Luke has twenty years’ experience of working in both the commercial and charity sectors. He joined Bowel Cancer UK in June 2012 as the Head of Philanthropy and Partnerships and joined the Senior Management Team two years later as Director of Fundraising. Luke specialises in corporate, business development and relationship fundraising.
How did you end up in fundraising and what advice would you have for someone looking to enter the sector from the commercial world?
I started my working life in media sales and stayed with the same company for eight years. I learnt a huge amount, had a lot of fun and worked with and met some great people. I had a strong manager who both challenged and supported me throughout that time making sure I had every opportunity to grow, succeed and learn from my mistakes.
As much as I enjoyed working in the media world, I started to feel like a needed a new challenge and wanted to look at other possible ways I might be able to use the valuable experience I’d gained in sales in a different way. The British Red Cross Society were recruiting for a corporate partnerships role at the time, which I was fortunate enough to get and I haven’t looked back.
Ultimately, my time in the commercial sector taught me all about the key elements of what it meant to be able to tell a story in a way that would inspire and persuade people to spend money with the titles I was responsible for. I have no doubt this helped with the transition in to fundraising. For me there is very little difference between the disciplines of sales and fundraising. Both are about building relationships, understanding your audience or supporters and making sure they get a full measure of the impact that working with you will bring – whether that’s a page in a magazine or a relationship with a charity.
Having made the move from commercial to non-profit, I can safely say that I do not regret it in any way. I would absolutely encourage anyone considering the transition to go for it. Working in fundraising is both challenging and tremendously rewarding and I believe the sector will undoubtedly benefit from even more good people that have a range of transferable skills to bring to many fantastic causes across the wonderful world of fundraising. I would add that I think the sector could do more to promote itself to the commercial sector when it comes to career opportunities.
If anyone is thinking about making the move in to fundraising, what are the three key pieces of advice you would give?
The first thing I would say is to understand there are some clear fundamental differences between the corporate and the charity sectors. Charities operate in a different way – our ultimate goal is to put ourselves out of business which is a fundamental difference that can take a little while to get your head around. Beyond that though there are one or two tips I can offer people going to interview for a new role (and these could definitely be relevant to people also already in fundraising):
Research. Get a grasp on what fundraising actually is and what it looks like on a day to day basis. Beyond that make sure you have a really comprehensive understanding of the charity you want to work for – what they do and how they do it, the numbers they use to show impact – there is nothing more disappointing than spending 45mins to an hour with someone who hasn’t done their homework.
Don’t try and be something you’re not – I want to see someone who is honest and transparent about why they want this role and why they really want to work for the charity – even if this is because you aren’t getting what you need from your current role.
Don’t be afraid to get creative – unfortunately, it’s very tough to come up with new ideas in fundraising these days, but I firmly believe that if an idea is good enough, people will buy in to it. If you can show that you have the ability to think laterally about all the elements and positioning of a product, event or campaign, then that will definitely serve you well if you are looking to move in to fundraising.
Who inspires you and why?
I have to say I am constantly inspired and blown away by the sheer energy, creativity and determination I see every day in the people working for, advising and supporting Bowel Cancer UK. I have been fortunate enough to work for some incredible charities, but over the last five years I have met and seen so many amazing people channelling absolutely everything into making a difference for others. Whether they currently have bowel cancer or are supporting someone who has or has had bowel cancer, it never fails to move me
to see such strength, courage and focus in action as they raise awareness and funds for an often misunderstood and underfunded cause. I can’t tell you enough how hugely inspiring the people that I work for and with are! For me there are few things more motivating than thinking of them.
As a corporate partnerships specialist what advice would you have for someone looking to broaden their experience and head up a whole fundraising function?
I’m not sure ‘specialist’ is ever a word I could say would be applied to me! But if you’re looking to take on a role which is broader than the one you are currently in and has more responsibility than the one you’re used to, I would say that the most important thing I’ve learnt is you need to accept that you won’t ever be a specialist again. You will always be closest (it’s unlikely you’ll lose that knowledge) to your ‘specialist’ area of fundraising, but you need to accept and be ok with the fact that there are going to be people in your team that will know more about their area of fundraising than you might. It’s imperative that you have an understanding of all areas of fundraising, how they work, what they cost, any trends, etc., but if you can offer practical support, encouragement, direction and make the decisions no-one else wants to, then you should be on the right path. Whether you’re heading up a team or coming in at a different level, the important thing is to always play to each other’s strengths. As a leader I just think you have to figure out how to juggle more balls and spin more plates without dropping them.
What key traits or experiences do you tend to look for when interviewing potential new members of the team?
Generally, I look for one or two main things: Team-fit is critical for me. And I completely appreciate that this is a very subjective measure based on a short period of time in an interview. But you have to get that right. As an interviewer you have a responsibility to nurture and promote the culture and environment of the team you are leading – and the wider organisation, particularly in a smaller charity. If there’s even one individual in a team that starts to create challenges for others, that can quickly become catastrophic to performance and in general to the day to day environment. They need to show they understand what it means to be a team member and show that they can work as part of a team.
If there is one thing I ask of every person in the fundraising team at Bowel Cancer UK, it’s that they understand that meeting the overall goal or budget takes precedent over the individual lines for which they are responsible. They need to own and understand their targets inside out of course, but if one line is struggling and another is not, the team has a collective responsibility to support one another and keep their ‘eye on the prize’ – the overall result. As long as everyone is doing their best to get to where we need to be, then that is all I can ask of them. Team first, individual second! Ambition and drive are healthy, but if it’s all about big ego’s, then they need not apply!
