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Good fundraising relies on the innovation and diversity of trustees

Sacha Deshmukh, chair of War Child UK

A wise person once told me: “Remember when you’re sitting on a board that you have two ears and one mouth, so it’s best to use them in that proportion.” They were right, of course, and I have since become well versed in listening to and understanding what others have to say before adding my thoughts to the mix.

It’s an approach that’s encouraged me to always seek out people with views different to my own. I’ve learned it’s far more interesting to try to understand the people on the other side of the fence than those standing right next to you.

This has served me well during my time as a trustee, for both small and large charities. Back in the 90’s, as a trustee of a small charity in Dalston in London, which supported local enterprise and a credit union, I learned how important it was to choose the right mix of people to govern the charity. It was much smaller back then, and smaller charities typically have smaller boards. But we still made sure everyone brought a different approach, background and skills to the boardroom.

A diverse board challenges old ways of working

The same should go for all charities. If most of your trustees have the same views, you’ll likely get stuck in a one-track way of working. In today’s charitable climate, we all need to be flexible and open-minded in our approach to raising money. There are 168,000 charities out there*, and the sector is becoming increasingly dependent on income from individuals**. This means more charities asking the public for money. 

At War Child we’re committed to maintaining an incredibly diverse board of trustees. We’ve identified the skills and expertise we need to keep that diversity thriving, and we keep them in mind every time we recruit a new trustee. This helps us to get the widest possible range of talent to serve and govern the charity. More importantly, it’s helped us to innovate. We question each other’s perspectives to make sure we’re not falling back on old ways of thinking, and we consider new ideas (including some pretty radical ones!) to help us tackle the challenges we face.

Bringing innovation to fundraising

Diversity is especially important for our fundraising. As a trustee, you’re responsible for the way fundraising for your charity is done. You’re also responsible for making sure there’s enough money coming in to keep your charity afloat. These aims are one and the same, because fundraising is, essentially, income. So as a trustee you must always consider whether your board has the right people, skills and experience to approach both fundraising practice and finance in an innovative way.

But before you innovate, make sure you know the subject well. If you haven’t already done it, read the Code of Fundraising Practice and the helpful guidance attached to it to know what’s expected of fundraisers. Encourage other board members to read it too, so that when you all come together to discuss your fundraising strategy, you’ll be on the same page – but hopefully with different views on how to make it happen!

Sacha Deshmukh is a non-executive director of the Fundraising Regulator and chair of War Child UK.

This blog is written for Trustees Week 2018. You can find out more about being a trustee, or take the trustee behaviours quiz to understand what skills you could offer a charity. 

*Charity Commission register of charities

**NCVO Almanac 2018