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February 13, 2017

Catherine Miles Interview

Interview with Catherine Miles, whilst Fundraising Director of Anthony Nolan. Catherine is now Fundraising Director at Breast Cancer Now.

New for 2017

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.

Catherine Miles, Breast Cancer Now

When I asked fundraising colleagues which leaders they admired, Catherine was mentioned frequently, and with good reason. Currently Director of Fundraising and Engagement at Breast Cancer Now, I interviewed Catherine in early 2016 as she was leaving her role as Fundraising Director at Anthony Nolan and I found her approach to relationship fundraising inspiring and innovative so I'm really pleased to be able to share the interview with you here.

How did you get into fundraising?

I suppose I'm a career fundraiser since I've been doing it for 20 years. I was interested in fundraising after university because I'm very much focused on seeing the difference that I make, and as I soon as I fell into it like most fundraisers do, I thought "This is great, this is what I really like".

I was particularly interested in the major gifts side, which has become a theme of what I've done as a Fundraising Director. When I decided I was ready to move up to Fundraising Director level and started to look for jobs I was particularly keen on fundraising for charities where people have a personal connection to the cause. I was very interested in whether I could apply major donor theory to all areas of fundraising i.e. relationships with all supporters, whether those supporters were recruited by mass channels or individually.

Obviously, lots of people are very passionate about lots of different causes, but some of the strongest connections in the sector are in health charities, and of course Anthony Nolan supporters have a particularly strong connection to our cause because we play a direct role in people's treatment. We actually find you the stem cell donor that saves your life.

I was very interested in how you can take a charity that's got a fantastic case for support, but is raising less money than it should. A charity that certainly seems to have loads of potential, and loads of passion and enthusiasm and commitment amongst the supporters it has, but perhaps isn't fully harnessing that. And how can you actually have proper relationships with those supporters? How can you really understand what their motivations are, really talk to them about how they want to give money to the charity, or how they want to fundraise, and also all the other different non-financial ways they want to support?

That classic meta data approach of not looking at people in silos, not looking at people as cost centres, but actually thinking, "What is this person interested in, how might they like to help us, and how do we facilitate that, whether that's volunteering or campaigning, or awareness raising as well as giving and raising money?" I was very interested to see if you could actually put that into practice, or if it all becomes too difficult.

Was your remit at Anthony Nolan to create change?

When I joined Anthony Nolan quite a few directors started at the same time and there was a new Chief Exec, and the mandate from the board very much "We really want this organisation to grow and develop, and we are open to hearing about how we could change" so it was great to have that sort of support from the Trustees. In the last 7 years we've changed pretty much everything in the fundraising programme.

What was it like at Anthony Nolan when you started?

We were raising £4.6 million and £1.8 million net. It was very heavily dependent on events, with 60% of the money coming from some type of event. We had over 100 Anthony Nolan-owned events, zip slides and abseils, that kind of thing. We had quite a traditionally structured community fundraising team and no individual giving at all. Very low levels of legacy income. A little bit of corporate income but very much focused around a small number of big partnerships, not a broad base. Not really much to speak of in terms of the trust programme and no major gifts programme.

Essentially what we've done is grow all of the income streams, but in particular grown individual giving from scratch, which has provided 50% of our growth. Overall our total income this year will be £11.6 million, and £6 million net, so we've more than tripled net income.

Wow. Well done. Are you exhausted?

Surprisingly, no! It's been fantastic, and we've been able to grow that at the same time as really investing in the charity's future - two things which are often difficult to do at the same time. Particularly when you're looking to build an individual giving programme from scratch, as we were from 2010 onwards. It was a period of time when that market was very mature and it was quite difficult for a new charity coming into that. You've got to carry several years of investment, so it was a question of me really understanding what the organisation needed in terms of how its finances worked. Not only the fact that the organisation, like all charities, needed more money and quickly, but really trying to understand actually what type of money the organisation needed from the fundraising team. Making sure that the fundraising strategy was synced to the organisational strategy, as they can often get a little bit decoupled and detached.

It was really important that the fundraising income was as secure and sustainable as possible, and also that a high proportion of it was unrestricted, and of course we had this huge dependence on events, which meant that the fundraising income could fluctuate a lot in a year. So we needed to try and invest in a base of regular givers to give the charity that diversity of income streams and provide that predictable income moving forward. Understandably, the Trustees were cautious on both reputational and financial grounds, so we spent a lot of time explaining - "This is what we understand about how the charity's finances operate, this is what the charity wants to do in future, this is the type of money it's going to need. If we're going to be able to do this sustainably and really have growing voluntary income that underpins the charity and doesn't fluctuate wildly year on year, we really do need to try and invest in individual giving." Then we had and continue to have fantastic support from the Trustees.

