would be at the end of five years, as well as the organisational benefits of a growing databased of committed, regular donors. We continue to update the Board on these metrics regularly, based on the changing environment, internal data and results.

Suggest ways to be involved…

Your Board’s involvement in fundraising can be tailored at an individual level. It’s not one-size fits all, and it’s important to continue to share strategy and results regularly, as a reminder of the ways Board members can be more involved.

At Berry Street we have Board members who have played a key role in championing our investment in fundraising. Board members have also introduced us to major donors and trusts/foundations, invited colleagues and contacts to events, spoken at events organised by us and others, and provided venues for a wide variety of functions. We don’t expect them to make the ask, but we work to provide opportunities for them to invite others to find out more about our work. We then follow up with tailored information and options about how to get involved.

Each time you involve the Board and Senior Management, you make them feel invested in the outcome of your strategy, and move them on a journey towards understanding fundraising. Their engagement is the first and necessary step in implementing your fundraising strategy. And like any good relationship management plan, it’s the ongoing conversation that counts. 

Heidi Reid is Executive Director, Strategic Engagement at Berry Street.

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