Building fundraising success: the importance of leadership

Corporate Photographer LondonA guest blog by Caroline Underwood.

Time and time again we see the critical role that leaders and trustees have on their charity’s major gift fundraising success.

I remember the enormous leap of faith that the leadership at Save the Children UK made when they created the role of Director of Philanthropy and Partnerships in 2007 for me. This was the first board-level fundraising position in the sector at the time and the appointment made national news.

Jasmine Whitbread, then CEO, had persuaded her Board of Trustees of the immense value that major gift fundraising could bring to the charity and its impact for children organisation – and the wider sector – in the face of decreasing government funding. Save the Children’s decision to back high value fundraising paid off. Alongside the excellent team of mass and community fundraisers led by Tanya Steele (now CEO of WWF) we built a team of over 80 fundraisers, tripled high-value income in 3 years, launched under the leadership of my corporate director Douglas Rouse a corporate programme that has continued to yield some of the best results in the sector and worked with Save the Children internationally to raise US$2.4 billion.

During a similar period, the University of Oxford had launched an extraordinarily ambitious campaign, Oxford Thinking – the biggest fundraising campaign in Europe, with a target of £1.25bn (in 2015 the University revised the target upwards to £3bn). At the helm from 2009 to 2015 was the charismatic Vice Chancellor, Professor Andrew Hamilton, who dedicated an incredible amount of time to work with the development teams and Director of Development Liesl Elder to build relationships with prospects and donors. Without him, his pro-vice chancellors, the college heads and senior academics supporting fundraising at the University, the campaign is unlikely to be have been successful.

This model holds true for smaller charities and organisations too. Just a fortnight ago we were thrilled to be part of a superb gala dinner at the Savoy Hotel by Stoll. We have worked with Stoll for a number of years delivering strategy and interim capacity but this was the first time that Stoll had taken such a bold step in its fundraising and brought together Trustees, supporters, donors towards the common goal of supporting vulnerable veterans. I don’t yet know the income achieved on the night but the biggest win was the energy and confidence of Stoll’s leadership at the event which in turn built confidence in donors and supporters.

With nearly every client or organisation that I have worked it is the level of commitment of the leadership that sets the parameters for fundraising success. Fundraising must be on the Board agenda.

But if you are a Trustee or leader, how do you develop the skills that make you effective in either fundraising directly or supporting the executive team? What do you need to know about major gift fundraising in order to lead from the front? My 5 top questions Boards should ask themselves are below. What are yours?

  1. An inspiring and well-articulated vision is critical to fundraising. Vision is a product of effective and inspiring leadership. Are you able to articulate your organisation’s vision in a succinct and compelling way?
  2. With increased public scrutiny and a very competitive environment your organisation needs a clear fundraising plan that is part of the overall strategy. Is this something that is considered by the board on a regular basis?
  3. The most common reason for donors not giving is that they are not asked. What arrangements have you got in place for monitoring the ‘pipeline’ of donors and for being updated on asks that are being made?
  4. Fundraisers are rarely successful if they are expected to operate in isolation – the whole organisation needs to get on board with the fundraising agenda. But what is the role of a Trustee in fundraising? Is it to ask, steward, support? Are you clear about your individual and collective role?
  5. To achieve results investment is needed. There is no ROI without I. It is the role of leadership to see the opportunities and to invest – and monitor wisely. What might investment look like for your organisation? What ROI can you expect from major gift fundraising in years 1,2,3?

To address these questions we have created Foundations in Philanthropy for Trustees and Leaders, in partnership with Ludicity. This one day seminar on 22nd February 2017 is designed to give you a practical understanding of how to enable your organisation to succeed in major gift fundraising and your role in achieving success. Find out more here.
Caroline Underwood is CEO at The Philanthropy Company. She  is a senior leader and an expert in fundraising and philanthropy. She works at the highest levels with chiefs of industry, philanthropists, celebrities and government leaders and is an experienced board member and senior manager.

One Comment on “Building fundraising success: the importance of leadership

  1. Excellent article! The real deal and very true. If the entire team is not on board, results related to fundraising are small and the work is difficult.
    Fundraising, vision and the capacity to project the organization in the future, go together even influencing the way activities are usually implemented.
    Fundraising is at the center, strategy has to relate and will affect the entire sphere, if not, your swimming against the current.
    I appreciate this article a lot.
    I am so relieved! Just as I thought!

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