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Who's asking for what? Fundraising and Leadership in Australian Non Profits: QUT

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The Australian nonprofit funding landscape is in flux. Many organisations are having to think differently and develop fresh skills either to enter the fundraising market or to cope better with rising competition for community and corporate support.

This new reality affects boards, CEOs and fundraisers alike. Against this backdrop, the Australian Centre for Philanthropy and Non Profit Studies at QUT conducted an exploratory study aimed to build an evidence base and spark more discussion about:

  • the role Australian nonprofit CEOs and boards play in supporting fundraising/ development;
  • current engagement levels and activities; and
  • perceptions of leadership in fundraising from two possibly contrasting perspectives: nonprofit leaders (board members and CEOs); and fundraisers.


About the roles CEOs and boards play in fundraising:

  • CEOs were overwhelmingly seen as their organisation’s fundraising champions; and
  • The most significant benefit of having fundraising expertise at CEO and board levels was strategic direction/oversight (as opposed to additional people ‘asking’ for support).

About the level of CEO and board engagement in fundraising:

  • Fundraising was not mentioned at recruitment for the vast majority of board members;
  • No board member respondent received any fundraising training on joining the board;
  • Four out of five respondents (including fundraisers) donated at some level to their organisation in the past 12 months;
  • Good communication about fundraising was reported between board chairs and CEOs, and between CEOs and fundraisers. Direct board chair/fundraiser communication was weaker;
  • The two greatest challenges facing fundraisers were related to board engagement in fundraising:
    • Lack of board understanding and leadership in fundraising, and
    • Lack of resourcing to undertake successful fundraising.

About where organisational leaders and fundraisers think differently:
Some of the areas where statistically significant differences emerged between organisational leaders and fundraisers were:

  • To what extent fundraising is a profession;
  • Whether boards fully understand the role of fundraising;
  • The need for at least one person with fundraising experience on the board;
  • Whether board leadership strongly influences staff turnover in Australian fundraising; Donor satisfaction levels with the organisation’s performance;
  • Satisfaction levels with current compensation, training and professional development, and resources provided to undertake the fundraising role.

About fundraising ‘infrastructure’ (policies/plans) in respondent organisations:

  • 63% of organisations have a fundraising policy, 83% have a fundraising plan and 87% have a fundraising budget. Only 13% have a board fundraising policy;
  • 62% subscribe to a fundraising Code of Ethics and 80% have a fundraising section in board papers;
  • 41% have a board fundraising subcommittee and 30% have a development committee;
  • 74% have key performance indicators for fundraisers, 90% have position descriptions for fundraising staff and 17% have board position descriptions that include fundraising.

So who's asking for what?
Fundraisers and CEOs in Australia appear to be the key ‘askers’ when their organisations seek funding. Organisations have to define for themselves perhaps whether this is the best approach or whether the volunteer leadership might be better fitted as the face of this task.

Fundraisers in this study unequivocally are asking in future for greater board understanding and involvement in fundraising. Yet, the evidence in this exploratory study suggests that many boards are not engaged in fundraising beyond reading the fundraising report in their board papers, making an annual donation and attending fundraising events. The study reflects many board members are intensely committed to the work of their organisation and in the area of fundraising feel very comfortable that their inputs cover what is required.

Many organisational leaders in this study appear unaware that their staff fundraisers may value board talents applied in a wider variety of ways, or that greater involvement might enhance organisational sustainability, and fulfil what donors expect. Some leaders signalled a lack of direct experience with fundraising but a willingness to deepen the conversation


The importance of the CEO in fundraising is a key finding of this study. CEOs communicate strongly with the board, they champion fundraising within and for their organisation, they resource and support and recognise fundraising staff and managers. Professional development in fundraising for CEOs not steeped in this area previously may therefore represent a focused investment for philanthropic returns and organisational sustainability.

Fundraising staff are loyal to the nonprofit sector and to fundraising as a career, but change roles and organisations frequently. The detrimental impact of this high turnover for nonprofit organisations, their supporters and the fundraiser themselves is well known in practice. CEOs and boards can support fundraisers to remain in their roles through increased resourcing within the bounds of a good risk assessment, but also through longterm strategic planning, leadership engagement, and shouldering the role with fundraisers of building an internal culture of philanthropy in their organisations.

From recruitment onwards, it appears most board members lack a clearly communicated expectation that fundraising is part of their role, or that fundraising staff really prize and need their help and understanding of the fundraising function. Board member engagement and participation in fundraising takes many forms, and the study shows that many organisational leaders are comfortable directly asking for support for their organisation.

The existing strength of commitment of board members to their organisations and to the nonprofit sector can be channelled into multiple activities that support individual donations. Board members need to be given the tools and understanding to fundraise successfully, recognising that fundraising is far more than just a direct ask for money.

Each board and each individual board member and CEO is likely at a different stage in their fundraising understanding and experience. The inherent power and status roles that exist in the most egalitarian of organisations mean that fundraisers may not find issues easy to surface with their CEO and board. The impetus may need to come from boards and CEOs.

If Australian board members and CEOs did no more after perusing this study than ask their fundraiser/s how they might help more – then a significant impact will have been made. 

About the study
SCAIFE Wendy Small

Download the complete study from

Authors: Dr Wendy Scaife (pictured right),  Alexandra Williamson, and Katie McDonald

About the Australian Centre for Philanthropy and Nonprofit Studies, QUT Business School



keep-calm-and-fundraise-52Dr Wendy Scaife is a speaker at a two-part series on The Board's Role in Fundraising presented by BoardConnect and Norton Rose in Brisbane.

Breakfast Briefing for Board Members - Friday 3 May
Roundtable Lunch for Senior Staff - Wednesday 19 June

Click here for event information