30. Patrons

What is a patron?

A patron is someone who agrees to lend their name to your organisation as a way of supporting you.

What is the purpose of having a patron?

A Patron can help you get noticed, add prestige or lend credibility to your cause. Ideally all of the positive attributes of your patron will rub off on your organisation.

Are all Patrons the same?

No, patrons fall into a number of categories and each can help you in a particular way.

  • A celebrity can help you raise your public profile by getting you publicity.
  • A politician can help you open doors and make you more credible to many people.
  • A scientist or expert in your area of work will lend weight and gravitas.
  • An establishment figure (such as a royal) may do all of the above.

How do we go about finding a Patron?

  1. Think about the sort of Patron who will be best for your organisation (see previous question) and the sort of things you would like from them. This is generally the hardest part of the process and you may need to have many conversations and brainstorming sessions before you have a shortlist of possibilities.
  2. Target likely individuals.
  3. Approach the individuals with a letter that set outs who you are, what the organisation does and what you would expect of a patron. Do make use of anyone associated with the organisation who has a credible link to the Patron to make the initial approach.
  4. Follow up the initial approach with offers to meet them, invitations to events, open days or activities.
  5. Make a clear proposal in writing.
  6. If ‘yes’ follow up with a conversation clarifying expectations that is then put in writing in a letter of agreement. If ‘no’ thank them for their interest and ask if there is some other way that would like to contribute (i.e. donation of money, item to be auctioned, etc).

Could we have more than one patron?

Yes. Be clear why you need more than one and make sure that potential patrons and any current patron(s) are clear as well.

What does the patron actually do?

Generally very little apart from allow their name to be associated with your organisations. Exactly what the Patron does varies from situation to situation so clarify expectations in a letter of agreement at the start of the relationship. If you do expect your Patron to perform any specific function (such as open the AGM or chair an annual fundraising debate) then it is vital that this is absolutely crystal clear and agreed in writing. Mismatched expectations will quickly sour the relationship.

What are the Patrons responsibilities?

Generally Patrons are not trustees/management committee members so they do not attend meetings and do not carry any responsibilities or liabilities. Make sure that this point is clarified in the initial letter of agreement.

What tends to go wrong?

As in all relationships things can go wrong. The three commonest situations are:

  • Patron and organisation loose touch
  • Patron is of little value (celebrity status fades, political contacts go stale, and so on)
  • Patron becomes a liability (negative press, involvement in scandal and so on)

In the first case it is important to keep in regular contact, adding the Patron to the newsletter database and making sure that the chair contacts the Patron once or twice a year by phone or letter. However, some Patrons (such as musicians and actors who tour incessantly) may in practice be out of contact for long periods. Using their name and photo may still be worthwhile. However, if you wish to end the relationship follow the steps in the agreement letter.

A Patron who seems of little value poses a dilemma. Provided they are not having a negative impact it may be worth hanging onto them until you can recruit a new Patron. And even an obscure Patron can help lend some credibility to your organisation. If you do decide to change patrons, to save face you can give the old Patrons the title Emeritus Patron or Former Patron and still invite them to an event each year.

A Patron who becomes a liability should be dropped swiftly (this would constitute ‘exceptional circumstances’ and the notice period set out in the model letter of agreement would not apply). Bear in mind that in practice this may be difficult if their photo is on the cover of the annual report, and their name on your letterhead, though it will be easy enough to remove them from your website.

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A Word About Words

This site is aimed at those who govern (control) small organisations - whether they are charities, companies, both or neither. Those who govern them may be called a variety of names. We have chosen to use mainly 'management committee' and occasionally 'committee member' or 'trustee'. more...
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