Back to posts

March 22, 2017

Alan Gosschalk Interview

Alan, former director of Fundraising at Scope, shares some of his experience.

Interview with Alan Gosschalk

Our former MD, Carla Miller, has written a new book aimed at aspiring fundraising leaders, which we're delighted to be able to share with you. The first section comprises interviews with some of the UK's leading fundraisers- scroll to the foot of this article to download all the interviews.

I interviewed Alan in early 2016 when he was Director of Fundraising at Scope. Widely recognised as a leader in fundraising, Alan has led some of most successful fundraising teams in the sector and is currently Director of Fundraising and Communications at the British Asian Trust.

How did you get to work in Fundraising?

I did a French & Management studies degree, started doing accountancy exams, got part qualified and then decided I didn't want to do finance! I went into brand management at a food multinational and did a year there and loved it, but working for the world's biggest food company, you can't make much of a difference as a junior, and also it was obviously commercial and profit-orientated.

Then by chance I saw an advert in The Guardian for a job at Help the Aged on the database side and went for it and got it. That was in 1989. Help the Aged was at the time very strong in direct marketing and they invested and tested quite a lot. I spent 5 years there and became the head of department. From there I moved to Imperial Cancer Research Fund (as it was then, now it's CRUK of course) heading up all of their direct marketing and legacy marketing. I became a Fundraising Director at RNID (now Action on Hearing Loss) in 1997 and I have been a Fundraising Director ever since, at charities including Shelter and Scope..

So whilst working in the charity sector wasn't planned, once I came into the sector I really liked the people who were in it and the buzz it gave me. I was given quite a lot of responsibility, you obviously feel as though you are doing some good, and now I can't imagine being anywhere else really.

Tell me about your team at Scope?

We have 45 people in our team here and there are 4 team heads: Individual Giving; Events; Corporate & Major Donors; and finally Trust & Statutory. It's a traditional structure.

Our annual income is £22m this year, up from the £15m it was when I arrived here. That growth has come primarily from Individual Giving because we've been investing in recruiting lower level regular givers but obviously that growth is now significantly at risk. The likelihood is that regulation will hinder growth or even reduce income, and I guess the question is, will that have a minor or major impact?

How do you keep your team motivated in an environment that, at the moment, is a little bit hostile?

We haven't become obsessed, which it would be easy to do, about the negativity, because I think that could be very depressing. The team are motivated by their targets and what they achieve, and a strong team spirit for me has always been really really important. Here, there are 45 people all on this floor, so it's quite easy to develop a strong team ethos, whereas if you're a charity with 300 regional fundraisers, say, that's a bit harder.

I've always done a lot on the social side and on celebrating success, for example. We have 'Fundraiser of the Month' here and you can nominate your colleagues for going above and beyond in their job or putting some of the five Scope behaviours into action. The winner gets a £10 M&S voucher and a little cup to put on their desk for the month and people absolutely love it. Those sorts of things are really important in getting people to feel like they are a team with a communal aim.

Just because we work for a charity does not mean that we can presume that simply working here is enough to ensure passion and commitment. We also have an initiative that we call 'getting closer to the cause'. Service managers come in to talk, we go out to projects, we make sure people watch relevant films re the work and so on. It's not just up to individuals to do this as it's not going to be their top priority and it could fall by the wayside. We have activities in team meetings too so that people can learn about the impact of the organisation in a number of different ways.

How do you develop and retain your fundraisers?

I've really encouraged people to either try to get promoted internally or to consider being seconded, both within Fundraising and to other areas. For example, recently three fundraisers have gone into External Affairs. There's quite an active push to recruit internally, thus retaining knowledge and keeping staff longer than the stay of the average fundraiser.

As in many Fundraising teams, we still have quite big gaps in experience and knowledge between the Fundraising Director, the Heads of income streams and the level below the Heads. There's more movement in more junior roles, but it's quite a step up to be a Head, and then it's quite a step up to be a Director. I don't think we've cracked that.

How would you define a successful Fundraising team?

I think they need to be always taking decisions based on what's in the best interest of the charity with respect to the supporters, working as a team and not be too insular in terms of who they're approaching and how. Seeing supporters as people in the round is vital. Relationship development is really important, both internally and externally, and good teams ensure that they're going the extra mile. Ultimately we want to be people's favourite charity so what is it that we can do to make them feel special about Scope and what Scope achieves, the information they're getting, and how they're engaged?

