donation cans

Should trustees be expected to donate to the charities they serve?

24 January 2017

Whether or not trustees should donate to their charity sparked heated debate at two events I attended in the run-up to Christmas—firstly at our seminar for trustees on good practice in fundraising, and secondly at a discussion facilitated by the Commission on Donor Experience on the role of boards and senior management.

In the USA, it is pretty standard practice for trustees to donate, and charity fundraisers and trustees alike assume that they will do so. Among those who expressed a view at the events, however, opinion was divided.

The argument for…

You’ve got to be pretty committed to an organisation to be a trustee. If someone is dedicated enough to give their time for free, it seems reasonable to expect that they might also be a donor, and include the charity among whatever other giving they may do. For the charity, apart from the obvious financial benefit, it’s a vote of confidence.

There are benefits for trustees, too: it can be a powerful message when asking others to donate if you can say that you do too. Plus it gives you first hand experience of how the charity engages with its supporters.

…and against

Trustees already donate their time and skills to the charity, and may feel that that’s enough of a contribution—they don’t need to give financially as well, surely?

There is also the simple fact that different people have different means. With diversity among charity sector boards worse even than the FTSE100, an expectation that all trustees should donate risks making this worse.

In my opinion

I am not currently a trustee, and I’m not about to tell organisations or trustees what they should or shouldn’t do. And of course, given the sheer variety of the charity sector, it is nonsense to have a blanket expectation. But I think that were I a trustee, knowing all that that entails, I would be inclined to include that organisation among the charities I support on a regular basis. It would only be a modest sum, but would mean I was contributing to the charity’s success in every way I could. It would be a gesture which would make me feel happier about asking other people to support ‘my’ charity.

So what should charities do?

It is vital that trusteeship is open to people of different means. So while charities should feel comfortable asking trustees—and trustees should be open to that ‘ask’—they need not necessarily adopt the blanket expectation that trustees will give. The best charities offer different routes for their supporters to contribute—in a whole range of different ways, not just financially—according to their interests, skill and resources.

While giving directly might not be mandatory, trustees do have other responsibilities when it comes to their charities and fundraising. Find out more about these in our recent briefing.

What do you think? Should trustees be expected to donate? Let us know in the comments below.