Wednesday, March 18, 2020


If you know me well you know that I'm an Aaron Sorkin fan.

Whether it's The West Wing, The Newsroom, Sports Night or even the much misunderstood Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip it is rare that I go more than a couple of weeks without rewatching a favourite episode or two.

Why this (almost) obsession?

Well of course Sorkin is one of the best script writers of his generation and nobody has ever written dialogue so well.

"You want answers?"
"I want the truth!"
"You can't handle the truth!!"

But what draws me most to Sorkin's writing is his never ending optimism and belief that humanities better demons will always win out.
Sure we'll make mistakes, put money before relationships and sleep with the wrong people
at least in Sorkin's world,
we'll always make up for it, say sorry and try to make better decisions in the future.

Where am I going with this?

Well if you know The West Wing  - and I struggle to understand how you wouldn't, you'll know that the President has a constant and vital catchphrase used throughout the series.

No matter how bad things are going -
War being waged, economy in crisis, polling figures on the floor
Sorkin - through the President - reminds us that we have to continue
"What's Next?"
A simple phrase that says - I've heard you, I understand where we are, there's nothing more to be said right now. Let's move on.

Our current situation with Covid 19 is beyond precedent. Things are bad and will get worse. We're all trying our best to keep going.
and it's hard.
Uncertainty is the only thing we're certain of.

These are our truths and we need to accept them. We are no longer in control and as challenging as this is we need to accept it.

"Whats Next"

Leadership is about looking forward.
Good leaders know the importance of raising their eyes above whats in front of them and focusing on the horizon.
Good leaders know that plotting a clear course is what helps their crew steer the ship to safety.

Right now our society is lost. Everything we were sure of has been messed with.

Even basic human contact - hugging, shaking hands, sharing a pint - have been taken from us.

Your team and your organisation are lost because they are no longer sure where they are going.

Our normal has been taken from us.

It's time to lead.

In many ways there is no point in fixating on how you get through this week and the next. We will all do what needs to be done and hope its enough.
There is no way to know whether a campaign due to launch next week should be cancelled or not. Will people being at home mean it will reach more people?
Will the distraction of Covid 19 mean nobody will be interested in the campaign anyway?
Is it the right thing?
Is it the wrong thing?
We don't know - nobody knows

We'll all make a call based on our best guess and see how it goes.

What we can do as leaders is look to the horizon.

Why does your organisation exist?
What is your organisation trying to achieve?
What is getting in the way of you achieving this?
Now that everything is broken can we rebuild in a better stronger way?
How do we prepare for the new normal?

It is up to you to set the new course so that your team don't beat themselves up trying to stick to the previous plan. They need guidance.

So what do you do?

Take in everything that's going on around you and your organisation. Make decisions and give your team clear direction.

Then take some time, breathe and raise your eyes to the horizon.

The new course is out there, it's up to you to find it.

The last lines of the of The West Wing Finale feature the now former president on a plane having left office.
As he stares out the window his wife asks "What are you thinking about?"
He looks at her and replies


Thursday, April 18, 2019

In defence of billionaires

Never let it be said that there was a bandwagon that I didn't jump on and undoubtedly the wagon of this week was the fire in Notre Dame Cathedral. 

If you've ever been close to a fire whether its a building, a car or even just a large bonfire you'll know how visceral an experience it is - You'll remember the heat, the colour, the sound, the smell.

So watching the non stop coverage of one of the most iconic landmarks in the world burning was arresting. Many of us have been there, could see the place we stood to take photos, could remember the epic scale of the interior and those happy memories were now being burned, twisted and destroyed.


So then what happened. 

People who felt motivated to act by the event started doing things.

Sharing photos on social media

Changing their profile pics

Tweeting at reporters

Telling stories about the first time they climbed the stairs,
How they proposed on the plaza outside 
That Notre Dame was a symbol of all that they loved about Paris - France - Europe. 

and then some people started to donate money to support the rebuilding of the cathedral. 

