Thursday, 10 October 2013

So, what is leadership?

I work for Merlin, the charity that has just become part of Save the Children. It’s a time with lots of changes and challenges.

I’ve just spent the last week on a Leadership Development Programme. An intense, immersive, tiring, but ultimately exhilarating, experience.

I learned a lot on the course. About myself. About others. And about how ‘myself’ can work with – and for - others. I saw some of my behaviours reflected back at me – and some pleased me, some shocked me.

I wrote a lot of things down and just wanted to share some of the points/ideas/thoughts that resonated the most. You may have heard some, all, none of this. But read on. Something may resonate with you too.

Think of someone whose leadership you admire

We were asked to think about the essence of their personality, their moral compass, how they respond in the moment and how they look for collaboration.

Interestingly the names that people mentioned were world figures. People like Churchill, Mandela, Martin Luther King, Angela Merkel and more.

But who sprung to my mind? Actually, it was someone closer to home. Someone who I admire in the fundraising sector, someone who I do count as a friend, but whom I see achieve great things with her team, and who does display courage, who always remains optimistic.Who accepts their weaknesses, and who builds excellent teams - and brings out the best in them.

So, think about these people, and why you would follow them. And ask yourself, why should anyone be led by you?

Follow your passion and you will find your purpose

And others will follow. Can you be a leader without the ability to know when to follow? Ask yourself, what was I born to do as a leader? What is your leadership signature – what makes you unique and different?

I heard that the 1st rule of leadership is ‘know thyself.’ And that the 2nd rule is ‘be yourself more with skill.’

Importantly, and for someone who is terrified by being perceived as weak, I learned that it’s ok to reveal a weakness. It’s what you do about it that counts.

Focus on the things you can influence

This felt particularly poignant at this point in my career, and really helped me think about my behaviour and what I could influence.  There was talk of reducing your circle of concern and increasing your circle of influence.

Put simply, there are things that you simply can’t change, so use your energy to focus on the areas you can. And just by shifting my focus I feel more in control. I feel better for it.

The people

As a manager/leader it’s easy to spend lots of time on the people that don’t perform as well. You want them to grow, learn and develop. But don’t forget to spend as much time with your best people. If you spend all your focus on those who need more development you deprive yourself of the opportunity to be motivated and invigorated by them, their ideas and their energy.

What does inspiration actually mean? We talk a lot about inspiring leaders but what does someone ‘inspire’ you to do?  You might find them motivating or engaging, but did they actually inspire you to anything? 

However, this brings to mind the words of that great philosopher, Dolly Parton: “If your actions create a legacy that inspires others to dream more, learn more, do more and become more, then, you are an excellent leader.”

Leaders set the standards of behaviour and the culture of an organisation. So think about what you want to demonstrate. A great quality is optimism. Wouldn’t you rather work in a culture that is positive and optimistic? If so, set these standards. People rarely leave brands – they leave bad managers and leaders.

And on those ponderings I will leave you. There are more, but this post is getting long. Any more, please do leave them in the comments.


Danielle Atkinson

Saturday, 5 October 2013

My charity crush #1

“If you do a job you love, you never actually work a day” – Or something like that!

I've had many a crush in my time, from the ridiculous, I was convinced I was going to marry Craig David (pre Bo Selecta I hasten to add) - to the fruitful - I had a crush on my last boyfriend for over a year! So I like to think I know a thing or two about them.  When I was asked to write about my charity crush, for my debut Charity Chicks Blog however I really didn't know where to wasn't something I'd ever thought of to be honest!

As a lover of the sector - yes I refer to myself as a "lover" of the UKs’ Voluntary and Community Sector (VCS) - you would think I'd have my favourites, but like they say a mother is with her children, I really do love them all.

You don't need me to tell you, we have a phenomenal VCS here in the UK. For the most part we are representative of the needs and issues reflected in our communities, from health and social care to environmental and forestry issues, we lobby parliament, influence policy, fundraise billions, infuse community spirit, and we make a difference, a huge difference each and everyday. How can I possibly choose just one?

That is the task I was given however, and being of African heritage, there are Black and Ethnic minority (BME) organisations that have really made a difference in my life. Black Cultural Archives, for example has provided me with an invaluable porthole into my history, the experiences of black people and how we were treated by society- from local governments to landlords.

BCA as a charity, from governance to fundraising, staffing to projects and events has had its trials already. They have both Local Council (Lambeth) strategic support and Heritage Lottery funding, which no doubt has made for an eventful few years.
Like many 3rd sector organisations, am sure there will be more trials and tribulations to come before the grand opening of the new home of BCA in the heart of Windrush Square in Brixton with funding and staff turnover being two things to think aboutl.  

However let’s think about the magnitude of BCA, their past, present and what’s to come.  The work of BCA provides me and you with an informed understanding of what it really meant to be Black British, how we got here and ensures that we as a people – black and white will never forget.

