So I have to admit, when the team suggested that I start doing my own blog, the idea petrified me —I have never put myself “out there” like this. I am the sort of person who has no problem committing to delivering a plan to bring in €5 million in income. I know that if I don’t succeed, it won’t be from lack of commitment, determination, and hard work — it will be from something outside my control. But ask me to pick a restaurant to meet a supplier for breakfast, and I could agonise over it for days because a personal choice — like the restaurant I pick — says something about me. I feel the same way about doing this blog.
The other reason I was hesitant to do this was because my perception of being a blogger is someone who is an in-depth expert, and I have to admit I don’t particularly see myself as an “in-depth expert”! What I do have, however, is over 20 years of work experience providing me with all sorts of challenges and life lessons, which have led me to take a very common-sense and grounded approach to work — and life in general! My low boredom threshold allows me to have plenty of knowledge on many things rather than allowing me to have highly articulated debates. Life is too short!
Prior to joining the charity sector five years ago, I worked in financial services for over 20 years. I had a very blessed and varied career, predominantly working in Strategy, Marketing, Communications, Project Management, and Direct Response. I worked with some amazingly talented people who I learned so much from, as well as some really awful people who taught me hard life lessons — both helped build the foundation for who I am today. My last stint in banking was running a communications programme around closing down branches, removing cash — resulting in people losing their jobs. Those left behind were completely overworked and constantly looking over their shoulder wondering if they were next. As people fought to keep their jobs, the worst came out in everyone involved, and I was exhausted. I got really sick, both physically and mentally. I couldn’t do it anymore. I needed to buy back my soul and move away from the drama that was, in hindsight, completely pointless.
So I took redundancy and decided to take some time to decide “what I want to be when I grow up”. To keep me somewhat occupied, I took a maternity contract in Concern Worldwide, and from there I haven’t looked back! I found that I loved using my skill set to make a difference in the world. I have moved around to a number of charities since, and they have all been amazing places to work, with the most talented and passionate people I have ever met.
The commercial and charity sector are so different — in both good and bad ways. These are my main observations:
For the most part, people working in the charity sector love what they do. They know that they are making a real difference in this world. Salaries in the charity sector are much lower compared to relative jobs in the commercial sector. But people don’t do it for the money; they do it because they love it.
In general, a charity’s primary objective is to raise money in the fastest most cost-effective way possible. As a result, spending time on building strategy and solid foundations is a luxury many charities don’t have. In the long term, this is to their detriment, but the cost is hard to justify. In the commercial sector, strong foundations, branding, and strategy are a given — and I whole-heartedly agree that they should be.
Surprisingly, the charity sector is much more slow-paced than I would have imagined compared to the commercial sector — apart from when a charity is dealing with an emergency! When I worked in banking, missing a deadline or a target just wasn’t an option. You did what you had to do — rain, hail, or shine — and planning in advance was rarely allowed for. If a mailing needed to go to 50,000 people in less than a week, you just made it happen! The charity sector is much more relaxed in this regard. I have to admit, the jury is still out for me as to whether that is a good or bad thing.
Coming from financial services means it is embedded in me to work in a regulated environment where compliance is a given, not a choice. It upsets me when I donate and don’t get the opportunity to opt-in to email or when I receive a mailing having not been given the opportunity to opt-out! For me, these are basics that everyone should have long signed up for — not made a decision to ignore. So my attitude to the upcoming GDPR regulation is possibility different to most. It is just about doing what you should have always done in the first place: give people a choice, respect their decision, and, where business decisions need to be made, do the right thing and document it.
Having the opportunity to run Nexus Direct in Ireland is the perfect balance of both worlds. I get to run a commercial organisation, work with some of the most amazing charities out there, and support them in making a difference in this world by challenging them to be the best they can possibly be and holding their hand on that journey.
When I look back at my career, it was when I was working on projects that were particularly challenging — where what needed to be achieved almost seemed impossible, where plans constantly changed, where we pulled together as a team and achieved something extraordinary — those were the times I enjoyed the most. When difficult choices have to be considered, questioned, and made and when the most difficult questions need to be asked and solved — that is when I am most motivated.
The team and I are currently working on a piece of research that will be presented at the upcoming National Fundraising Awards. The intention is for it to be a groundbreaking piece of thought leadership that will support the sector in one of the greatest challenges — acquiring new donors in an ever-changing society. I am not going to lie: It has been really challenging. I have been frustrated, the team has been frustrated, and we have been putting a huge amount of hard work into getting this right. A colleague and I were discussing the project last week. Where we want to get to seems really simple, but it has been so challenging to get there. And then it dawned on me: If it were easy, it wouldn’t be a groundbreaking piece of thought leadership! If it were easy, someone else would have already come up with all the answers. So we are now celebrating that it is difficult, that it is challenging, that we have multiple drafts and are forced to debate every question over and over because it means (I hope) that it is going to be great.
So that leads me to my original question: What do I want to be when I grow up? I want to support charities on the road to being extraordinary. I want to ask the difficult questions and not be afraid to hear the answers. I want to put foundations in place and uncover who they really are so that the public are never in doubt of the need for their existence and the impact they make.
So if you are looking for a partner to support you on the road to greatness, someone who can help you answer difficult questions or even come up with the questions in the first place, I adore a challenge! Please make my day and get in contact. Let’s chat over a cup of tea. I promise I won’t ask you to pick the location … not unless you want to, that is.
Authored By: Carole Wickham