Lovely, awesome, cool


Several billionaires, their families and foundations pledged (pledged not donated) tens of millions of Euro to the rebuilding cause. 

Did they do this because:
They are committed catholics for whom the cathedral was a centre part of their faith?
They wanted the publicity for themselves or their company?
They were overcome with emotion because a treasured part of cultural history was destroyed?
They want to ensure the institutional church keeps all its assets intact and not have to spend it on rebuilding projects?
They love architecture?
They care about Paris?
They wanted to?

We don't know.

and really it doesn't matter. It is their money and they chose to give it to this cause. 

But something else struck me.

The backlash against these people who promised incredibly large amounts of money to the rebuilding project. 

They were attacked.

Here's a small sample of some tweets about them.


Ah, but, what if -stay with me here- people in need were not at the mercy of the whims of the charitable? Because billionaires knew about homelessness and all the problems in the world, but until now they chose to sit on their money instead.
It’s not just french billionaires, it’s billionaires around the world that have pledged over £600 million when there are people who haven’t had clean water for a number years in a supposedly first world country
I know that the Notre Dame is a very important landmark but the fact that billionaires have pledged over 600 million dollars in under 24 hours to help fix it just really puts into perspective how easily rich people could help solve world issues if they cared

To narrative has become -
"Billionaires don't care about the poor, the sick, the starving, the environment etc but when a famous building goes on fire they give money."

Is this true?
Well firstly - it's simply a ridiculous statement.
We can't say that billionaires as a group care or don't care about anything because they are all individuals and like the rest of us some will care about a cause and others won't.

So to say that billionaires don't care about xx cause is ridiculous.

Is it true that they all sit on their money year after year and then it's only because of some magical control that Notre Dame cathedral had over their bank accounts that has led them to dust off their cheque books and pledge huge amounts?

Again we can't talk about all billionaires but in the US in 2017 according to Forbes -
In total, members of America’s Top 50 Givers donated $12.6 billion in 2017 -- up from $12.2 billion in 2016. Collectively, the group's lifetime giving exceeds $158 billion
So that's just 50 individuals and their families but a chunk of those were billionaires and its 2017 so they weren't donating to Notre Dame fire restoration. You can look for yourself and see what they donated to and you'll find that they give to: Universities, development projects, educational programmes for disadvantaged youths, animal charities, political causes, human rights organisations, small local organisations and global movements.
We can question any individual donation on its merits but we can't say that billionaires as a group only care about famous old churches.

Some care about lots of things and give and some probably don't - but its harder to find evidence of billionaires that don't care about any causes.

So what about the mega rich French who have made the big headline grabbing donations to the cathedral? Maybe they are not like their US counterparts, have no interest in philanthropy and have just been counting their cash until this week.
Well according to the media the 4 biggest pledges have come from:
Bernard Arnault
Fran├žois-Henri Pinault
Bettencourt Meyers family
Total Group
Are these all evil fiends who care not a jot for those less well off then themselves and only want more money, more fame and more power?
Well again - who knows. 

My super quick online research however shows that:
The Bettencourt Meyers family fund a foundation which cares about creating environments and approaches that are conducive to overcoming learning difficulties and making good use of talent, and successfully integrate people while promoting an inclusive society.

The Total Group foundation has a focus on four areas in all the places they have businesses which are Road Safety - Forests and Climate - Youth Inclusion and cultural dialogue and heritage 

Bernard Arnault is the head of the LVMH group who run the LVMH Foundation that focuses on promoting and sharing culture, renovating and enriching historical heritage, and supporting contemporary creation according to themselves.

Fran├žois-Henri Pinault founded the Kerings Foundation with focuses on protecting women from violence across the world.