How did you get Trustees on board for that investment?

I think it probably helped that quite a lot of them are accountants, actually. They've always interrogated the numbers in great detail and scrutinised us incredibly closely, which is absolutely right. It means they really understand what we're trying to achieve, in particular what we're trying to achieve in individual giving programme and how it's performing at any given time. They can probably tell you about as much of our individual giving programme as I can. It's great to genuinely have that partnership.

Of course it's particularly helped recently, because when the negative press coverage came, I think they felt well-informed about what we were doing, how we were doing it, and why we were doing it. Their scrutiny is far beyond anything that is being discussed now within the sector, and I think it's been beneficial, both for them and us as a fundraising team. We then built the individual giving base from scratch up to about 50,000 regular givers, but at the same time we also tried to grow all of the other income streams, so really building up the trust and major gifts programme, and that now gives us between £800-900,000 pa and will hopefully continue to grow.

How do you approach community fundraising?

What we've tried to do is essentially implement major donor fundraising with community sources. I always had this theory that people generally in your community program are classic worker bees. They're people who proactively come to the charity and say, "I want to do some fundraising for you", and generally they've got a pretty good idea about what they want to do. They tend to be people who are very sociable, very energetic, and the sort of people who make things happen. I think we all know this, but somehow the charity sector started to view those people as providers of unsolicited cash. "These people will just do these things, we'll give them a fundraising pack, and they'll do all their bake sales, and we can just let them do that and then thank them for the donation."

What I felt was there was something much, much stronger and much more exciting there. That actually if you were energized enough to get onto a website or pick up a phone and say to the charity, "I want to raise money for you," you probably had a personal reason for doing it and the drive to make it happen, and I always felt there was probably an enormous amount of untapped passion and commitment and enthusiasm about those people.

Essentially what we did was restructure our community fundraising programme from the regional fundraising managers who were based all around the country. We centralised that in two moves. We did one restructure and then another and we have a team of relationship managers in London covering supporters across the UK.

They don't have any products, they don't divide their portfolio of supporters that they work with by type of activity. You don't have a fundraiser working on schools for example. They divide them based on financial potential - so exactly like a major donor programme would. When people get in touch with us that first phone call is absolutely key. We essentially ask them coaching questions about what's motivating them to support us, what sort of fundraising do they enjoy doing, who have they got who might be able to help them with the fundraising and who are they connected to?

All this amazing stuff comes out about why people want to raise money for us, and we enable people to realise they can raise more money than they ever thought possible. It's amazing what opportunities people have access to that they don't realise. We have very close relationships with them, do a lot of the classic type of major donor cultivation work and support them all the way through their fundraising, but also whatever else that they're interested in doing, whether that's awareness raising or volunteering.

What we find is of course that people are raising phenomenally more than they would do otherwise, and interestingly they're going out and getting other people involved, so they're almost running mini local fundraising campaigns. So there's this massive cross-feeding of all the programs, because they're essentially acting as like ambassadors, which is fantastic.

We've had more than ten £100,000 plus relationships and something over 50% of the net income comes from the top 50 supporters, so we're essentially getting fundraising campaigns that are actually at major gift level. And they go on and support us year on year and they are great news advocates for us, doing press and PR. There's a very interesting cycle you sometimes you see where they have a very intense burst of fundraising, then they go through a period where perhaps they're doing some volunteering for the charity, and then a couple years later they come back to fundraising again. It's pure relationship fundraising basically. It's about having those multifaceted relationships. That's very interesting, and it's because we're not trying to silo them, and also we're not trying to force them down a particular activity, whereas I think a lot of charities where their community fundraising programme is very product-based, if somebody gets in touch with them, I think there's a natural inclination to say "Do our cake sale at work in December".

How does that impact on your recruitment, because I suppose for that team you're not looking necessarily for traditional community fundraisers?

It's difficult. Conventional community fundraisers often don't have the experience of working this way, so we've either had to find people that have got a major donor background or train and promote people internally. People joining us at the more junior level have been promoted very rapidly, because it's all about your personal attributes as a fundraiser. Can you listen well? Can you build rapport? Can you understand the cues that you're getting from the supporter, and can you suggest something really relevant for them to do?

Those fundraisers have to be able to talk about anything that the organisation does, or any way that a supporter could help us - which means that they actually develop far quicker and it makes for an interesting job.

It also means that we have to work very cohesively across the organisation and across the fundraising division. Particularly when we have patient appeals, which is when someone (typically a child) urgently needs to find a stem cell donor, and a family will contact us, and there will be a very, very intensive period of public awareness.

It'll often be very driven by social media, and it's very much the family leading those appeals. Those can either have very intensive bursts of publicity, or people joining the stem cell register, or people raising money, or people doing a combination of all 3. What we have there is very sort of loose and flexible - like little project teams from across the organisation.

