In the social sector, there are no stockholders or owners. Instead, you have donors and funders. They are tied to your organisation through their passion for the cause, and you have a responsibility to ensure that their contributions are being used effectively to further your mission. While the finance team is sometimes viewed as a behind-the-scenes operation, you play a critical role in the overall experience of your organisation’s constituents. Whether determining how financial resources are spent or raised, clarifying organisational priorities, or building leadership—in many ways, finance determines mission success and impact.
According to The Next Generation of Australian and New Zealander Giving, 75% of
donors say they are concerned about a charity’s overhead expenses. This level of concern
underscores just how important your role as the steward and communicator of financial
performance is to the constituent. Supporters want to know that your organisation is
financially secure, so they can feel confident in the long-term investment of their dollars
toward your mission. Funders want to hear about the results you’ve achieved, and finance is
positioned as the hub for tying their dollars to the impact of the organisation.
Here are a few ways you can shape the constituent experience as a member of the finance team:
1. Cultivate relationships across the organisation.
To foster a culture of mission investment, make sure that you have solid relationships across the organisation so you can always answer the following questions:
- What are your organisational mission ambitions in the short and long term?
- How and when is your organisation planning to achieve those aspirations?
- What would the world be like without your organisation?
In practice, your ability to answer these questions relies on your strategic connections across the organisation. You can be the voice for building an organisation that delivers on its mission through a budget that emphasises program innovation, professional growth for staff, new initiatives, diverse revenue streams, outcomes and impact evaluation, and significant unrestricted assets.
2. Share the details of your work with constituents.
The numbers show that supporters want data on your organisation’s financial performance. Work with leadership to tell the story of how your budget and actuals map to their plans. Include details—both numbers and narratives—about your finances on your website, in annual reports, and in other marketing materials.
3. Support investment in development, communications, data systems, IT infrastructure, and outcomes measurement.
It takes time and money to build relationships with the donors and funders that make your organisation’s work possible. And the operational side of your data and measurement systems is critical to the ability to track the success of the mission and secure support. Championing proper resourcing for all of your teams is a non-negotiable aspect of supporting the
4. Implement regular giving programs that foster loyalty and steady revenue streams.
Regular giving is extraordinarily valuable—people give more, which substantially increases donor
retention. Yet initiating such a program can cause internal strife across teams, necessitate multiple
marketing agendas tailored to steward elusive givers, and create technical issues. As the finance team, you can help guide your development, marketing, and leadership teams by creating a well-structured regular giving program.
5. Work with the frontline teams to educate donors and funders on the importance of unrestricted funds and grants.
This can be a challenge, but unrestricted funds provide your organisation with the most flexibility. Restricted funds fuel your programs, while unrestricted funds fuel your growth. Unrestricted funds can be used to build infrastructure and increase innovation. Telling this story to funders is critical, so you should collaborate with the frontline teams to ensure that they weave this messaging into their supporter engagement.
6. Collaborate with the development and marketing teams on building case statements and donation solicitations.
Being accountable to donors starts with the promise you make when you ask for a gift. Your organisation’s solicitations should be as clear as possible when stating what you will do with donations received. Finance can answer key questions, like: How much money do you need
for this project? What happens if you receive more donations than you need? What exact language
should be used?
As we mentioned, finance is, in many ways, the hub of the entire organisation. From senior leadership and development to programs and everything in between, all teams rely on you to help carry out their day-to-day work effectively. An enlightened finance team is crucial to building an organisational culture of investment in today’s fast-moving, complicated, and competitive philanthropic world. Gone are the days when a risk-averse interpretation of fiduciary responsibility can immobilise mission innovation and ambition. The forward-thinking finance team must create an organisational culture of mission investment that is able to turn short- and long-term mission goals into actionable realities. Otherwise, the organisation may be destined to run on a frustrating financial treadmill perpetuated by indecision and self-imposed mission limitations.
Finance must work together with all teams at your organisation to implement investment decisions
based on organisational goals, and vice versa. You should always be asking, “What do you need for this investment to be successful?” In return, you should expect timely communication related to budgets, forecasts, and cash flow that enables you to evaluate the financial impact of investment decisions. Your team must be positioned as a motivated and trusted partner in the achievement of mission goals. The more you can work creatively and collaboratively across your organisation, the more successful you will be as a whole.