How do you model that as a Fundraising Director?

I'm really clear that unless status is important to the supporter then you should be 'matching' the best person to engage with them rather than saying "I am the Fundraising Director so I've got to be matched to the director of CSR." Pushing people to try new things and saying it's okay to fail within reason is a good thing. I talk about 'surprise and delight' quite a lot, about supporters and what they receive and how we communicate with them. It's about picking some things and being consistent about them with the people directly below you and then also when you're together as a whole team.

How often do you bring your whole team together?

Every two months, we meet formally for a couple of hours but then we also do Fundraiser of the Month and when there are successes between times, we get people together. We have a thing called 'Fish' (which I didn't invent!) and when there are successes, someone sends around a 'Fish' email. It comes from one of the markets in New York where they chuck these fish at each other (!) and so when people have successes, they'll email round about those sorts of things. Some teams will do different things, so the Events team has got a 'success chain' that is a running email that they just add to when they get great feedback from people and to share other successes.

Obviously we want people within specific teams to support each other, and they're likely to be closest to each other - as opposed to people in other teams - but then also we get people socialising together to feel like a whole Fundraising division. There's a softball team, which is mostly made up of Fundraising and External Affairs staff. I also organise a work-choir, and there's a concrete garden up here and some people have formed a gardening club. There's a cocktail club that people go to about once a month. There are quite a lot of fun and different things that people can engage in. Work needs to include some fun. People work pretty hard and are under pressure and so having some fun is a vital release.

What lessons have you learnt about leadership?

I would say that my ethos now is that some things are really important to get perfect. Like everyone, I hate things going out with typos on, but what are the big things to care about? I ensure that I am not critical unnecessarily - that would be very demotivating - and so it's mostly about being supportive and feeding in when I think something needs a steer. Even if something's not exactly how I would do it, if it's okay, then that's fine. People are different. I think there's a tendency when you're young to think that everything has to be the way you want it to be, and actually as you mature you realise that there are different ways of doing things and that people do a lot better when you're supportive of them and positive about them.

What advice would you give to someone who is heading up an income stream and is looking to become a Fundraising Director?

There are several elements to the job obviously. There is line management and fundraising capability to start with. Gravitas and credibility are important, but another key element is that as a Director, you've got to be valuable to the organisation beyond having your fundraising hat on. I think it's about getting involved in other areas where you can, and improving your strategic importance and your understanding of the rest of the organisation, because it should be a given that you're a good fundraiser if you're a Head of department. Leading a 'directorate' is a bit different. You need to step out of being knee deep in the fundraising detail. Obviously, you've probably got a specialism in a Fundraising area and potentially a tendency to get most involved in that area, and that may not be the best thing for the organisation.

Being a Director is a lot more about managing upwards and sideways than managing downwards because you can control your area, but then you're the person responsible for listening to and influencing the other areas so that Fundraising can prosper. You're under pressure probably to increase your targets each year. The Chief Executive may or may not understand fundraising well, and then you've got a Board to work with and things will come in from left field at times, so I think you've got to be quite flexible and aware.

I spend quite a lot of time trying to sort things out that are issues for my Heads with other parts of the organisation, and trying to establish clarity around what is and isn't agreed, what can we fundraise for, when should I be getting involved and when not. I think I've got on well with the CEOs that I've reported to and they've been very supportive of fundraising so that does make life easier.

I think also that the Director's got a big role to play to role model the culture and behaviours that you want. You hear quite often of a change in leadership and someone being very different, and that having a massive effect on people and turnover. Good fundraisers are in short supply and they can move on very easily. I think you need to work hard at keeping people and generally I don't think all charities are great at that.

More interviews

If you've enjoyed this article, then why not download our free book- 'Experience- Interviews with Fundraising Leaders'. 

About the author

Carla Miller is a coach, consultant and facilitator, who works with charities and companies to create growth and develop happy, high-performing teams.

Carla's previous roles include leading fundraising teams at Samaritans and Rainbow Trust Children's Charity before becoming an Interim Fundraising Director for charities including School-Home Support and Youth Music.  She went on to become Interim CEO at Tiny Tickers, the charity for babies with heart problems, and Managing Director of Charity People.  Carla has also held Trustee roles at Read International and Hatch Enterprise. Carla is available for coaching leaders, coaching teams and facilitating away days and strategy days.  She also gives keynote speeches on leadership and purpose.


Tips, advice, news and more straight to your inbox

Sign up to our newsletter