by Hollie Smith-Charles

As part of our Catalyst project to boost private giving to the arts, Create Gloucestershire has been exploring the role Board members can play in supporting new fundraising activity.

In the USA, the mantra for fundraising is that trustees must “give, get or get off”.  This may raise a wry smile amongst smaller arts organisations in the UK who are often only just beginning the journey towards that kind of commitment.  However, our work with seven Gloucestershire-based arts organisations suggests CEOs and Directors need to put themselves in the shoes of their volunteer trustees.

To utterly mis-quote JFK, rather than asking what your Board can do for you, you should first ask the question: what do my Board members need from ME in order to change their attitudes?

There are three things that have emerged from our preliminary discussions with arts Boards:

1)  What’s the plan? When we start talking about fundraising, Board members are very often willing to help, but don’t know where to start.  A detailed fundraising plan of action is therefore crucial so your trustees know what it is you’re raising money for, over what timescale and from which sources.

2)  What’s the story? Your Board have the potential to be powerful advocates for your organisation, but whether you are hoping they will speak at local business breakfasts, host cultivation events for you, or simply take a potential funder out for coffee, they need to know what your ‘case for support’ is.  In other words, arm them with a crib sheet of key facts, figures, anecdotes and arguments for why someone should support your brilliant cause.  This will help inspire them and build confidence about being a fundraiser.  And it means you’ll know that everyone is singing from the same hymn sheet.

3)  What’s the catch? It’s difficult to raise, but why would anyone support your organisation if even the people who work and sit on the Board there don’t support it?  So lead from the front and make a donation yourself... and make sure your Board members do too.  It doesn’t have to be a huge sum, but it helps demonstrate commitment to the cause and is far more convincing to your potential donors if you all give something yourselves.

Fundraising is difficult and therefore requires support from the top down - one person can’t do it all by themselves.  We’re learning that, certainly in Gloucestershire, there is a great passion and willingness to help amongst arts trustees.  But in order to get their Board on board, CEOs and Directors first need to work out how trustees can contribute in targeted, timely ways for maximum impact.

The Create Gloucestershire Catalyst project runs until June 2015, with funding from Arts Council England.  As part of our work to strengthen expertise in and models of private giving, we will be running workshops for Board members and will continue to work with and mentor CEOs and Directors of seven arts organisations.

For further information about this project, please email