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Recruiting a Volunteer Chair and Board – a brief overview

The Management Centre

In this article, =mc’s Senior Fundraising Consultant Kate Hogg gives her tips on how to find the right person to be your organisation’s Volunteer Chair.


Finding an effective Chair of a top level Fundraising Board is vital to the overall success of an Appeal. It is not easy to find a person of the right calibre who combines the necessary networks, influence and wealth, with an ability to lead a committee to deliver results and a personal connection with your cause.

The earlier you begin to research potential candidates the better, exploring all existing networks and stakeholders – past and present – with the help of senior staff and volunteers. Reviewing previous event attendance lists, donor gifts, etc. is also a means to identify potential board members.

In order to engage potential leaders, you will need to be able to explain why you wish to launch an Appeal and what it will enable you to achieve and what you expect of them in a leadership role. That requires a cogent and compelling outline case, underpinned by a robust, costed business plan.

You are likely to be in competition for the best potential Chair with other leading charities. We are aware of a number of blue-chip agencies that are planning to launch major Appeals in the medium term and you will have to present a convincing argument if you are to secure their support in preference to your competitors.

What you are asking the Chair to do

You must be absolutely certain what you want the Chair to do and be prepared to explain it up-front – and without prevarication. You should make it clear that you expect a Chair to give and secure additional donations from their networks. It is much easier to have these discussions at the beginning of the relationship than to have to renegotiate later on because you fudged it at the beginning.

You should also be ready to say why you think this person is the right Chair for you – to demonstrate that you know what you are doing and why you are asking them in particular. That requires sufficient research and clarity about what this person brings in comparison to other individuals of note.

You must think carefully who is the most appropriate person to make the approach to the potential Chair, based on your understanding of the individual. This may be either the CEO or Chairman of the Board, but could also be another volunteer or a member of staff with a strong relationship.

What to look for

You will need your Chair to demonstrate the following three characteristics:

  • Capacity
  • Connections
  • Cause

These are explained in the table below:

  Explanation Why this is important
  • Sufficient wealth to give at an appropriate level personally.
  • Ability to influence others to give at the highest levels. This is particularly important if the Chair cannot make the lead gift to the Appeal.
  • The lead gift is usually 10-25% of the overall Appeal Target, so for a £25m Appeal, the lead gift should ideally be between £2.5m-£6m.
  • Time to do the job properly.
  • Personal qualities to inspire a committee to work hard over time on your behalf.
  • Volunteer-led fundraising is focused on generating a small number of high value gifts, via peer-to-peer fundraising.
  • Typically income will come from a mix of HNWI, trusts, and corporate income.
  • A senior Board will also offer other important financial benefits to the charity – based on their power and influence e.g. media adoptions, strategic partnerships and pro bono advice.
  • Personal networks that the Chair is willing to introduce to the organisation with sufficient influence to persuade them to do things for you.
  • A range of networks from which to recruit members of the Board to provide broad representation of different sectors.
  • The Chair will need to recruit the bulk of the Board and also introduce – and ask – potential prospects for major gifts and other significant support.
  • The Chair is unlikely to commit the time/influence necessary to run an Appeal of this scale unless they have a personal connection with the cause.
  • The Chair will need to make a personal gift at an appropriate level.
  • The best major gift fundraisers are those who exhibit genuine personal commitment to the cause.
  • All those who ask their peers for money will need to give to the Appeal themselves.

