We’re all on the same team, we just speak different languages
The last 15 minutes of the session was a Q&A and there were several questions on the same theme; how to get investment for testing new fundraising ideas. There was some consensus in the room about how Trustees were risk averse, how it was hard to get agreement to invest in anything new or anything perceived as risky. There were also comments about how finance directors were a barrier to innovation and fundraising.
“How on earth can we do anything new with finance gatekeepers
who are impossible to talk to?”
Before we could respond, a woman put up her hand and asked if she could answer the question. We asked what her role was and she said she was director of finance at a UK charity. We suggested she came up to the front of the room so everyone could hear her. As the only finance director in a room of fundraisers, she shared valuable experience and advice.
She told several stories about being asked to look at business plans and budgets at the last-minute, with little background or context or opportunity for discussion. There was always an imminent deadline, even if the project had been in operation for months (sometimes years). And if there is a meeting where finance is being discussed, it’s likely that the finance team are also working flat-out to get their papers ready leaving little or no time for a last-minute review of a new fundraising investment case.
She explained how she had felt disappointed at not being given the opportunity to be more involved in fundraising, and was shocked that it was perceived that finance were on an opposing team to fundraisers – when in reality we were all working for the charity for the same reason – to make a bigger difference to beneficiaries.
She was rather inspirational and certainly not impossible to talk with.
I’ve come across this last-minute situation several times and I have a theory about some of the reasons that it happens.
When I was about 13 my math teacher told me I wasn’t very good at math. The things that your teachers tell you when you are young shape your beliefs. And even though my results were above average, I have a story that I tell myself. “I’m no good at math, I’m a people person (as if the two are mutually exclusive?!) and when it comes to numbers I’ll get found out.”
Why am I sharing this? Because I’ve discovered a lot of people feel this way and many of those people are fundraisers.
It can be daunting to approach a ‘finance expert’ when your story of ‘I’m no good at math’ is rumbling away in the back of your mind. Combine that with the fundraising department story (whether true or not) that finance won’t sign anything off anyway, it’s really hard to own that vulnerability and ask for help business modeling or for critique on budgets early on – even though rationally that is obviously the most sensible thing to do – and even more so if you are unsure of your skills.
So we leave things to the last-minute in the hopes they don’t get scrutinized.
How might finance and fundraising work more effectively to change the story?
- If you are an expert at finance, understand that some people can fear finance and numbers, even fundraisers. Many have never had specific finance training and need your help but feel uncomfortable or even ashamed asking for it.
- Build relationships. If you are a fundraiser involve finance colleagues as early as you can. If you work in finance actively get involved early, so you can add your expertise when it’s most helpful – not in a rush at the end, which makes everyone stressed. Perhaps there is an opportunity to offer training, or become a regular face at fundraising meetings to break down the barriers and change the fundraising-finance story.
- Fundraising is an art and a science. As a fundraiser what can you teach finance about fundraising? How can you help others learn first hand, for example encouraging volunteering at events, plus non fundraisers will have a different perspective and be able to spot efficiencies that when you are close to something you don’t even notice.
- Fundraisers are about bringing the money in so that the charity can change the world. Your default is optimistic. It has to be. You likely get more ‘no’s than ‘yes’s’. See finance experts as your translators. They can help you channel your ideas and passion into finance language that the Board will respond to.
In my experience fundraising and finance have a different language, skills and experience. It’s when there is a common understanding that everyone is on the same team that the good stuff happens.
I’m busy encouraging fundraising and finance to have more coffees and conversations. If you receive one of those requests for coffee – please say yes.