Development Councils: panacea or pain?

Development Councils: panacea or pain?

By Achates Philanthropy


Caroline McCormick shares her experiences of working with Development Councils and gives her top tips for getting it right.


In the United States, Development Councils are omnipresent - the model underlying all successful fundraising campaigns.

While most American fundraising practice has now found its translatable equivalent in the UK, Development Councils haven't reached the same degree of ubiquitous application as many of the other principles of philanthropy we've adopted.

This seems to be partly because the views of individual fundraisers and organisations towards Development Councils vary hugely. These are usually based on a single direct experience of working with a specific group of individuals.

Some view Development Councils as an invaluable resource to maximise fundraising income and others as a wasteful burden taking up valuable resources and time. In my twenty years as a fundraiser, and the last ten as a consultant, I've certainly seen examples of both.

I’ve come to the conclusion that Development Councils themselves are only one part of the issue; the expectations an organisation brings to them are equally important. Like all relationships, it’s a two-way responsibility. Development Councils work best when they are integrated into the broader fundraising process and our expectations are realistic as to what can be achieved.

Case Study

The most successful Development Council I’ve personally established was as Director of Development at the National History Museum (2000 - 2005), where I led the successful
campaign to build the Darwin Centre. The experience was also an incredible learning curve for me.

The Museum had an undeveloped fundraising income base when I arrived, with a revenue income of just over £500,000 per annum including the major sponsorship of Wildlife Photographer of the Year. I had a unique opportunity to draw on the love of many eminent individuals for this great institution as a result. I decided that at £65,000,000 the Campaign was a large enough remit for the group and that we would set up one committee for capital and one for revenue.

I was keen to keep a strong link to the Board of the Museum, as it was only just starting to become actively involved in fundraising and I didn’t want it to see fundraising as a responsibility that could be deferred to the group.

The Director and I agreed to approach current Trustee and former Arts Council Chairman Lord
Palumbo, who generously agreed to take on the role. It was confirmed that he would report
on the work of the group at Board meetings.

With such a chair in place, we were able to quickly assemble a remarkable group: Sir David
Attenborough, Lord Winston, Richard Dawkins, Sir Richard Sykes, Sir William Castell. The list was long and, while dominated by the white males who tend to largely populate contemporary science, hugely impressive - so much so that many eminent individuals were at that time only invited to join the revenue committee.

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Resource type: Research | Published: 2016