​What does leadership mean to you?

Motivating and inspiring a team is about providing direction and clarity of purpose. In terms of my own approach and leadership style, I try to be really collaborative. But I also don’t think anyone wants a leader who dithers and can’t make decisions on their own; there are times when you need to give clear direction.

Wherever I can, I try to collaborate and listen to people. Listening is definitely one of the key skills of a leader. I don’t pretend community fundraising hasn’t changed since I started as a Community Fundraiser with Marie Curie 13 years ago; it’s very different now. But I do think having been a Community Fundraiser gives me a real insight and understanding of the role.

I guess the other thing about leadership is adaptability. When I first started in my current role, the team had gone through a lot of upheaval – morale was low – and there was a feeling of instability. You go into a new job and, of course, you want to change things; but it was evident that it wasn’t the direction I needed to go in. It was about trying to calm things down and build a really positive culture. My mantra in those days was all about getting the North back on top. My management team and I spent a lot of time motivating people and I tried to be a really positive influence to get us all on the same page.

Now we have built up a team full of energy and positivity, it is all about enabling and empowering people to make the right decisions. I might have to change again in a year because leadership style depends on the people and the environment. You definitely have to reflect on who has been leading the team before, as well as adapting and changing the way you do things. If your style is different it will take people time to adjust and you might need to rethink what the team needs – maybe you need to change rather than the team.

What’s the best tip you can offer on building a loyal, happy and highly motivated team?

We were talking before about the importance of culture and personal development, so my top tip would be to make sure you give yourself enough time and space to do the people-centred things. That might involve taking enough time to plan team meetings – don’t wing it! Ensure you make time for the personal development of your team. If you have any kind of feedback (e.g. the staff questionnaire Marie Curie do every year) make sure you do something with it. You need headspace to think about these things and plan what
to do next. Never think of personal development planning or team time as a luxury. If you spend time doing those things, you will reap the rewards when it comes to your team and how they feel about working for you and the organisation. It will also impact how long they stay with you.

What are the biggest challenges in regards to leading successful regional fundraising teams?

One is definitely staff retention, especially when you are in the business of building relationships. When you lose someone, you lose some of the traction you have built up with those relationships. It’s obvious to think about the challenges of managing your team but another big challenge can be managing upwards and outwards. That might be around expectations if those people have a key role to play in budget setting and the growth you can deliver. Not hitting target is one of the most demotivating things a team will go through, so targets need to be achievable in the first place. Also, in terms of your team expecting you to deliver changes or improvements for them when it sometimes won’t be within your power to do so.

You need to build a solid relationship with your own line manager. You may need to work hard at that and find a way towards a common ground; sometimes, you’ll have to bide your time. When you first start a role you aren’t immediately the go-to person, but in time you prove what you can do and start to make suggestions. It can help to adapt the information you put in front of people and present things in a way that you know will get their buy in. Marie Curie is quite a hierarchical organisation and I have to respect that hierarchy, being careful about the way I phrase things and choosing the right situation for challenge. It might not always be the right time or place and you have to be mindful of the pressures that your manager is under too. Pick your battles and don’t go after every single thing!

How do you have to adapt your leadership style to foster a sense of team when your staff works either remotely or in different regional offices?

It all comes down to providing clear direction. If you are all singing from the same hymn sheet, it doesn’t matter if you don’t get chance to get together all that often. Saying that, I do believe working hard to be visible is important. It might not make sense to be travelling around all the time, but when you are there make the effort to talk to everyone and find out what’s going on. If you are genuinely interested in your team it will come across and help them to feel valued, but be careful as they will pick up on it if you are not genuine. Coming from a community fundraising background, I am genuinely interested in people.

Be clear about the team’s objectives. Be really honest and tackle things as a team – how are we all going to approach this together? Ask your team for feedback – do they feel like a team? What is working and isn’t working?

Definitely accept that remote working is different – you’re not going to have the same sense of team that you would if you all sat around the same bank of desks in an office. Don’t punish yourself for that – it will be different. From a practical sense bring people together, but do it appropriately. And again, ask for feedback. Are we doing this enough? Are we doing it too much? Make the most of that time too, so that people go away feeling like it was a brilliant day.

Use technology and conference calls. If you don’t have those tools in your organisation, ask someone to look at the cost because you will save on travel if you invest in those technologies. For the Daffodil Appeal when everyone is out doing their own thing, our Fundraising Manager in the North West set up a WhatsApp group and everyone was sharing photographs and news from their collections. There was a real sense of team and achievement from that; simple things can work really well.