Secondly, I always try and think about what that person would be like with one of our supporters. What sort of experience do I think a supporter might have if they called in or met them and talked to them about fundraising for the charity? In this day and age it is more important than ever and whilst it is a bit of an old adage, first impressions really do count for a lot. I need to know that someone can be trusted to make an individual who wants to support Bowel Cancer UK feel really special and give them the experience that helps to ensure they support us long-term; the quality of every interaction and experience is just so important.
Leadership: What is the secret to building a loyal, happy and motivated team and what are the biggest challenges you face in doing so?
I’m not sure if there are any secrets and if there are, please tell me!
For me it’s all about being present and leading by example. I don’t think it sends a good message to always be in the office or the other way round. There needs to be a balance. I try and join each team member on meetings they may have where I can add some value to the discussion. I think it’s important that you are showing an interest and you’re invested in the work your team are doing.
Good communication is absolutely essential (that includes listening as well as sharing). I find people generally expect the common courtesy of knowing information in a timely and open way – not many people like surprises – especially when it comes to work, so keeping people in the loop on things regularly is really important. Building trust is important. People need to know you are on their side and that you’re respected by your peers too – and that is something you really need to be aware of as a member of any senior
management team. And lastly I think it’s also really important to encourage a bit of humour, I am often at the receiving end of banter in our office and that is fine! You’re with these people A LOT and it’s important you can actually like being around one another so being able to laugh with and at one another is pretty important.
In terms of loyalty, I don’t necessarily think that because someone moves on, they’re being disloyal. They may have another opportunity that they simply couldn’t say no to or feel ready for a different challenge and want to do that with another organisation. My measure is if someone leaves the charity having had a great experience, learnt things they can apply in a future role and felt they have contributed to furthering the cause, then that’s great and we should celebrate that.
I realise this is obvious, but different people are motivated by lots of different things. Some by the cause, some by the role, some by the culture – ultimately, if you’re consistently listening, giving people an opportunity to talk about what motivates them or is concerning them and paying attention to that, then you’re going to be doing something right. You’re never going to please everyone all of the time and that’s ok. You need to be ok with that and that just comes with time and experience. I’m still not there yet!
I guess all charities will face all kinds of challenges. I think the biggest challenge for the current team is that bowel cancer is easily one of the toughest ‘pitches’ I’ve ever encountered. It’s the UK’s second biggest cancer killer and whilst our income is growing well, it is nowhere near the scale we want to achieve our mission and aims. However, the sales-person in me knows that this also offers an enormous opportunity to grow and build for the future. Every day more people are getting more aware of bowel cancer, and more importantly, they are talking about the disease. Up until very recently, bowel cancer wasn’t really a topic that many people felt comfortable talking about, but this is changing and that will almost certainly start to give us the growth needed to stop bowel cancer!
Having previously worked in much larger organisations have you had to change your approach to managing people in a smaller office environment?
Not really, to be honest. I find the same rules apply regardless of the size of the team or office. There’s more to do in a smaller office because you have fewer people to do everything, so pulling together and stuffing envelopes for a mailing or supporting people at events are often an ‘everyone mucks in’ approach, but in a lot of ways that’s good because everyone has a better understanding of what each other does in the day to day which can help to bring teams closer together.
How do you ensure that you continue to grow personally when in an SMT level role?
Hmm good question. The range of responsibilities and decisions that need making are so wide and diverse I feel like it’s almost impossible to not grow. I think you certainly develop more resilience to different situations. That doesn’t mean you care less about what people think, but you have to strike a balance between being in a position where knowing you have a sometimes difficult role to play whilst also making sure people feel heard and supported. There are times when you have to say no to something when you’d really like to say yes, but time or resources won’t allow for it. I think it really helps when your fellow SMT members are all people you enjoy spending time and working with. If you can share, debate and discuss everything in an open and transparent way, but ultimately make decisions as a collective, that can help you grow and learn. I am very fortunate to have some great colleagues and that makes being a member of SMT an even more enjoyable and rewarding experience. We support one another and share the load on everything and that counts for a lot in the day to day.
As a small-ish charity with limited resources how do you keep abreast of upcoming regulatory changes?
First thing I would say is that these changes have definitely added workload!
Right from a very early stage, we agreed that everyone has a shared responsibility to be close to the regulatory changes and what that meant for the charity. We have carried out internal training to make sure everyone understands the changes coming and the implications. We have also had some presentations from an external consultant which has been very helpful too. All have been really useful in enabling everyone across the organisation to respond and adapt to the upcoming environment. This small investment to get professional advice has been immeasurably helpful.
We set up an internal project group which included representation from each area of the business and was chaired by our Director of Finance & Resources. It was up to us as a group to get our head around these changes and then we have weekly meetings to keep each other updated. We have recently launched a full and comprehensive ‘opt-in’ campaign ahead of next year’s changes to ensure that Bowel Cancer UK is fully GDPR compliant in good time for the deadline. I do believe there is a real advantage to this because we’re ensuring that everyone who wants to hear from us can and anyone who doesn’t has the chance to tell us that. This is an opportunity to get even closer to the core group of people who really believe in us and what we’re doing – and then get them to act as advocates on our behalf. This will help us stop bowel cancer and ensure Bowel Cancer UK can show how people really are having an impact on the disease.