We need to upskill the sector

Yesterday was the last day of Fundraising Convention and before I delve in to what I learned, I just want to say a big ‘thank you’ and ‘well done’ to everyone involved – from IoF staff to the Convention Board, Chairs, Speakers and all the amazing volunteers!

For me, the recurring theme of the day was the need to upskill – whether that’s personal development or building  and developing your colleagues’ skills.

Digital leadership

My first session of the day was on digital leadership and it was great to see three female speakers: Clare Moriarty,  Permanent Secretary at Defra, Claire Horton, CEO at Battersea and Lara Burns, Chief Digital and Technology Officer at Age UK.

Clare talked about how digital is about people and connections and connecting them to services. She talked about all the digital changes happening at Defra because ‘that’s the world we live in now’ where people expect to be able to renew a licence online.

Claire talked us through how important it is that everyone at Battersea understands the role that digital plays and how technology can improve efficiency, help them reach more people and better serve their beneficiaries.

She shared their virtuous circle of insight, innovation, implementation and impact and talked us through each stage.


The virtuous circle

Insight is about the value of context – both inward and outward. It’s about how you bring people together and how everyone works towards the same goal. Everyone really needs to understand the strategy, challenges and landscape.

To innovate, you need to be an organisational change agent who sees talent in people and pushes them to be brave, agile and adaptive. But innovation mustn’t be for Innovation’s sake. It must have a real purpose.

The implementation stage is about connecting ‘digital natives’ with ‘digital immigrants’ to get buy-in, understanding and trust. And digital must always be linked back to strategy goals.

To create impact, you must be rigorous in what you’re measuring and use that insight to feed that back into your strategy.

Claire then ended with 5 Golden Digital Rules:

  1. Go where your audience is
  2. Invest in digital skills (incl people)
  3. Aim for quality
  4. Plan ahead
  5. Track performance

Last to speak was Lara who talked us through how digital innovation kick-started service delivery and fundraising at Age UK.

At Age UK, digital is not a bolt-on. It’s fundamental to how they are changing service delivery and enabling conversations with older people. Together with CAST, they developed an app called Steps, which helps them create action plans with older people. The success of the app, as a proof of concept, has led to 3 funders now funding digital transformation.

But a step-change in service delivery has not been without its challenges, one of which was the gaps in infrastructure that were exposed.

Step change in service delivery

The Steps story opened up lots of questions, such as how to secure funding for digital innovation at different stages and can we collaborate on funding tech solutions across the sector?

It was a fascinating session.

Click to read my Twitter thread of the session:

How to develop a personal brand

For my second session of the day, I went along to hear Joe Jenkins, Director of Supporter Impact and Income at The Children’s Society and Liz Tait, Director of Fundraising at Battersea, talk about building a personal brand.

Joe started with saying that your personal brand is what people think about you, not what you think about yourself.

Liz shared some top tips:

  • Daily interactions – be kind, it’s a small sector!
  • Spread the kindness
  • Start close to home – what opportunities are there at your own charity?
  • Volunteer – put yourself forward to volunteer for an IoF regional group, for example
  • Talk at events
  • Get writing – start a blog or write for others
  • Embrace networking
  • Recognise others – don’t always speak about yourself. It’s good to publicly recognise the achievements of others
  • Keep learning
  • Seek feedback

Joe then shared some Do’s and Don’ts:


  • Get social, particularly on Twitter and Fundraising Chat
  • Be yourself – whatever the channel
  • Be consistent
  • Be brave
  • Make choices (say yes to lots, but not everything is right & worth your time)
  • Do fewer things better
  • Plan ahead
  • Value & recognise personal brand & then prioritise it
  • Be brilliant (at your day job)!


  • Be anti-social (don’t be negative and critical of others)
  • Fake it – you’ll soon be found out
  • Stay in your box
  • Over-stretch yourself
  • Don’t stop having fun!

Click to read my Twitter thread of the session:

10 ways to become more digital for under a tenner

Next up was Mandy Johnson, CEO of Small Charities Coalition (of which I’m a trustee), to share how small charities can make the most of digital through free (or almost free) tools.

