VSO has a team that operates across the world. Here Gillian Claugher, Head of Public Fundraising in the UK, who has just celebrated her three year anniversary with VSO, gives you an insight into what life is like working in fundraising.
How long have you been at VSO?
I joined VSO on a maternity cover contract but knew, early on, that I wanted to stay on and play a key role within the public fundraising team. It’s been an eventful 3 years with lots of change and challenge as well as reward. We are an ambitious team with a very focused fundraising strategy that will enable us to raise even more net unrestricted income for the organisation and our Primary Actors. It’s an incredibly motivating and inspiring team to lead.
What is the purpose of your role?
Most people think that fundraising is just about the money. Whilst the key strategic objective is to generate long term, sustainable net unrestricted income, it’s not (just) about the money - it’s about the impact and achieving VSO’s mission. People need to give; it’s a basic human need. Did you know that giving is one of the five ways to happiness!
At VSO, we focus, almost exclusively on individual members of the UK, Irish and Dutch public who support our work with financial donations, either by giving cash or by making regular donations and through leaving a gift in their will. We tell powerful stories: about the need for financial support but also, importantly, about the long-term impact that our volunteering for development approach has on communities around the world.
How did you get to where you are now?
I began my fundraising career aged 10, going door to door in my local area in Edinburgh, telling jokes and singing songs with my sister, to raise money for our local hospice. My jokes were poor, and my sister couldn’t sing but it taught me that “if you don’t ask, you don’t get” and we went on to make it an annual event, raising a good amount of money for different causes. And so began my passion for fundraising.
I studied for a joint Masters in French and Business at Edinburgh University and in my spare time I enjoyed volunteering for a variety of charities: as a dresser at charity fashion shows, selling flag stickers and pin badges as well as shaking a significant number of collecting tins and taking part in fundraising challenge events. Prior to joining the voluntary sector, I was a Marketing Manager within financial services and enjoyed organising staff fundraising events in aid of charity – everything from pub quizzes to abseiling off a London skyscraper (I didn’t enjoy that one too much!).
When I left financial services, I jointly ran an art, sculpture, and picture framing gallery. It was an opportunity to explore another of my passions and buying and selling art from around the world was thrilling. But it was through a chance conversation with a client that I heard about a fundraising role that was being advertised with the local children’s hospice. I combined running the gallery with my fundraising role but soon realised that the voluntary sector was where I wanted to be full-time. I’ve been lucky enough to work with some of the best voluntary organisations in several exciting and interesting fundraising roles, but Head of Public Fundraising at VSO is the icing on the cake. I’m working with such a talented team and feel privileged to be able to do what I love and raise income where it is needed most.
What does your average day look like?
My morning begins with breakfast in bed and then snuggles with my dog, Truffle. It doesn’t get much better than that! I like to start early and plan my day, trying to squeeze in a dog walk at some point. As I live close to the Kingston office, it’s lovely to be able to pop in and see some of the team and have face to face contact. We’re a sociable bunch and like to meet up to share lunches together. Most of the day though is spent working on plans, reports, team chats and meetings with others across the organisation, looking for ways to engage more members of the UK public to support VSO financially and make those who currently support us feel valued and inspired.
Which teams do you work with?
I work closely with the wider public fundraising teams in Ireland and Netherlands, media and digital colleagues, our data and insight team as well as finance, programme colleagues and partnership teams. It’s important that we keep ourselves up to date with VSO’s work on the ground with volunteers as we’re in a strong position to communicate the impact of our work with our public audience. I’ve been fortunate to work with other members of the leadership team in developing VSO’s strategy and get a broader understanding of our work across the globe. It’s a unique organisation that achieves lasting change through its volunteering for development approach and really sets us apart from other development charities.
Why is fundraising important to VSO?
Quite simply, fundraising fuel’s VSO’s future and the mission. Greater net unrestricted income gives VSO flexibility. Why? Because it’s not restricted to any one area of work so it’s vital for every aspect of our delivery.
I see our fundraising as a combination of things: it’s offering something of ultimate value to supporters – an emotional exchange almost. People feel different before and after giving to VSO and it’s rewarding to share the impact of individuals’ donations through our communications. Our focus is on building long-term relationships. People don’t give TO VSO. People generally give to other people, so they give THROUGH VSO and it’s our role, as fundraisers, to communicate and demonstrate how their giving has impact on the world’s most marginalised and vulnerable.
What new ways are we looking at fundraising as we move into 2022?
Data is going to play an even greater role in our fundraising this year. We’ll be working closely with our data and insight colleagues, building on insight and previous performance to deliver fundraising communications that resonate with our supporters.
How do you think public perceptions to fundraising have changed since you started your career?
Perceptions to fundraising have changed over the last two decades: there’s a better understanding of what it is. Its evidence based and relies heavily on data but is essentially about people. Although we work with emotions, there is sound science behind it. Every fundraising idea is tested rigorously and repeatedly and I think, increasingly, the public sees that we are taking a professional, evidence-based approach. This is how fundraising knows what works – it’s not just opinion and we have a responsibility to our supporters to be as efficient and effective in our fundraising and marketing as possible.
What lessons have you learnt from COVID-19 in terms of fundraising?
That with a motivated, talented fundraising team, we can achieve great things. Challenges can be overcome; problems can become opportunities and that, in a time of need, the UK public can be incredibly generous. Fundraising is all about people and COVID-19 has brought out the very best in people.
On a personal level, my family live in Edinburgh, where I grew up, and the flexibility of home working has meant that I can often work from Scotland and spend quality time with my elderly parents too.
What is different about working from home?
I get to walk my dog at lunchtime and often combine this with a face to face catch up with a colleague. I’m lucky that so many staff live locally. I do find that sitting too long in front of a screen without regular movement leads to unwanted aches and pains. It’s important to get the balance right and look after yourself when working from home.
Tell us one thing that you like the most about your role
That I can bring my authentic self to work! I genuinely feel that VSO enables me to bring together my experience, knowledge, skills, humour, and management style and be the best version of me that I can be. (I also love the chocolate treats that are always in the Supporter Care team ?)
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