Jean Collingwood

May 15, 2023, 10:25 AM

The ultimate guide to working with Royal Patrons – Top tips for maximising the benefits, navigating the protocols and avoiding common pitfalls

By Jean Collingwood

I’ve had the honour and pleasure of working with Royal Patrons throughout my career as a charity leader for different causes. I still remember my first meeting with each of them: the time of day and place, the preparation I made, the different approaches I took, the mistakes I made along the way and even what they wore and said.

Along the way I have learnt that staying grounded and remembering that they are people first is essential. In this article, I'll share more of my top tips for working with a Royal Patron, navigating Royal protocols and avoiding common pitfalls, as well as some practical insights into the benefits a Royal Patron can bring to fundraising and stakeholder engagement, with real life examples. 

The key benefits and impact of having a Royal Patron

Having a Royal Patron can bring huge benefits to a charity. It can help to raise your profile, change perceptions on important issues, increase your fundraising potential and boost credibility with stakeholders. Other benefits include:

  • Greater access to decision makers, networks and resources: Members of the Royal Family have a wide range of contacts in government, business and the media. This can be a considerable asset for charities looking to expand their reach or achieve their goals. Royal Patrons can utilise their contacts to help a charity raise funds, secure partnerships and gain access to important decision makers to create opportunities. For example, the success of BT's Caring Face of Britain campaign – a hugely successful campaign to find and recognise Britain's six million hidden carers – was primarily due to the support throughout of HRH The Princess Royal.
  • Increased visibility, awareness and credibility: A Royal Patron can help to raise your organisation's profile and credibility, both in the public eye and with potential donors and partners. This can be particularly important for charities that are working in new or controversial areas. For example, when the late Princess Diana became the Patron of the National AIDS Trust, her humanity and passion for the cause challenged public perceptions and raised awareness of the issue and, importantly, broke down the stigma associated with HIV/AIDS.
  • Enhanced morale and motivation: Having a Royal Patron can help to boost morale and motivation among your staff and volunteers, as they will feel a sense of pride and accomplishment in being associated with such a respected figure who connects with something they care about.
  • Enhanced fundraising: A Royal Patron can help to boost your organisation's fundraising efforts by encouraging others to give. When a member of the Royal Family is associated with a cause, it sends a powerful message of support and endorsement, which can lead to increased media coverage, public donations and volunteerism. This is especially true of charities that involve their Royal Patron beyond annual reviews and website promotions into distinct projects that ignite their passion and interests. Below is a practical example of connecting Royal Patrons with campaigns and projects that align with their interests to the best effect.

Case study: Royal Patronage leading to success.

Sir John Eliot Gardiner enlisted the support of His Majesty the King as his Patron in launching the Bach Cantata Pilgrimage. This massive undertaking aimed to perform all 200 of Johann Sebastian Bach's cantatas during a year-long world tour. While the project was challenging, it was a labour of love for Gardiner, who was deeply passionate about Bach's music and believed that performing all of the cantatas would help to bring Bach to a broader audience. 

The involvement of His Royal Highness throughout the project in the media, at concerts and in hosting events, where he was able to share his passion for the transformative power of music in spiritual places and of worship with history and architecture, significantly elevated the project's profile and captured people's imagination.

It made people want to get on board and support and it attracted funding from private donors, corporations, government agencies, European funders, charitable trusts and the public at large. His Majesty's connections were also hugely beneficial in less obvious ways, such as securing prestigious performance venues and logistical support. Ultimately, Royal Patronage ensured the ambitious Bach Cantata Pilgrimage was a resounding fundraising and logistical success.

Best advice for working closely with a Royal Patron

Building trust and confidence to work closely with a Royal Patron in order to maximise the benefits to your charity and its mission takes time, patience and commitment. Here is some of the best advice that I’ve picked up for developing that relationship:

  • Be yourself. Royal Patrons are people too, and they want to work with people who are genuine. Don't try to be someone you're not.
  • Be prepared. Before meeting your Royal Patron, have a clear agenda and know the latest facts and figures about your impact and your charity's work inside out. Tailor your work to your Patron's interests and be able to answer any questions they may have. 
  • Build a relationship. Get to know your Royal Patron personally and learn about their interests and passions.
  • Be proactive. Don't wait for your Royal Patron to come to you with ideas. Be proactive in seeking their advice and input.
  • Be enthusiastic. Show your Royal Patron that you are passionate about your work and grateful for their support.
  • Be professional. You are dealing with a member of the Royal Family, so it is always important to maintain high standards.
  • Be respectful and grateful. Always thank your Royal Patron for their support, both in person and in writing, and treat them with respect.
  • Be adaptable and flexible. Things don't always go according to plan, so be prepared to flex, have a back-up plan, improvise and go with the flow.
  • Involve them. Invite your Royal Patron to take part in decision making. This ensures that they are aligned with your charity's goals and objectives.
  • Keep them updated. Send them regular updates on your work and let them know how their support is making a difference.

Tips for navigating Royal protocols

When working with a Royal Patron, being aware of and adhering to Royal protocols is important. This includes things like:

  • Always address a Royal Patron by their title, such as Your Royal Highness.
  • Never touch a Royal Patron without their permission. This includes shaking hands, hugging and brushing against them.
  • Always be respectful and deferential in your interactions with the Royal Patron.
  • Always be polite and respectful of their time. Do not keep them waiting. Do not ask personal questions or ask them to do anything they are uncomfortable with.
  • Avoid talking about controversial or sensitive topics.
  • Dress with appropriate respect.
  • Don't ask for autographs or selfies.

The practical pitfalls to avoid

Last but not least, here are some of the common pitfalls that could sour your relationship with a Royal Patron.

  • Overstepping your boundaries and being too familiar. Be authentic, be real, but don't assume or overstep the mark.
  • Taking advantage of their time or resources.
  • Not respecting their time and support and not providing them with everything they need in advance. 
  • Not thanking them often enough or in meaningful ways.

In conclusion, being bestowed with a Royal Patronage is an incredible privilege for any UK charity. It provides access to valuable fundraising support and instils trust and credibility in the eyes of potential donors. Additionally, it can help to expand your charity's reach and change public perception of your work, leading to increased support and income.

If you are lucky enough to have a Royal Patron, I hope these tips will assist you in fostering a solid and productive working relationship with them.


Jean collingwood

Jean Collingwood has extensive experience as a multi-award-winning CEO in the charity sector and has successfully led youth, sports, cultural arts and diversity charities with a sharp focus on purpose. She is skilled in bringing stakeholders together and aligning them with a common purpose to develop fundraising and marketing strategies that prioritise impact.

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