Should trustees play a role in fundraising?

Fundraising can seem like a daunting topic to trustees. In this article, Heather, one of our Charity Advisors, looks at three ways that trustees can support the fundraising efforts of their charity.

We’re often asked whether a trustee should help with fundraising (spoiler alert: the answer is yes!), and how a trustee can help a charity.

Fundraising is often considered to be outside the scope of a trustee’s duties. However, as a trustee you have an important role in ensuring that your charity is financially solvent. A key part of being a trustee is about protecting and managing your charity’s finances and assets and actively managing risks. While most trustees recognise that this means protecting your existing charity’s finances, trustees should also look to understand how they can help their organisation to ethically grow their income. This means supporting your charity (whether that’s staff and/or fellow volunteers) with its fundraising programmes.

What does this mean in reality?

There are three clear areas in which a trustee should look to support their charity with regards to fundraising. A trustee should look to:

  • Develop the fundraising strategy
  • Set guidelines for ethical fundraising
  • Be involved in the operational delivery of fundraising.

Fundraising strategy

Guidance (from the Good Governance Code) says that trustees should regularly review the charity’s key policies and procedures, including fundraising. As a trustee you should be constantly asking questions of your staff and you should be doing this throughout the research, goal setting, development and implementation stages of the fundraising strategy. Trustees should ensure that the fundraising targets identified in the strategy that are being set are appropriate, realistic and measurable.

Regardless of how involved trustees want to be in the creation of a fundraising strategy, ALL trustees should review the fundraising strategy and ensure that the key goals are being met (and if not what can they do to support the charity to reach those goals).

Ethical fundraising policy

It is crucial that as a trustee, you have a clear idea of where your charity will accept donations from. Recent fundraising scandals featuring unsavoury or inappropriate fundraising techniques have become frontpage news and signalled very strongly that the public have high expectations of the sources of funds that are donated to charities.

One way to ensure that your charity has clear and consistently applied ground rules is to create and review an ethical fundraising policy. This policy should clearly outline what sources your charity will accept money from and what methods your charity will use for fundraising. The policy should also state the procedures of ensuring that the money is from an ethical source, and what will happen if a donation is refused.

This will be different for each charity, as each charity will have different criteria and expectations. For example, a charity that supports people who have suffered from alcoholism might not feel comfortable accepting donations from an alcoholic beverage producer.

It will be up to you as trustees to decide what is and is not appropriate for your charity. Ultimately, an ethical fundraising policy will also help you to ensure that everyone in the charity is operating on the same page. It could also prevent a damaging risk to your reputation in the future.


Different charities will have access to and employ different resources to devote to fundraising. For some charities, this might mean staff members that are employed purely to fundraise, for others this might mean that staff wear a number of hats, combining fundraising with other responsibilities.

As a trustee you should be asking your staff where and how you can support them with fundraising. This might mean helping to implement the strategy by having the fundraiser report to you or another designated board member. It could mean networking on behalf of the charity at events, and it could mean putting the CEO in touch with your networks who you think could support your charity. You should have honest conversations with your staff about where you can help.

It is important for trustees to realise where their skills, expertise and networks can be used to support fundraising.

To help put your fundraising strategy into practice your charity might want to consider creating a fundraising sub-committee, sometimes called a development board. This is a group that can involve trustees, staff and (where possible) key volunteers to focus on fundraising. The fundraising sub-committee should meet regularly to discuss the charity’s fundraising strategy and progress against the strategy. This can be a good way of ensuring that your charity gets those in the room who are passionate about fundraising, and have the skills and knowledge to support the charity, but also allows the board to concentrate on the wide variety of issues that is required of them as part of good governance.

Ultimately, you as a trustees should look to be proactive in being involved in your charity’s fundraising. With charities facing continuous financial strain it is not advisable to take a ‘hands-off’ approach. Charities where their trustees are engaged with fundraising can more easily plan and prepare for both for potential risks and potential opportunities. You should look to make reviewing the charity’s fundraising as a regular part of trustee meetings.

So if you haven’t already, the next time you talk the people who are responsible for fundraising, ask how you can help.