  1. Powtoon for a free animated video
  2. The camera on your smartphone for images or video
  3. YouTube to host your videos for free (it’s also a search engine)
  4. Amazon wishlist – create one for supporters to buy you office supplies and equipment
  5. Take contactless payments on the go for only £15
  6. QR Code and NFC stickers for just £2
  7. Closed Facebook groups to get closer to supporters and make them feel special
  8. Anchor to create free podcasts
  9. Mindset – research, test and iterate with your service users so that you create the services that they actually need. Are your donors, beneficiaries and service users at the heart of what you create?

As you can see… I seem to have missed one!

Click to read my Twitter thread of the session:

Diversity is an opportunity

The plenary was delivered by the amazing June Sarpong who spoke about the importance of diversity and how the charity sector could really lead and set the example of being a diverse and inclusive profession.

My favourite quote from June was, ‘You can’t be campaigning and fighting for equality when your own organisation doesn’t reflect society”.

Click to read my Twitter thread of the plenary:

I have to pay tribute to the IoF who really are working hard to increase diversity in the sector.

The big debate

Are charities where Blockbuster was 15 years ago? Is fundamental change needed in order for them to survive? Mandy Johnson, CEO of Small Charities Coalition and Yasmin Georgiou, Head of Digital Engagement at GOSH argued for the motion whilst Dr Adrian Salmon, Vice President of Grenzbach Glier & Associates and Lesley Pinder Head of Supporter Experience at British Red Cross argued against the motion. They were kept in check by David Hunt, Head of Digital at Breast Cancer Care.

The debate was quite intense so I’m not going to document it all, but read my Twitter thread to see the points raised – there were some really interesting ones.

And who won? Mandy and Yasmin! Although only marginally, it must be said.

Click to read my Twitter thread of the debate:

Digital Transformation in practice

The last session of the day (and of Convention) was all about digital transformation in practice. I was really keen to attend this as digital transformation is often spoken about in ‘big picture’ terms so I was interested to hear how charities are actually doing it.

It was a joint session of two charities: Tom Barker, Head of Digital at National Trust and Simon Honnor, Digital Marketing Manager and Katy Rouse, Digital Content Manager at NSPCC.

Tom spoke first about how National Trust is putting digital transformation into practice and offered 7 tips:

  1. It will only happen if you really want it to. He used a ‘quit smoking’ analogy – for anyone wanting to quit smoking there are apps, patches, services etc to help you yet it will not happen if you don’t really want to quit. You can have all the tools at your disposal but you have to really want to make the change.
  2. Have a single, clear objective – if you can’t explain it quickly to a senior manager or trustee, you’ll lose their attention and it won’t move forward.
  3. Chunk it up – it can be a big, scary, daunting task but it you break it up into smaller chunks, it’s more achievable.
  4. It’s a long haul, not a short fix – be honest with how long it will take so there are no unrealistic expectations.
  5. Have a big stick – aka, get senior management buy-in. Someone high up whose got your back.
  6. Invest in IT – and this means invest in relationships. Be friends with IT. Believe me, you’ll need them.
  7. Plan beyond delivery – need a new website? Build in a budget for beyond when the website is live. And not just to fix bugs but to test and iterate functionality.

Next up, Simon and Katy talked us through NSPPC’s email empowerment programme. They took three steps to upskill staff to allow them to create their own emails, thus freeing up time in the digital team to do more testing and optimizing.

  • Engage – get buy-in (from Senior managers and all staff who need to be involved) and co-create or it won’t work.
  • Educate – (or upskilling) they delivered face-to-face training as well as creating guides and putting together a quiz on the intranet. They also blog on the intranet and send out a monthly newsletter
  • Enhance – this is all about freeing up time to measure and test so that there is continual improvement.

So far the results have been promising – they’ve even increased open rates by 3%. But what’s next? They are putting together a web content training programme, they’ve identified digital business partners who will upskill their team members, they’ve got a deal with Econsultancy for fast track online training and the digital team has started a blog, which you can read here.

So that’s the end of Fundraising Convention for another year. See you in 2019?

2 thoughts on “We need to upskill the sector

  1. Pingback: Digital round-up – July | madlinsudn blog

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