When considering potential Board Chairs you should look out for an individual who:

  • Has run an Appeal of a similar scale before or you have evidence would be able to fulfill the role
  • Is committed to the cause and the specific projects to be funded
  • Knows what is expected of them and how/why this form of fundraising works
  • Understands and accepts objectives including a financial target
  • Is clear about the key messages and how to put these across to potential members
  • Has real pulling power and networks – ideally in more than one sector (e.g. retail, media, banking, social groups, etc.)
  • Is genuinely respected and persuasive amongst his/her peers
  • Has the ability to get a committee to function properly and deliver results
  • Has enough time and administrative back-up (a good PA really helps)
  • Is personally efficient, does things on time and to a sufficiently high standard
  • Works well with staff and with a wide range of people
  • Provides leadership in giving
  • Makes it fun and worthwhile for Board members (and ideally staff too)

Counter-indications for a Chair

We recommend that you are rigorous in your assessment of a Chair’s potential before you approach them. It is worth waiting to find the right person rather than simply going for someone just because there is nobody better. You should take care when considering people who are:

  • Recently retired: their social value is often in rapid decline, especially if it was previously derived from their professional role.
  • Their best contacts are also their clients (PR, wealth-managers, accountants etc.): their pulling power is limited and there may be conflicts of interest that get in the way of asking for money.
  • They are there and keen: and you are beginning to run out of time/ideas.
  • Problematic individuals: if you find someone difficult to work with now, it is only likely to get worse in such an influential position. So do not try and ‘fix’ a volunteer relationship with a position on a Board
  • Donors: do not be tempted to ‘reward’ a donor with a position on the volunteer Board unless you are certain they can also exhibit the qualities you need. A major donor can be highly effective, however, if they can provide a significant gift, influence their peers to come on board and demonstrate real passion and commitment to others. Treat each on his or her merits.

Recruiting Board members

Once you have recruited the Chair, one of their first tasks is to persuade others to join the Board. Members are likely to be drawn from the Chair’s own networks and supplemented by other stakeholders already known to the charity. It helps if the Board is made up of a range of people who can ‘gel’ as a social group as well as one working towards a common goal.

The Chair may wish to recruit members who represent distinct sectors in order to maximise the fundraising reach of the committee. The specific sectors may vary by charity but will often include:

  • Finance and the City
  • Private Equity
  • Insurance, Accountancy, Legal and other professions
  • Industry
  • Social
  • Media/Journalists
  • Celebrity
  • Politicians
  • BME communities (who may well represent one of the sectors above)

You are after a combination of those with access to personal and corporate money, social cachet, power and influence and a degree of glamour or fame for added interest.

A typical committee would be made up of between 12-20 people. It can also be helpful to offer an honorary position – President or Patron – to people whose name is a powerful draw to others, such as celebrities. You ask them to commit to one or two activities – e.g. attending a launch event – but do not usually expect them to take part in committee meetings.

Identifying Prospects

Not everybody will want to join the Appeal Board but may well be persuaded to make a sizeable donation. At the same time as you discuss potential board membership with stakeholders or review internal lists, you should be compiling an initial prospect list for further research. The key characteristics to focus on are:

  • Capacity – wealth in the form of disposable income or liquid assets
  • Propensity – a clear reason why they should give to you
  • Connection – a clear route to reach them

The prospects to prioritise are those that satisfy all three characteristics, but it is possible to work with those that only satisfy two – if plan your approach appropriately:

Combination Missing Question
Propensity & Capacity Connection They are rich and with an interest in your cause. So how do you reach them? Who knows them?
Capacity & Connection Propensity They are rich and you have a way in to them. So, how do you make them interested in your cause? Do they already have an interest in it? What other motivation could you speak to?
Connection & Propensity Capacity They have a connection with your cause and you can reach them. How much money do they have at their disposal?

Working with Volunteer Boards

Undoubtedly, working with the great and the good, the rich and the powerful is a tough fundraising job. You can be sure that these people have high expectations of themselves and those around them, demand top quality work and do not suffer fools gladly.

But anyone who has had the privilege of supporting a high functioning, successful Board will also tell you how exciting and rewarding working with them can be. It is brilliant to see how quickly problems get resolved, barriers are removed and doors are opened when the right Chair is in charge. And how the money is unlocked to transform the lives of the people you are trying to help, the animals you want to save or the cultural ambition you need to to deliver. It is fundraising at its best. Good luck.

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