At the recent Institute of Fundraising National Convention I attended a great session entitled Development Boards – Godsend or Godhelpus? with Kate Hogg, Samir Savant, Matt Cull, Emma Whitcombe and Helen Pert. Their collective wisdom and experience challenged the automatic assumption that a Board is great whilst also reminding us of the awesome opportunities a great Board can offer. The panel shared insights, advice and opinions that led to the inevitable conclusion that it depends – each of us is in a different situation. The panel’s views and discussion gave tips and pointers on how to determine if setting up a Development Board is right for you and, if you have one, whether keeping it is the right thing for your organisation too.

Combining their wisdom with the thoughts I have developed over my experience, here are the three key areas you need to consider about your existing or potential Board:

  1. Capacity
  2. Leadership
  3. Membership


A Board will definitely not be successful if left to its own devices. It needs to be both driven and fed by the organisation. This process takes time and money. When deciding to set up a Board, or put the effort in to fix a dysfunctional one or even continue with a functioning Board it is vital that you understand the capacity you (your organisation) has to delight each and every member of that Board. If you do not have the capacity then you should either get the capacity or not do it. Even a tiny charity can develop amazing relationships with people capable of transforming the organisation’s fortune. It does not need a Development Manager and a big budget. But it does need to be pitched at the right scale for your capacity to delight.

Every person who joins the Board needs to be asked how they want to be involved. You then have to do as they say.

You will also need to spend time with each person one-to-one – at their convenience. This is the only way you’ll get to know each person and build the bond that will bind you all together in the common goal of the Board.

You can draw in the other resources of your organisation to help you too – meeting with the person who heads up your programmes might be the key for one member of your Board.


I was blessed with the first Chair I ever worked with. Of course at the time I had nobody with whom to compare him and so I went very naively into my next relationship with a Chair. I absolutely agree with the IoF panel that the characteristics of a great Chair are:

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N.B. A stretch gift is not necessarily the same as a lead gift – it is a gift that is a significant one for the donor. A large gift easily given does not demonstrate the same commitment to the cause.


The panel all agreed with the old adage of give/get/get off. And I cannot agree more! Whilst flexibility was a big part of the discussion in approaching members of a Board, I agree with one panel member at the Convention who said that you should be strict on this point – flex the how not the what.

All Boards need to have clear terms of reference. This document needs to spell out the need for members to give personally. It should also offer a fixed term commitment. You shouldn’t be afraid to ask someone to step down if they are not delivering – involve your Chair and use your fixed term commitment to make this easier.

Finally, do not necessarily have a Board. Are you sure that this formal structure with all of its obligations and pitfalls is the best way to deliver what you need to deliver for your organisation? Don’t be afraid to say no and deliver success in a different way.


Give your major donor programme a health check now