How much do these individuals contribute to their main foundation? I don't know. 
Do they give to other causes outside of their foundations? I don't know
Do they only have foundations to save themselves from paying taxes? I don't know

The truth is we don't know what motivates and individual to give to one cause and not another. We can't make assumptions that because an individual gives to a cause we care about that they are a better person than somebody who gives to somebody else's cause.

and most importantly because this is what we teach our children.

We are not mean and cruel to people who are different to us or may not agree with us. That's called bullying.

Friday, March 03, 2017

Crazy Little Thing Called Love (donor love)

So one thing that I rarely post about - when I post at all - is my actual work.

There's no real reason why I don't other than I never quite get around to it.

However I wanted to join the #donorlove conversation and share our own dipping of our toes in the pool of donor love. We've only just begun so I figured it will be good to write  a series of follow ups on results, impact and just plain and simple feel good from doing the right thing.

So the back ground.
I work for Don Bosco Care

We're in the second year of donor acquisition having done no public fundraising previously. Our cause is a little different because we provide residential care for children and young adults taken into the care of the state. Very few people know much about this area so it's been great to recruit donors and get them excited by what we do.

So right now we have a donor file of 3,300 donors - all new people who have given us at least one donation in the last 18 months. 

It's a small file but it was hard won and we're determined to keep these wonderful people engaged, passionate and interested in the young people in our care.

So we decided to look at #donorlove - How can we let our donors know we care about them, they matter to us and that they are really important?

We've already been doing the basics.

Our CEO hand signs every thank you letter.
He writes personal notes and cards to repeat donors, anybody who shares a story or thought and phones anybody who makes a donation over a certain amount. Basic stuff but we're small and need to do the best we can.

So dipping our toe in the pool of donor love
We decided that we wanted to do something more for our donors. We know we are little known so our donors are showing huge trust in giving us a donation given the current climate of mistrust. We want to be open and welcoming because as an organisation that's how we are with our young people.

So we went with the simplest thing imaginable

We invited our donors to and Open Morning in our offices. Come and meet us, learn a bit about our work and let us say thank you.

We got some postcard invitations printed.

and sent out a little over 1000 personally addressed invitations (because that's all we could afford) to donors all over the country.

Now here's the thing. We invited 1000 people but realistically the room we had can't hold more that 40. What we were hoping for was that a few people (10 was enough) who lived locally and had some free time might stop by and that the rest would just feel appreciated and a little closer to us.

So what happened.
24 people showed up.
They met the CEO, Chairperson and staff. They got to talk to us all personally, ask questions and learn about us.
We had a little presentation just sharing how a child might end up in our care and how we work with them.

It was lovely

but was it a success?

Difficult to measure howver

One donor said she has been donating to lots of charities for years and has never been invited to visit them so she got on a train at 7 am and traveled across the country to meet with us.

Others said they've been living around the corner from us and never knew we existed and were delighted to support such a good cause.

Another said he would organise and event for us.

but the surprising thing was the people who didn't come

A handful sent donations - although there was no ask

One lady said she couldn't make it but would leave us a legacy



120 of our donors (12% of those invited) either phoned or emailed to thank us for the invitation and to apologize that they couldn't make it.
They lived too far away
They were too elderly to travel
They were working

and they shared
How much our appeals had connected with them
How they were touched at the stories of children in care
How they had never been invited to visit any charity before
Why they donated to us
How they loved the post card
How they loved not being asked for a donation and just invited in

From a pure engagement with these amazing people our open morning was a success

We felt more loved by our donors than we could ever imagine - especially considering we were trying to show them love.

So that's it

That was last week and we've moved on.

We'll track invitees and attendees and see if there is any difference in the donations we receive compared to those we didn't reach out to and we'll also try and think of other things to do for the donors we missed this time.

If there's something interesting I'll fill you in.



PS: I didn't do all the work involved in selecting list, managing rsvps and pulling off a great event. Thankfully I've an awesome team who are passionate about and know how to deliver great #donorlove

Thursday, September 15, 2016

Everyday is Game Day - Summer Hack Series Episode 2



The Elite. The Best of the Best.


