Trustees and fundraising

Julie Nightingale, Issue 42, p66-67, Summer 2008
Trustees often have invaluable insights, experience - and contacts. So make sure they are a key part of your fundraising strategy

Trustees are a key asset in the fundraising stakes and, like all assets, need to be exploited, in the most tactful way possible.

"You have to have trustees who accept that they will be required to cash-in their personal relationships on behalf of the museum," says Christopher Woodward, director of the Museum of Garden History in London.

"Older people with successful careers behind them will have a multiplicity of relationships to call on, and you have to be clear that they can't be shy about [contacting] their friends. They can't just send you their address book, either - they have to be willing to bring those people in to lunch so you need to be very candid with your trustees about what their role is."


As well as being willing to capitalise on their connections, trustees should be powerful advocates for the museum and able to sell a development scheme or exhibition plan to other funders.

"They need to share your passion for what you are doing and have passion for your museum," says Alan Horn, director of development for Culture and Sport Glasgow. "If they are there because they think it will look good on their CV, then the effect will be limited. If they believe in what you are doing, it can be exceptionally powerful. They can pass their passion on to others, and that way the museum becomes an organisation others would want to be associated with."

In some cases, trustees' own professional experience of business or negotiating in other fields can be especially relevant. Becky Williams, the development director for the Tate, says: "We have worked extremely closely with our senior trustees and volunteers in seeking advice on particular sponsorship.

"Because they have inside knowledge of an organisation or because they are business people, they can advise us on how to present a bid or explain how funders are likely to respond to different bids."

Managing trustees, and getting them to direct their energies appropriately, requires some diplomacy. People who have been accustomed to calling the shots themselves in their professional lives do not automatically see the need to observe protocols, warns Marnie Whiting, the fundraising manager at the Holburne Museum of Art in Bath.

"You have to try to control this, but at the end of the day they have their way of doing things. They tend to be very strong people and tend to have had businesses themselves. You may not agree with how they go about doing things but, if it works, that's the important thing. You can't make them follow fundraising best practice, though you should always try to show them what it is," says Whiting.


Trustees with friends and contacts on the boards of potential funding bodies will often try to use their personal links to get a funding bid moving. This does often work - but it can put noses out of joint at the funding organisation where administrators like to see procedures followed for sound ethical and legal reasons. It does not mean you should attempt to curtail your trustee's efforts to oil the wheels, but you should try to keep the funders' staff in the loop.

"You don't want to upset the administrators, particularly when you are approaching some of the bigger trusts," says Whiting. "Talk to them and keep them updated."

Apart from anything else, your trustees' friends may happily agree to a funding request oblivious to the fact that a formal application form needs to be filled out in order for it to go through.

Many trustees will be semi-retired and have achieved a lot in their business or artistic lifetime and you have to respect that at the same time motivating them. Keep in regular phone or email contact, whichever they prefer, "and nudge them to get them to do what they say they would do," says Whiting. "As in all fundraising, you have to work with the personalities of the people you are dealing with and adapt to the situation."

(Image: the Holburne Museum of Art, Eric Parry)