The Director once had a very frank conversation with me about the expectation history itself has of me as “black British,” the role I play in BCA’s development and how all races of my generation and beyond interacts with black history via the Archive. I’d put money on the fact that most of you reading this may not even be aware we had an archive dedicated to the history of the presence of blackness in the UK, but you do now!

Black Cultural Archives is one of my greatest charity crushes!

Joining Charity Chicks and sharing my views, opinions, experiences of my beloved VCS with you all is very exciting! The range of work we cover, and the outcomes we deliver have shaped and re-shaped societies. Some campaigns are stronger than others, some causes more "fundable," and a lot of organisations are only as strong as the ability of their current CEO - these are facts. Ugly, but facts none the same.

We have charities that have annual budgets to rival a small country, policy writers and campaigners that are changing the world, making sure the human heart isn't replaced with an app and leaders who, if they were politicians really would make the world be a better place.  

The VCS is far from perfect, there are a number of things in the sector that irritate the life out of me and I'm looking forward to writing all about them, but as we have established I am a lover of the sector and I’m equally excited about sharing the ins and outs, up and downs of our budding relationship.

Follow me on Twitter @thefaithabbey

Faith Abbey

Friday, 21 June 2013

Once Upon I Wish I'd Thought of That

A couple of weeks ago the second of SOFII’s ‘I Wish I’d Thought of That’ events was held. And a number of Charity Chicks were there. So we thought we’d pull together a little blog and share it with you. 

And like reading a book, or seeing a film, there was no overall consensus of opinion - we had a multitude of different thoughts, comments and ideas.

One thing we all agreed on is that we LOVE the idea of IWITOT. It’s emotional, fun, irreverent and feels very modern. And it’s high on inspiration. And we, as fundraisers, love a bit of inspiring.

What’s really great is it has a younger and very vibrant feel about it. There’s lots of social media talk and banter before the show, and afterwards – which adds to that. To be honest, so much in our sector can sadly feel a little grey and predictable and IWITOT is a great antidote to that.

It can also be very frustrating when, conference after conference, you see the same ideas and case studies presented. What’s brilliant about IWITOT is that is has life and showcases new speakers.

And undoubtedly it reminds us of why fundraising is the best profession in the world.

This year in 2013 we saw 20 speakers give us the idea they wished they’d thought of. ‘Telling the story behind an innovative idea they felt changed the face of the  industry‘ (SOFII website).

We heard some really powerful cases for support. There were some very poignant, personal stories. Lauren Semple gave us both a great fundraising idea and her story is still with us now (and, rightly she got the most votes on the day). However a question some Chicks' asked is: was it just us or did some of the other stories feel that they had been built around a personal link rather than a great fundraising idea?

Which led us on to the next point we discussed. What happened to the fundraising in some of them? As we’ve said there was some amazingly strong storytelling given to us, but where was the ‘innovative idea they felt changed the face of the industry’? Out of 20 ideas we counted 13 that were fundraising ideas. (And don’t even mention the webcams….)

One thing we were really pleased to see was a great mix of fundraising disciplines from these 13 ideas. Last year we felt that it was too direct marketing focused. This year we had major giving circles, corporate partnerships, social media appeals, membership, online fundraising and community/challenge event fundraising. A smorgasbord of fundraising. Yum.

And while 2012 brought us the saga of the doofer, 2013 brought us the live stream. One of the most powerful elements of the afternoon is the dynamic energy and the magic of sharing some fabulous fundraising ideas in a powerful, performance based way.

And while not everyone has to be an “am-dram” dandy or a natural stand up, the inability to move from the lectern because of the live stream meant that in some cases the slots felt a little like lectures rather than inspirational stories for their innovative idea. Not only that, people that watched the live stream said it didn’t work very well. Was it worth stifling people’s presentation for a live stream that jumped and froze? 

A big chapeau to Adrian Salmon for ignoring this, and delivering a cracker of a presentation about a great fundraising idea. In the words of Sir Bruce Forsyth, you’re our favourite!

We’re delighted that IWITOT returned for a second year – and we hope to see it become firmly entrenched in the fundraising calendar. Being in a room with 300 other fundraisers is always a treat. It’s always an inspiration. And it’s always fun. (Such an aptly named profession…).

Which is why we’d love to see the timings tightened up so everyone can partake in the social drinks reception afterwards. Networking is such a vital part of what we do – learning from each other is invaluable. 

And SOFII offers a vital opportunity to do this, at a really reasonable price. So we’d all like to be able to make the most of our ‘late passes’ and have the time to do this.

Our last comment is that everyone, and we mean EVERYONE, should visit the SOFII website. Regularly. It’s an amazing resource. Jam-packed with fundraising. 

Some other blogs/stories written about this year’s IWITOT:


Wednesday, 19 June 2013

Audiences. Why do we get it wrong? We should know better!

You know the setting. You’re studying literature at school. You have set texts. You groan and moan. And then you read one that blows your mind. This, for me, was ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ by Harper Lee.

