Effective management in the charity sector
by Ashley Elliott
The best executive is the one who has sense enough to pick good men to do what he wants done and self-restraint to keep from meddling with them while they do it.

Theodore Roosevelt

Leading and managing teams can be the best and worst job in the world, and that’s no different when you work in the charity sector. On the one hand, you’re managing a group of people who want to play a part in changing the world for the better. On the other, your job is to ensure you’re getting the balance right between time spent on generating income, time spent nurturing relationships and everything else that might find its way to your to-do list.

Over the past couple of years, I’ve managed teams of varying sizes across a wide range of income streams, hoping to achieve vastly different targets. Here are some key questions I wish I’d asked myself earlier!

Who is doing what? And do you have it the right way around?

Fundraisers often juggle a lot of tasks, it seems to be the smaller the team, the more hats staff wear! It’s well worth reviewing the current roles and responsibilities. Are they split fairly? Are the expectations on the team members fair? Can your board or volunteers be doing more? And are you playing to the strengths within your team? I’ve known teams ask the same of every fundraiser, even though the skillset of each fundraiser is very different – you might find that you get more from individuals if you share the tasks in a different way.

What does your data tell you?

How well do you know your database? Do you have the right resource in the right areas? If most of your income comes from a certain area, is that what gets most of your attention? When I was a lone worker, I didn’t really understand the true value of data. It felt like all I had time for was just inputting and updating. Taking the time to review the data and see what it tells you can make you feel very differently about what you do next. Which leads me to…..

Why are you doing what you’re doing?

Are you setting your team up to succeed? Are you putting time and effort in to the right things? Or do you just ask for the same thing year after year because that’s the way it’s always been done? It’s so easy in a busy environment to fall into the habit of just doing. Take some time out to really review what your fundraising calendar looks like, how each element is performing, what engagement the donors receive and what, if anything, they’re being asked to do next. If you spend months putting on an event which gets high numbers, but doesn’t really provide a decent return on investment nor does it provide good retention – could your time be better spent on something else? Sometimes setting that time aside to review without emotion can really be beneficial in the long run.

How much do you focus on income?

Don’t become so fixated on the targets and income, that you forget about the bigger picture. It’s so easy for fundraisers to focus on the income, and it’s even easier for management if that’s all you're being asked to report on. Donor experience, donor retention, charitable reach, awareness of the charity and the people at the heart of your organisation need just as much attention. I’m a big believer that if you get the relationships right, the money will follow – not everyone involved with charities can see past the money, but sometimes as a manager you’ll need to stand firm if it’s not just money that’s important to you too.

What is your main objective?

Remember that as a manager, your goal isn’t to do everything yourself. Your job is to empower your team so that they have the confidence and ability to achieve the things you ask of them. Give your team a voice, encourage them to share in an open, non-judgmental forum and make sure you listen to what they have to say. In my previous job, we worked in a really intense environment. The best thing I did for both me and the team, was ensure we all took time out to connect to the cause. This helped build relationships between the team and beneficiaries, and also acted as the best motivator.

How do you look after yourself?

“Lead by example” – it’s such a well-used phrase, and it always makes me think about flying! On aeroplanes we’re told to put our mask on first, for very good reason. Make sure you’re giving yourself what you need to succeed. Prioritise your workload, plan your week, schedule time for yourself and find a trusted ally you can talk to in confidence, should you need to.

Where can you find support?

Some of you may work in large charities, with a HR department and have an infrastructure which means you can access colleagues in different departments to chat to. Some of you, may be leading alone with very little support from your board. But if you are on the latter end of the spectrum, there are still ways in which you can find support.

Make the most of local groups. I’m a member of the local Institute of Fundraising and they have consistently been a valuable resource to me - as a lone worker, new fundraiser, charity manager, line manager and everything in between. Most of the local groups have bursaries available to new members, so if you haven’t already joined it’s well worth a look.

Another wonderful asset is the ‘Fundraising Chat’ group on Facebook. If you’re not already on it, I’d highly recommend it. It’s a free, quick and easy way to pose questions to literally thousands of fundraisers all across the world. Everyone I’ve come across has been really lovely and eager to help – I’ve seen so many examples of people sharing resources.

How do you keep them happy at Christmas?

As a special Christmas bonus, here are a few ideas as to how you can spread some Christmas cheer amongst your team!

• Write a meaningful Christmas card. It’s not just donors who like to be thanked; our teams do too. Why not add a few lines about why you appreciate them, how they’ve helped or what you like about them most?

• Take some time out for a Christmas Quiz. You could add a personal element to it to give people the opportunity to get to know each other better. Even adding a half hour to one of your regular meetings to do something fun, can have a huge impact.

• Leave a treat on their desk – this doesn’t need to be big, just a bag of chocolate coins or a candy cane.

• Take some time out for a team hot chocolate! You could also try and attend a local carol service together for a spot of singing and team bonding!

Finally, if there’s a gap in your income or you feel you need a helping hand to figure out what the future looks like for your charity, why not get in touch and see if we can help? Email me at ashley.elliott@kedaconsulting.co.uk.

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