Put people together on projects who don’t usually work in the same office. At regional meetings, split people up so that you combat the tendency to sit only with the people you work with – mix it up! Protect your time together because it isn’t a luxury; it’s a necessity. Make some of that time for celebrations and some for social things. We always get together at Christmas and do very little business and that’s absolutely fine – we spend time together as a team and enjoy ourselves!

What would you recommend to an organisation that doesn’t have an official employee retention strategy but would like to work hard to actively keep hold of their best talent?

I can’t imagine any manager doesn’t have some sort of retention plan, although they might not call it that. You have good people in your team and you want to keep them. If you don’t have an official strategy within your organisation there are two really important things you can do. Accept what is in your control and accept what is out of your control. Salaries, job descriptions, terms and conditions may be things you can’t control, but there are lots of things that you can. Think about personal development. If you manage anybody, a key part of your time should be spent thinking about their personal development. It shouldn’t be an add-on. Appraisals aren’t a box-ticking exercise and you should take them really seriously and give the people you manage your time. Empowering people is also really important. It isn’t your responsibility to develop someone’s career, but it is your role to support that person to make it happen – encourage personal accountability.

Really simple things like being imaginative and creative with awards can make a huge difference. A small recognition can make a real difference to people feeling valued; you don’t join the charity sector because you expect huge bonuses, but a thank you from someone in a senior position can go a long way. Be genuinely interested in your people and sing about what they are doing.

At Marie Curie, some of my Fundraising Managers manage really big teams of 8-10 people and, for me, that is too many people to directly line manage. So some of our more senior Community Fundraisers take line management responsibility for one other member of the team. I think that definitely helps us to retain people because it gives them that first experience of line management. You might not be in an organisation that can do that, but definitely consider it if you can. If you can’t, think about what you can do to enable people to develop the skills to help them move into the next step in their career e.g. buddying, shadowing, mentoring, secondments, deputising, etc.

In terms of retention, I always take quite a pragmatic approach if someone leaves. Sometimes a fundraiser leaves because there has been a clash and it hasn’t been the right role for them – it can then be the best thing for them to move on. Also, I absolutely love it when someone joins and we really support their personal development and they then move onto a much bigger role; we should really celebrate that and not see it as a negative. You’ve definitely done your job there and helped the sector! I came back to Marie Curie after being away for four years, so you never know – they might come back!

Accept what you can control and consider challenging what you can’t. Pick your battles but don’t be afraid to ask the awkward questions. There often isn’t a great deal of money to play around with when it comes to pay awards, but in my team I often underspend on my salary budget from people leaving and waiting to re-recruit. So I recently asked the question: ‘could I use the savings to reward people?’ One of my peers commented that wouldn’t be allowed, but I pushed for the question to be asked at a more senior level. It
was, and the response was quite positive. It hasn’t happened yet, but it might and that makes asking the question worthwhile. If you can’t ask a question as a fundraiser, then obviously you’re in trouble!

How do you celebrate success within your fundraising team?

The most important thing about celebrating success and failure is that you have to live and breathe it; you can’t wait around for moments like staff awards to happen. Celebrate small successes as they happen and you can help to create that positive culture everyday.

We have awards in the team and give a £50 voucher every quarter – not a lot of money, but it can mean an awful lot to the individual who wins it. It used to be a management decision, but a member of my team challenged that and now we do a staff nomination instead. Being nominated by your peers means so much more. I went to the effort of putting the nominations and award announcements in gold envelopes and had a red carpet backdrop on my PowerPoint to make it feel like something a bit special. We also have a team of the quarter across the UK and I always try and nominate a team from the North region when appropriate… and we have won three out of the last five!

Where appropriate we ask our Chief Exec and Director to send ‘Thank You’s’ to people individually for exceptional work and that works really well. I do the same with personal congratulations for people who have gone above and beyond. Again, as a management team, we look back at what we have achieved and take time to reflect and embed that. I have a big team across a big geographical area, so I do broadcast emails to tell everyone when people do things well. We mix things up with the format, e.g. sometimes, we use video to try and keep it fresh. In quarterly regional meetings we do a review of the previous quarter, which is an opportunity to recognise the team’s achievements; then at the end of the year a big annual review. We all work so hard and it’s getting more challenging, so it’s vital we commit that time to recognise the efforts of our team.