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CEOs Key to Aussie Fundraising - Report

2 April 2013 at 10:51 am
Staff Reporter
CEOs are the lynchpin of fundraising, and board members are giving and serving in many ways but few have fundraising as a clear expectation in their governance role or receive any training in it, according to new Australian research.

Staff Reporter | 2 April 2013 at 10:51 am


CEOs Key to Aussie Fundraising - Report
2 April 2013 at 10:51 am

CEOs are the lynchpin of fundraising, and board members are giving and serving in many ways but few have fundraising as a clear expectation in their governance role or receive any training in it, according to new Australian research.

These are some key findings from an exploratory study aiming to build an evidence base about the role Australian Not for Profit CEOs and boards play in supporting fundraising and development by Alexandra Williamson and Dr Wendy Scaife, from the Australian Centre for Philanthropy and Nonprofit Studies (ACPNS) at Queensland University of Technology, Brisbane.

The ACPNS team examined the current engagement levels and activities of these organisational leaders, and also tested perceptions of leadership in fundraising from two potentially contrasting perspectives: nonprofit leaders (board members and CEOs); and fundraisers themselves.

The research involved focus group discussions with Not for Profit leaders, and fundraisers; and a large 60-question online survey versioned for the two different groups.

Of the 148 respondents who fitted the research criterion of having a dedicated fundraising resource, 61% were fundraising or development staff and 39% were leaders, being either CEOs or board members/ chairs.

At an average of 46% of income, fundraising was the respondent organisations’ largest revenue source, with 50% of this flowing from individual donations. Most fundraiser respondents had worked in their current role less than three years, but often had lengthy careers in the nonprofit sector. Board member respondents also showed a strong record of cross-organisation service.

“The importance of the CEO in fundraising is a critical finding of this study. CEOs communicate strongly with the board, they champion fundraising within and for their organisation, and they resource and support fundraising staff and managers,” the researchers Alexandra Williamson and Wendy Scaife said.

“Professional development in fundraising for CEOs may therefore represent a focused investment for philanthropic returns and organisational sustainability.

“Fundraising was not mentioned at recruitment for the vast majority of board members and no board member respondent received any fundraising training on joining the board."

The report said that the two greatest challenges facing fundraisers unearthed in the research were engagement-related:

  • Lack of board understanding and leadership in fundraising, and
  • Lack of resourcing to undertake successful fundraising.

Some of the areas where statistically significant differences emerged between organisational leaders and fundraisers were:

  • To what extent fundraising is a profession;
  • Whether boards fully understand the role of fundraising;
  • The need for at least one person with fundraising experience on the board;
  • Whether board leadership strongly influences staff turnover in Australian fundraising;
  • Donor satisfaction levels with the organisation’s performance;
  • Satisfaction levels with current compensation, training and professional development, and resources provided to undertake the fundraising role.

Some 63% of respondent organisations have a fundraising policy, 83% have a fundraising plan but only 13% have a board fundraising policy. While 90% have position descriptions for fundraising staff, only 17% have board position descriptions that include fundraising.

The survey revealed fundraising staff are loyal to the Not for Profit sector and to fundraising as a career, but change roles and organisations frequently. 

“Negativity towards fundraising from the wider organisation, lack of resources, and isolation and loneliness within an organisation were cited by focus group participants as causing fundraisers to depart,” the researchers said. 

“The detrimental impact of this high turnover for Not for Profit organisations is well documented. CEOs and boards can support fundraisers to remain in their roles through increased resourcing but also through long-term strategic planning, leadership engagement, and training all staff in what fundraising is really about.”

The research emphasised that from recruitment onwards, Australian board members lack a clearly communicated expectation that fundraising is part of their role. Board member engagement and participation in fundraising takes many forms, and the study shows that a proportion are comfortable directly asking for money. 

However, it said, board members need the tools and understanding to fundraise successfully and this aspect is currently lacking. 

“This frequent absence of board participation in fundraising was overwhelmingly seen by fundraisers as a lost opportunity. Board recruitment is seen as an area where change is sorely needed and could have significant impact. Change was also predicted if more fundraisers were to move into leadership positions.”

The authors thank the Perpetual Foundation, the EF and SL Gluyas Trust and the Edward Corbould Charitable Trust under the management of Perpetual Trustee Company Ltd for their generous support of this research.

“Our gratitude goes to those individuals who took part in the focus groups and the 148 Board members, CEOs and staff of the participating organisations, who somehow found the time to complete the survey and contribute their voice to these findings.”

The full report will be available for download here from later in April. 

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