The 4 steps to ambassador success

When asking someone to be an ambassador or patron for your organisation, it’s important to be prepared.

The 4 steps to ambassador success

An ambassador (also known as a patron or champion) is someone who agrees to lend their name and commit time to your organisation as a way of supporting you. This relationship usually evolves because they have a long history of support for your organisation, have a high profile and are able to generate media coverage for your organisation or increase support.

The primary role of a patron is to lend credibility and support. They don’t play a formal part in the organisation, but are usually listed on letterheads, appeal brochures and publicity material to help raise awareness and trust. Most organisations would benefit from a patron.

Step 1: Selecting a patron

When selecting someone as your patron, make sure they:

  • Share the values of the organisation
  • Understand their role
  • Know precisely what they will be asked to do
  • Are not already over committed

Effective patrons often have a long history with your organisation and should be well-informed about the work your organisation does. They will put in a good word for the organisation when it counts. They’ll attend events (including, most importantly, fundraising events) and will be seen to be positively and publicly supportive of the work of the organisation.

First, you and your Board need to think about the sort of patron that could best fit with your goals and mission. Even if someone well known has offered themselves to you as a patron you need to be sure they are the right fit and can meet your needs. It is also worth making sure they are not a spokesperson for too many different causes. You want to be their favourite.

Step 2: Approaching an ambassador

Once you’ve identified someone who has the right profile, influence and networks for your organisation, it is time to make the approach. Similarly, with approaching a donor prospect, it is easier if you have a ‘warm introduction’ – make use of a mutual connection in your organisation to make the initial approach with the potential patron. Be prepared to give detailed information regarding who you are, what you do and what you would expect of a patron. Be as specific as you can, as its better to find out early on if they are unable to meet your needs. It is also beneficial to ask how the patron may be able to assist your organisation, as they know their network and capabilities better than you.

Step 3: Forming an agreement

An ambassador’s role varies from situation to situation, so clarifying expectations of the relationship in a written agreement is essential. If you expect your patron to perform any specific function (such as open a season launch or chair an annual fundraising event) then it’s vital this is clear and agreed in writing. It is all about openly discussing how they can help you and what is a reasonable level of contribution in terms of time, given most patrons are likely to be incredibly busy people.

If you want a patron to work effectively for your organisation, you need to help them! They’ll need a proper induction with the appropriate education about your work, with well-timed briefings along the way. They should be invited to important events, particularly fundraising or stewardship events and be given a detailed briefing on the case for support and key messages as well as who is in the audience.

Generally, patrons are not trustees or management committee members so they do not attend meetings or carry any governance responsibilities or liabilities. Make this is clear in the written agreement.

It is wise to reach an agreement on how much time the patron can commit to you each year. This allows the CEO to manage access and use of the patron and ensure they are included in the events and campaigns that really count. Finally, agree on a set period of time for the appointment. If the relationship has been rewarding, look to renew it.


Step 4: Nurturing the relationship

Once a patron is engaged, communication should be ongoing and the relationship well-managed, so they stay connected to the organisation for a number of years.

Be mindful that on the odd occasion a patron can become a liability (negative press or involved in a scandal, for example). Ensure your agreement has the ability to gracefully exit the relationship as the reputation of your organisation is paramount.

Remember, the most effective patron will have a passion for what you do. If they have a real interest in your work, mission and a strong personal connection, they can bring great benefits.  As with any other supporter or donor, it’s a two-way relationship so their experience with you should be genuinely enjoyable and satisfying.

In summary:

  • Choose an ambassador with care and make sure they are not already overcommitted;
  • Have a two-way discussion when you approach a potential patron, as to how they can best help you;
  • Document your expectations and obtain agreement to these commitments in writing;
  • Educate the patron about your organisation through regular briefings and provide early advice of opportunities and commitments; and
  • Appoint a patron for a set period of time then renew the relationship if it continues to be valuable.

Coaching and mentoring

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