How so you co-ordinate those appeals - presumably it involves quite a lot of people?

We have a patient appeals summit and that involves all of the people across the organisation who might be touchpoints for patient appeals. So our patient support teams, our donor recruitment staff in the field who sign up the stem cell donors, right through to our press team, and our social media team, because of course often the first time you spot things is when something just pops up on Twitter, and you have to respond very fast.

We try to understand a bit about what are the families going through, where they are in that transplant journey, and then we work out the best way for us as an organisation to support them. There's always one main point of contact with the family, which tends to be the team where the family arrived in the organisation first and then behind that, there's always this sort of loose group of representatives from all the relevant teams that are involved.

You can imagine how many press enquiries can come hurtling in to the family and one of the things we try to do for them is help field those press enquiries, because it can become a huge news story very, very quickly. The media pressure can be very intense and these people are in the middle of an incredibly traumatic period of their lives. We've learnt with some of the very, very big ones how quickly we need to respond, how closely we need to coordinate internally, so usually during those periods, little project team will meet every day even if only quickly. Then over time things will calm down.

It's amazing what people can achieve for charities in a very, very short period of time in those situations. They can make a massive difference to a cause and they can build these extraordinary social media audiences.

I think there's a really interesting journey that the patients and their families at the heart of those stories go through. It can be exhilarating and uplifting, and they can feel a huge amount of public support, but then the flip side of that is you've also got the public scrutiny at an incredibly traumatic time, and of course you can also get your 1% of the population who starts behaving like trolls on social media. Our role is to support people as much as possible.

I think there's a very interesting thing for charities working with those patients around always making sure, which I think Teenage Cancer did incredibly well with Stephen Sutton and his family, that the appeal is actually being owned and driven by the patient and their families themselves. Even if there are opportunities coming up that would be big, high-profile ones, it's really, really important that the family feels in control, that they're driving, and that they're deciding what they do and what they don't do. I think sometimes some charities find that nuance difficult in the heat, and particularly where things move so fast with social media.

You can then build those relationships into long-term relationships that evolve into lots of different areas, but you've got to have those relationship building skills internally, and it is so important that the supporter is in control. Too many charities have either got themselves set up in the enormous mass fundraising style, or I think some fundraising teams have a bit of an urge to control rather than give supporters freedom and autonomy.

Does this model scale?

I hope so, I'm about to find out. I'm joining Breast Cancer Now as Fundraising Director, so I will let you know. I think obviously there's logistical advantages from the fact we're all in the same room, but essentially the model we have is that each relationship manager in the community team is looking out for about 200 people at any one time. Some of those relationships, exactly like a major donor programme, will be very active. Others will be in the stewardship phase, others will be right at the start. So I think if you were in one of the very big charities that had a huge number of supporters with a personal link to the cause and keep those principles of a relationship manager with a portfolio of supporters they are working with to build relationships and empower people to raise money in the way they want, I think it's absolutely scalable. I think all that happens is you've just got more people doing that with more supporters.

How do you spot whether someone's going to be a good relationship manager? What are you looking for?

People who are capable of building rapport with a wide range of people. Generally, the successful ones tend to be people who are very interested in other human beings, and can listen really well. They need to be able to listen, realise what the supporter is hinting that they might be interested in doing, and then correctly pick up on that cue and come back with a relevant suggestion. Some people can listen really well and what they can't do is pick up the significance of the cue and suggest something relevant. That ability to listen and actually respond actually very quickly, all within the same face to face or telephone conversation is very important.

Then within that, we've got people with very different personalities, actually. We've got some people who are very bright and bubbly, very outgoing, and they build rapport just because they're so lively, and you just hear lots of laughter going on the phone with them. We have others who are quite, a little more reserved, but incredibly caring and clearly really emotionally connect with the supporters, and they're just so sympathetic on the phone.

When people are building personal relationships with someone who is at an emotional point in their life, how do you maintain those professional boundaries? Some of those relationships must edge into being personal?

We talk a lot about that, we do training around that and we have a lot of support from our patient experience team. Particularly training around how to handle relationships with people who are either a traumatic stage of their life or indeed have been recently bereaved, because obviously we have a lot of people who have been recently bereaved and immediately are calling us within a short number of weeks of their loved one dying, or we have ones with patient appeals where we actually work with the family all the way through. It can be incredibly hard for everyone here when you're working, particularly with a child patient, and they don't make it, and that's incredibly tough.

We offer a lot of ad hoc support - so the patient team are great if you've come off a difficult call, or if you've hit a period in the relationship that feels difficult or is making you question how to handle things.