As a young teenager in a small, southern seaside town, getting an insight into another world – a world so different, yet so similar – to mine was eye-opening. As I read - horrified, yet engrossed - I could imagine very clearly the same things happening where I lived, cocooned in my white, middle class safety. (And, on a lighter note, Atticus Finch was my first true literary crush).

It’s a book I return to regularly. When I can’t decide what to read, I open it up. When I need inspiring I open it up. The other day when I did this, the following quote jumped out at me, as it so often does:

“You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view... Until you climb inside of his skin and walk around in it.” 

And my mind turned to fundraising, as it often does. We talk a lot about our audiences and how we are, most of the time, not them. So, we bring them to life with data profiling, pen portraits and fancy names. We might have many of them. At Merlin we have three groups (for your interest: Graham and Carol, Ben and Sophie, and Fiona Donor), reflecting our different fundraising methods and using various insights to bring them to life.

We talk about this at work, at conferences, on social media, in the pub. We all say that we seem to understand this basic principle. Yet, we still continue to produce fundraising that isn’t relevant for our audience. Or we try to shoe-horn multiple audiences into one communication.

So, why? Why do we do this? I have a few theories.

1. The scourge of the next big thing: When I get asked the question “What do you think is the next big thing in fundraising?” - my response is ‘going back to basics.’ The best performing fundraising is simple, emotive – and relevant to the audience. Search for the method/channel that will raise money – but always, always, always have the target audience at the heart of what you’re doing. 

2. Ticking the boxes: We talk about keeping it simple, so why don’t we? If we’re asking for money, let’s ask for money! Don’t dilute it with lots of asks that keep other people happy. Why promote ‘Tough Mudder’ in a newsletter that goes to ‘Dorothy Donor’? I’m sure 80-year old Dorothy would love to do that rather than get a pack with some Humanity Rose cards in that she can actually use – because, guess what!, she still writes real letters. 

3. We try to be cool: Your digital team are launching an app that means your smart phone will walk itself downstairs in the morning and make a cup of tea; your communications team are launching a hard hitting campaign that some Guardian journalist tweeted about; and you want to break boundaries, bring in new technology and shock the world. 

Stop and think though – does Dorothy want to be shocked? Does she want to download an app? Does she want to see the appeal she supported being chatted about by the Guardian? Does she even read the Guardian? If your target audience does, then go for it! But don’t be cool for the sake of being cool. Make sure the boundary you’re breaking is your fundraising income. 

4. You refuse to believe your idea won’t work: We have all done this. Come up with the best idea ever for an appeal. And it flops – totally and utterly flops. Let it go. Don’t convince yourself with a little tweak here or a slight change of tone there, or different images on the outer it would all be different. 

If it properly flops your audience does not like it. And audience is the most important variable. Creative is near the bottom. Sometimes we need to spend money to try new things and test. I am all for this (if it’s planned, targeted, and has the audience as the reason for doing it). But spending money on something you have tried and failed miserably at is irresponsible. 

5.You want to like your work*: I love my job and I love being a fundraiser. And I am proud of the fundraising we produce. But do I as Danielle (Atticus Finch loving, wine drinking, Diagnosis Murder watching person), love our appeals? Not always. Do I Danielle (Head of Digital & Individual  Giving at Merlin) love our appeals? Yes - because our donors will love them. And if they don’t love them then I check if anything we have done falls into one of these five groups.

*This one is a particularly easy trap to fall into when picking your Christmas warned! 

Danielle Atkinson

Tuesday, 18 June 2013

The Charity Chicks Poll: Who is your Unsung Hero?

Its polling time of year in the fundraising calendar at the moment. 

The influential ‘Most Influential Person in Fundraising’ is being counted as we speak. 

So here at Charity Chicks, we thought we would run our own little poll.

We thought we would ask you who is your ‘Unsung Hero’ of fundraising?

The 'Most Influential' poll is always interesting and well done to everyone that gets on it (even if you do pretend to protest...) 

However there are some definite, recognisable 'personalities' on the poll. Including those who like to pronounce loudly.

(This is not a criticism of those on the list - we say this as a blog that was created to pronounce loudly about fundraising! And who like to show off our personality...) 

It is, though, very London-centric, with a lot of people from either national, international charities or London based agencies on it. And it always seems heavily biased towards the direct marketers. 

So we, at Charity Chick Towers, thought we would run our own little poll of the unsung hero. 

Those that are just quietly getting on with their job. 

Maybe it is someone who works for a local charity, maybe your top telephone fundraiser, maybe a street fundraiser who had some lovely feedback, maybe the account handler at your printers who spends hours working out how to get the cheapest envelopes for you. 

Send them all our way. 

We won’t rank as I imagine (but could be wrong) that the unsung element will mean we get lots of people with one vote each. 

What would be nice is if you could share the reason or story behind your vote and we will share a selection. 

Email with the name of the person, their organisation and why you think they are so fab! 

Or fill this in online: Unsung Hero Poll  

Happy voting!