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September 6, 2017

Anita Ball Interview

Thoughts on leadership from Anita Ball - Director of Income and Marketing at St Oswald's Hospice.

Anita Ball - Director of Income and Marketing at St Oswald's Hospice

Anita has over 17 years' experience working in the voluntary sector in income generation and communications positions. Her strengths are in people management, strategic and business development. Anita has successfully united all income generating activities at the hospice and developed a cohesive strategy that has seen rapid growth and development. New initiatives include the emergence of social enterprise models and expansion and maximisation of income streams, Retail has grown significantly and e-commerce is one of the latest development streams, she looks forward to driving significant growth to support the Vision of the hospice over the next ten years.

What does inspiring leadership look like to you?

I think it's about having real clear direction and focus on what you are looking to achieve. You really need to have integrity; belief in what you are doing and be able to take people with you.

When you see drive and determination in someone, you really want to follow them - you want to do and achieve more. It's important having a lot of humility and being approachable. Being able to talk when things aren't going right and adjust. It's not being so focused that you can't see anything else coming. Having someone who is adaptable and open to listening to people is massively important. Being open to taking some risks is important too.

One thing I have got really good at over the years is listening to people. It is important to be really listening. You can be sat there actively preparing what you are going to give to that person as a solution, but truly listening is different. Trying to get to what is at the back of someone's problem - asking questions. Helping someone to properly see what the issue is, rather than just the solution. They can think it is one thing, but when you dig a bit deeper it is something completely different. Something restricting or holding them back from achieving their full potential can be about something totally different.

I think if you spoke to my team, that is one thing they would say. I don't assume and I don't jump to conclusions. I stop, I pause. I will always hear them out. I will listen intently before I respond. If they tell me something isn't right, I don't sit there and tell them they're wrong. I will say they're going to tell me why - this really good. But you need to tell me why and we'll get to the bottom of it. Work out what we are going to do. I don't think any of my team are afraid to come to me with that - I hope not. I don't think that they are because they challenge me with plenty of things!

In terms of leadership, who or what has been the biggest influence on your career and why?

When I first came out of university, I went to work for a PR and marketing agency and had an absolute tyrant of a boss who owned the company. You were terrified to make a mistake. It was horrendous. Then off I went down to London and got this amazing boss - a Fundraising Director - who actually said me on my first day, 'I'm not going to happy until you've made some mistakes'. It was just a complete role reversal that really made me open my eyes to how good I could be; he really encouraged me to be the best I could be. He didn't mind me making mistakes as long as they were calculated and I wasn't doing anything too crazy or ruthless! It was a real, proper turning point for me and an attitude that I've taken forward with my teams too. Push, keep pushing, push harder! Don't be afraid. That is massive in this sector. There can be complacency, or a willingness to accept things because it's too hard. A lot of obstacles. 'There's too much competition out there'; you hear that a lot. Yes, there is competition out there, but that's life. I take that as a given and I don't want to hear any more about it. What are the things that you can do and you can take control of?

You absolutely do have to take some chances and risks and not be afraid to do that. You'll do your best learning from the challenges that come along and that's how you grow as a fundraiser. If you have someone leading you that has the right attitude, you can really thrive in that environment. You're never going to be great if you don't take some of those chances - it will just be mediocre. There is loads of tried and tested fundraising out there that you can do; you can keep going and keep being safe if that's what you want. But if you're in an organisation that wants to move forward and do great things, your fundraising has to follow in line with that. Otherwise, you're just either standing still or going round in circles. Maybe that's ok for some, but it's not for me!

I have had both positive and negative experiences of leadership, but in the end it has been the positive experience that has absolutely shaped my own leadership style. The bad ones teach you exactly what you shouldn't be. You think, I never want to be that person or I never want to make someone feel like that. It is soul destroying and I just don't believe you get results from that the hard, autocratic style. Being so direct and focused on some things without listening to people. All my team have a whole heap of different strengths and you have to find what to take of each of them to make them the best they can possibly be. They are never all going to be great at everything. It's your job to make them better at the things they are good at already. Help them to focus. I'm exactly the same; I also have strengths and weaknesses just like the rest of the team. When I was 12/13, I was put into a lower set at school and I was beyond furious - livid in fact! You had this one opportunity to be moved up into the higher set and it all revolved around this one test. I was just straight at it! I got 98% in the test and they said you'll be moving up and I said - 'yes! That is exactly what's happening!' But I was fuming about the 2% - what did I get wrong!? I'd worked so hard and my mum says I have always been like that - 'If someone tells you that you can't do something, you'll be really quiet about it but you'll just go for it!'

I look for that tenacity in my fundraisers. It's not so much a killer instinct like you might relate to a sales person. It is just dogged determination - I'm not going to let anything stop me! I'm just going to be keep on going. Not blindly and for the sake of it when you see you might have gone down the wrong path. You need to accept you might not be doing something in the right way. When you can see you need to take a bend in the road to keep on track. It's not about pure stubbornness. It's just about seeing the end goal; end up going round to get there, but I am going to get there! I think that massively helps your team no matter what leadership role you're in. If you have someone that has that mindset leading, it keeps everyone on track and focused about where you are going.