Because when it was needed
When it was needed
When time was running out
When they were behind
They Delivered

When it would take something extraordinary - they were extraordinary

When others looked around - they were the ones looking forward.

We love sports and sportspeople because they deliver amazing moments to us. They train for hours, days, years so that when it matters, when it really matters. They are ready.

On Game Day

But the weird thing is

Sport doesn't matter.

Nobody dies when the whistle goes

Nobody gets hurt if the shot is missed

There's always another game


The harsh reality is that for a lot of the world game day is the same as every other day. Another day of suffering, another day of pain, of hunger, of fear, or sickness.

Whether we're trained for it for our whole lives

and most of us haven't.

The charity sector is often the only person on the same team as the underdog, on the same team as the ones falling behind, the ones taking all the hits.

and whether we like it or not

the final shot, the last chance, the moment of moments

might fall to us.

and we can't afford to miss.

We don't know when that moment will come because those moments are every day.

For all our causes.

We're not sporting legends

just regular people

but we must be ready

because if we're not - when those in need look around for help - who will be looking forward?

So we must train hard

we must be ready.

Everyday is game day.


Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Summer Hack Series Episode 1 - Board Obstruction?

In the last few weeks I've attended the awesome Ask Direct Fundraising Summer School and we've had our 5th Charity Hack.

Both of these events threw up a number of consistent thoughts,irritants and/or rant fuel (I think I'm going to patent the phrase rant fuel)

So I've decided to combine them into a Summer Hack (see what I did there) series and post them over the coming weeks.

Todays topic - Board Obstruction

Disclaimer - The board I work under are awesome, hugely engaged and supportive, willing to listen but also willing to challenge.

ZZZ zzzz ZZZZ zzzz SNORE

Yeah Yeah Yeah we all hate boards, boards suck and they're only useful as content for humorous blog posts or for the more ambitious books on how to manage your board.

But seriously

Boards are one of the most important constituents in our sector. They are the ones held responsible by the public (and the law) for ensuring that donor money is used properly and adequately reported. It's their job to make sure that our organisation does the work it's supposed to do and has adequate funds to continue doing its work.

So why do we as professionals in the sector spend so much time complaining about how our board sucks, how they don't understand fundraising, how they block every attempt to deliver awesome campaigns? Are they bad people just determined to undermine staff while they groom their ego?

No I think it's because we're not good enough at our jobs.

We pride ourselves on our ability to tell stories. We pat ourselves on the back for our amazing donor love. We exalt at how clever we are to identify a new donor segment to approach


Our board are our primary volunteers

They actual donate their time - which is in many cases extremely valuable. They donate their expertise in governance, finance, legal issues etc and they donate their reputation as directors of a charity.

I think we owe them a bit of respect

and I don't mean pander and accept bad behavior from them

What I mean is that they deserve to be brought along on a journey just like any other donor or volunteer.

Connect them to the work - in language or method that resonates with them not with your programme team

Ask them to remember what drew them to the organisation in the first place.

Thank them for their contributions.

Explain why fundraising needs to develop in a particular way and give them professionally thought out pros, cons and scenarios. Give them data but also explain that they may or may not be the target market for a particular campaign.

Tell them the impact their decisions can make to your cause.

Include them in the decision process - like which agency you might use
and ask for their professional expertise (once you're confident enough to refute non expert opinion).

Will this work and will every board member suddenly think you're amazing?


But more probably you'll convince a couple at a time and you'll have to keep going back to them. Talking about the work, appealing to their passion and experience until they get what you're trying to do.

But it's not different than any donor or volunteer - People connect differently to different things.

Try this:

  • Bring in some plain cards and envelops for your board.
  • Ask them to write down on their card the reason they care about the work or why they joined the board
  • Don't ask them to read it
  • Tell them to seal it and put it in their diary 
  • No every time they see the card they will remember why the volunteer as a board member and will be reconnected to your work


This is all just about saying don't blame your board for not supporting you. Look in the mirror and ask have you done enough to earn their support.


Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Then We'll do What's Hard

West Wing - 20 Hours in America II - Final lines

If our job teaches us anything, it's that we don't know what the next President's gonna face. And if 
we choose someone with vision, someone with guts, someone with gravitas, who's connected to other 
people's lives, and cares about making them better... if we choose someone to inspire us, then we'll 
be able to face what comes our way and achieve things... we can't imagine yet. Instead of telling 
people who's the most qualified, instead of telling people who's got the better ideas, let's make 
it obvious. It's going to be hard.

Then we'll do what's hard.


I don't know how many times when I've told somebody I'm a fundraiser they've replied with something along the lines of

"Tough Job"
"I'd say that's hard"
"I don't know how you do it"

Honestly I don't know if it's hard or not

It's what I do every day so it's my normal. I don't know anything about accountancy so I can't say whether that's harder or easier than running an event and likewise I can't say whether it's harder to drive a bus all day than it is to plan dm campaigns.

What I do know for sure is that fundraising only exists because the causes we're trying to support are hard.

Really hard.

     Defeat diseases that threaten our existence

     Stand up for the rights of the weak against the strong

     Protect children and the vulnerable from those that are supposed to protect them

     Feed the hungry

     Heal pain

These are the biggest challenges and species in history has ever taken on. 

If these were easy then they wouldn't be problems. If they could be fixed then governments would fix them because it would be good for votes.

But they're not simple

They are complex



and often beyond comprehension


They are important

Not because I say so but because humanity says so


People care about the hungry but feel helpless to do anything


People want to cure disease but don't have the skills to do it themselves


People would rather be hurt themselves then see a child in pain

It's really hard

Charities exist because of the will of the people - yes the same people who may also criticize charities.

Charities exist because people say something needs to be done

and maybe government or 'they' should do something about it


something needs to be done

people criticize charities because it is so important that their work is done and done well

but it's hard 

and it's complex

and fundraisers

well in someways our job is to simplify what's complex

to breakdown the insurmountable into achievable chunks

to provide hope that the impossible might be within out grasp

and to let people know what they can do.

It's our job to help others do what's hard.

and we're not good enough 


Tomorrow I'm going to the Ask Direct Summer School  to spend a couple of days with some of the brightest and best fundraising minds in the world so that we can get better at doing what's hard.

Next week 

Charity Hack 5 takes place and we'll be working with 5 awesome Charities to help them get closer to achieving their goals. 

We will be joined by 20 hackers all passionate, dedicated professionals willing to donate their expertise in fundraising, marketing, digital, project management etc to help bring the impossible closer to our reach.

So after these two events will I be amazing?


but I'll be a little bit better

and a little bit more prepared

and in the battle against the biggest challenges any extra weapons you can bring to the fight helps.

If you'd like to get better there is still time to join both the Summer School and Charity Hack just check out their websites.

and let's do what's hard 

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Because we believe in hope - Charity Hack 5 Registrations now open!

The last few days, weeks and months have been dark.

We've had Brexit and the racist hate that has spun off it.

We've had attacks on Paris and yesterday Istanbul.

We've had Console and more bad press for charities.

This leads to too many people being down, too many people resigned to a world view that every thing is bad and it's all gone to shit! and more importantly that's it's out of our control and it's something They should fix (I won't go on my rant about people saying stuff like 'They should do something about it' 'They cause this' 'They don't care' - Who the hell are They!!!)


Charity Hack will not be part of this negativity. We believe in hope. We believe that people care and that they want to help. We believe that there are amazing people working in awesome organisations who could change the world if given a chance.

We believe in them and we're here to give them a chance


Registrations for Charity Hack 5 are open:

Charity Registration Form

Hack Registration Form