How to get Fundraising Ideas through Committees

One of the most frustrating aspects of a fundraiser’s life is seeing brilliant fundraising ideas turned down by committees for seemingly irrelevant or illogical reasons. Many fundraising ideas can be agreed by the HoD, but these are usually ideas whose cost can be accommodated under existing budget heads and which do not run counter to any current policy. Other ideas may need the director’s approval because they involve interpretation of policy, or have a significant public impact. (Naturally the director must personally approve anything that will bear his/her signature.)
Ideas outside current policy, or in grey areas, or that require additional funds, will most probably need approval by a subcommittee of the council or board which governs the organisation. This is usually the finance subcommittee on which the head of fundraising should sit. Or they may need approval by the board itself on the recommendation of the subcommittee, or by recommendation from the Fundraising Department to the Director to the Finance Subcommittee to the Executive Committee to the Council – this is not unusual! Any ideas involving something new, like telemarketing, have little chance of success in those circumstances, as it usually only takes one strong individual on a committee to object and the idea will be rejected, or so circumscribed that it is not worth carrying out. Sometimes, of course, committees just like to say no. They have passed everything for ages and feel the need to establish their authority by saying no to something. If you can sense when this is the case just give in quietly, ask for the ostensible reasons, and bring the project back later with the problems dealt with.
In fact this is often the way forward with complex projects where the committee does not fully understand what is being proposed – they may not even have read the paper, especially if it is long – and needs at least one more chance to discuss the idea. Committees that are pushed often say no.
Committees respond much better to pulling – having all the positive aspects of the project set out before them. Do not highlight problems but make sure they have been dealt with clearly in your written report. Let committee members raise them if they will, and answer them by understanding the point they are raising but demonstrate that it will be taken care of, or show that, though relevant, it will have minor impact compared with the intended result.
If you contradict a committee member make the contradiction directly and clearly giving stating your reasons. Often this will not meet with a reply at all.
If you can answer the first person to speak against the idea, do so. Signs of a fight, before committee members have voiced an opinion, may give them pause to consider both sides.
Count how the ‘vote’ will go as soon as you can, and offer a compromise if it helps: ‘I think we are mostly agreed on this, but I’ll carry it out in September instead, to avoid any problems,’ is the sort of remark that lets the chairperson wind up in your favour.
Cultivate your chairperson, who is usually the key to unlocking committee decisions in your favour. Whatever you do, do not show up the chairperson in public.
Chat to all the committee members informally in the breaks, but do not use these for obvious lobbying. You are forging relations for the future, not the present, though you can strike a deal if that looks like a good way forward. Work on the committee members before the meeting by keeping them informed of positive progress. Overt lobbying can be very helpful but can also misfire, and you will need to judge this very carefully. Lobbying by local groups really helps if they have elected the council members.
Large meetings are often the easier than they may appear, because only a few people will speak, and usually only once; you can contradict them emphatically (but not rudely), knowing that their vote does not matter much, but that you will influence the quiet members, who will not vote against something to which all objections have been clearly answered.
Above all, your confidence in the matter is crucial and means more than the statistics. Self-confidence impresses committees. They feel that they can rely on someone who is self-confident, even if they think the person is probably wrong.