What is the secret to building a loyal, happy and motivated team and what are the biggest challenges you face in doing so?

The biggest challenge I have faced is retention in fundraising. It is a largely a very transient career. People move around and can take their experience and move on quite fast if they are very good. Keeping people committed is a challenge.

The strength we have as an organisation is that the work we do is there on the ground so people get to see it all the time. I always make sure our fundraisers spend time with the teams in the hospice; even if it just serving teas and coffees on the ward. Spending time with the gardeners; all our gardeners are volunteers. It's really important in terms of making the organisation work as a whole. Having an appreciation of everything that we do keeps you motivated because you're seeing the difference we are making all the time.

Making sure your team are committed to your cause; otherwise you can only go so far. A lot of people think that you just need to know the mechanics of fundraising in order to be a good fundraiser. If you're a massively sales-driven person, you can probably get away with that. Most people don't get into fundraising for that reason; they get into it because they want to be part of doing something good or helping something happen. You've got to get people committed and linked in with your cause. That's how we've retained some of our longest serving. They just really believe in the organisation and it shines through when they talk about it.

I understand that a hospice isn't for everyone; people have their own passions. It's about trying to capture that passion in amongst it all and getting people really engaged once they start with you. Speaking to patients and their families, you can't help but be moved by it. It gets under your skin and you realise you're part of something really amazing that we're doing here.

How do you ensure that you continue to grow personally in a senior leadership role?

I've worked with a really great senior leadership team in that they really want to drive forward. There are clear aims for the future that are ambitious. If I didn't believe in what the Chief Exec was doing, I would massively struggle. Or if I felt someone was really off-kilter or not performing, I would struggle with that too. I think we are very good at holding each other accountable. Having a really good, honest debate about things. Because we have worked together for quite a long period of time, we are quite gelled; I think that is quite important.

I am also part of a business networking group called Vistage. They started in America and are a big operation. They have either CEO or Director led groups and they are quite small, so you tend to get groups of about 12 people. I've been involved for about three years now. They get great, international speakers over who are fantastic. I've learned huge amounts and have taken lots of inspiration from them. There are two in particular that I have stayed in touch with. I wouldn't say they are official mentors as such, but they are people that I can touch base with and run things by. I get a totally, non-voluntary perspective on things. The group has a real code of conduct that there is absolute trust, so what is said in the room stays in the room. Every month you have to bring the one thing that's keeping you awake and then bottom out what you are doing about it and the next month it is followed up. Did you do what you said you were going to do? So again, it's that accountability and making sure you aren't letting something slide for months on end. That has been a massive part of my development, which isn't really voluntary sector learning but has just made me think about things from a different perspective. Come at things from new angles. Look at what's going on outside the sector and what we might bring back in.

It has also been great in terms of building the team as well. You'll learn a lot about different psychologies and how you get teams to work together. Whether that's a Myers Briggs type approach or other ways of just getting a team to perform. A lot of that stuff is relevant no matter what your leadership role might be. It would be beneficial for any type of big team.

I have key people in the charity sector that I touch base with as well; people that I have trust with and can ask difficult questions of. A couple of people in the Yorkshire hospices particularly who are outside of the region. Close enough, but far enough away. A similar size and shape that you can run things by them. There are also the conferences to consider; keeping on top of the trends in terms of fundraising. I always push and encourage the team to keep learning, whatever it is. Just keep learning, because you'll never know enough. No matter who you are, you can always learn more. Your whole entire life - even when you retire! - you can keep on learning things about life. I have that need in me to do that. I can't just sit still and accept things.

What has been the highlight or biggest success of your career?

You can obviously think of different events or campaigns that were really amazing or a huge grant that came in that meant you could do a huge capital project. But, actually, I think it's the long term work I have achieved at St Oswald's. Seeing that growth and development. Seeing those sustainable income streams and knowing that the hospice is in a totally different place, largely because of the money we have been able to bring in and what we have then been able to do as a result of that. It's been a long, long process, but it is a huge achievement for this team.

People often talk about the churn and how fundraisers don't stay in their roles for very long. It has been good to see it through, but I didn't expect to still be here. Most of my fundraising roles before this one had been shorter. I think the longest I had been anywhere was touching on five years. Again, I did see development through that period and we did some really big things. So actually, when you are able to stay and really fully commit - see what's ahead and buy into it - that's where you do see great things happen. It is with the longer term roles. The driver for me isn't able the glory of short lived successes or campaigns. It's about helping patients and that's what I get up for.

For all the difficulties that you come across like performance management or horrible situations, I've never got up and thought I can't go in today. That is what's driving me. I have to get up and go in to make things better and to keep on helping people. You have to get through the crappy stuff sometimes. You can only do that with having a big goal in mind. Otherwise you just think, 'it's getting too difficult and tricky and I just want out'. I'll go somewhere else and that's easy.

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