We also talk a lot in fundraising about where that line is between building great relationships with people and understanding that there are boundaries, that you're still representing the charity, and that it still has to be a professional relationship, even if hopefully they do feel that they have a connection with you and they can trust you. Our supporters are at times telling us extraordinarily personal stuff and you're seeing them at absolutely the most traumatic time of their lives. There's a constant discussion, a lot of the time often between me and the head of that team with everyone where we try to talk about situations very openly, and we review what scenarios have come up and how have we handled them.

A lot of the time these fundraisers are very young. Some of the more senior fundraisers of that team are 23, and they're working on 6 figure relationships. Because they're good enough to do that, but they are young people who are frequently talking to parents who have just lost their child. We emphasise the fact that the relationship is a close and supportive one but it is a professional one, not a personal one, and you can't have things going into being a personal relationship.

We do a lot of in-house training. We train on everything from how you handle the first phone call, and the great coaching questions to ask supporters to really help them understand how they can raise money, all the way through to how to do assess people's potential. There is also a lot of work on how the teams work together and the power of the network, which were currently doing huge amounts on. That's when you get into that really interesting thing of supporters going and getting other supporters, but to do that, you've actually got to have all of the fundraising teams working together, and you've got to have a completely commitment from all the fundraising teams that what's most important is the money that we're trying to raise for the patients we're trying to help the experience that we're giving the supporters - not our own individual cost centre codes.

For example, a supporter came in, he'd had two transplants, and they're celebrating his survival from his second transplant by doing a row down the River Thames because he'd been a rower, so the community was supporting him - fabulous, raised a whole lot of money. By chatting to him, it turns out, he's a director of a gym chain, and they've never had a charity partner, so that's panned out into a corporate partnerships which is fantastic. Now he's running the marathon for the sixth year and at the same time they had a big celebration party to celebrate his latest transplant anniversary, and that went so well they're thinking of doing that every year, so it's almost a bit like 6 degrees of separation reverse. We could've done a great job on that first relationship, but if the community team hadn't been thinking about what else this supporter could do it could have stopped there.

Even if people are supporting in ways that sit in lots of different cost centres, our database reports everything back to us about the whole campaign, so we can completely report back to supporters about the number of people are doing this event, this number of people who have given cash donations, and the grand total. We do that all the time because it's so important for them to know who's doing what and often people won't necessarily tell him straight up what they're doing. We haven't done particularly formal tribute funds so far, but we'd certainly be open to that. We've got quite a lot of supporters who fundraise for restricted projects and that's absolutely fine.

You've given them a lot of experience very young and in a major donor approach too. Those candidates are like gold dust to recruiters and charities. How do you retain your staff?

We chain them to the desk ;). Our overall staff retention rate is somewhere between 2.5 and 3 years, so it's longer than I think the sector average overall for fundraisers.

It's a combination of factors. We invest in people's training and personal development, and we really encourage people to go out and speak and conferences and workshops and that sort of thing as part of their development. We support people through professional qualifications. We do a huge programme of in-house training that is continuous and we have the coaching staff, and the insight profiling, which is very much focused on them as individuals, and how do they work with others, how do they work best, where do they want to go in their career.

The fact that we work together so collaboratively means they're getting a lot of experience of a lot of different income streams. We do have a big track record of promoting people internally. We absolutely don't operate a closed shop, because I don't think that's helpful at all, and we always do open recruitment, but inevitably a lot of our junior fundraisers are getting a lot of really good, solid experience and when vacancies do come up, they often are really well positioned to go for them. For example at the moment, three of the five heads of fundraising were promoted up into those roles, and I think particularly when it reaches that level, it's sends very positive signals that you can not only go up to the junior levels, but you can also go up to head of team level.

Also, as you can imagine, it's an incredibly emotive charity to work for. The general working atmosphere across the charity is very good. People are very nice to one another. I think people have a very strong emotional commitment to the organisation, and it's incredibly tangible. It's the most tangible place I've worked as a fundraiser - we meet the patients every day who are alive because of what the charity does and the money we've raised, and that's hugely motivational too.

We have an overt emphasis on people's personal development and we're very open about the fact that we're investing in them for what they'll deliver here, but also equipping them for their future career that might be here or might be elsewhere, and that's okay. It's absolutely fine to have those conversations about where they want to go in their career very openly. I think that hopefully makes it an environment in which they feel like they're being invested in and they want to stay. A lot of fundraising teams I've worked in have had a very weird thing about not being open about that, or everything around learning and development being within either very narrow confines of which training course do you want to go on, or "is this definitely going to help your job right here and now?" Obviously it's important to do that, but it's also about developing the individuals more broadly, which will benefit us in the long run, because the more great fundraisers we're pumping out into the sector, in the long run the better for everybody.

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.


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