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June 11, 2018

Joe Howes Interview

In our latest expert interview, Joe Howes of Depaul, explains his approach to taking on new challenges.

Joseph Howes, Executive Director of Fundraising, Depaul


Joe joined Depaul UK in 2013 and has 14 years of fundraising experience. He is responsible for all income generation at Depaul UK and is passionate about supporting young people in the UK who most need a chance in life. He previously worked for Action for Children and The Prince's Trust.

Recently, Joe has joined the Board of Trustees at Rainforest Foundation UK to support a cause close to his heart .

Tell us a bit about Depaul.

I'm pleased to able to talk for Small to Medium Charities. Quite often the big brands have a bigger share of voice, but the smaller ones have really valid things to talk about. We do great stuff and quite often on limited budgets and I think hearing stories of people like us having success is useful to the vast majority of charities.

Depaul UK is part of an international group of charities that supports homelessness in many of its different forms. Each country has a different focus, in the UK our focus is on young people and moving them on to living independently - that's what we need to support, but in Ukraine, their focus is incredibly different, they're keeping people alive each night by providing homelessness shelters. We learn about the vast differences in homelessness across the world from each other.

What are you most proud of?

Our dream at Depaul UK was always to have a head office with a ground floor where we offer services. When our CEO suggested moving to Sherborne House, I visited and wasn't at all sure as the building needed a lot of work doing to it. I led the tendering process which led to us coming here (the former urban academy of Kids Company). I've project managed our move to these offices.

I took this project on because it's a fundraising project really. There's one part which is bringing donors here to see some of the work that's going on, which we could never do in our old offices. That's going to be a great investment for us. It's a 20-year lease on £20,000 a year, but it saves us about £100,000 a year on what we were paying for commercial offices.

It gave us the opportunity to do a capital appeal and in the space of 4 months we'd already paid off half of the costs. That has introduced new supporters to Depaul and gives us the chance to say, 'why not stick with us?'.

What advice would you give someone looking to progress in their fundraising career?

Never wait around for someone to offer you an opportunity.

People think their managers will think about them all the time, but that's not always been my experience. Most of the time those managers are absolutely hectic and putting the person and the opportunity together might not have occurred to them. Just help them by saying -' I'd really like to do that, I'd like to put myself forward'. With this place, you can see what we've done, but it all comes from me saying 'this is a fundraising opportunity, I can learn loads from it too, and this could be amazing for this organisation. I'll get it done for you in a year's time. I want to lead it.'

And I have learned so much: the legal side of things; how our services run; how you build a culture which has both service and head office staff- it's really hard. I thought I was only interested in fundraising, but I've found so much that I've enjoyed and one day I'd like to be a chief executive. I've got interested in how we make the most of the money after it has been raised. We don't ever want to stereotype ourselves as one thing.

It's not just about the big charities. I've gone from The Prince's Trust and Action for Children, both really big and I've loved them and the opportunities were amazing, but here I've been able to learn far more than just being a fundraiser. When I started we raised about £1.3million voluntary income and this year we'll do £6.5 million- that's four years of decent growth and that is something to be proud of.

You are Vice-Chair of the Rainforest Foundation UK. What have you gained from that?

I went totally away from my work history, to something I'm personally interested in. I said to RFUK that I was more there about the governance side and I've learned a lot and can offer quite a lot back. Of course, on the Fundraising side, I'm there to challenge, to support, about the fundraising regulator, GDPR etc, but I'm not there to bring in new donors- that's my day job.

You need to be open about that when you are considering a trustee role. They won't always get it, but you need to be clear. I've learned so much from doing it.

Who inspired you most as a Fundraiser?

I've had some awesome managers and I could have named loads of people. But the person who inspired me most, and it was my first fundraising job, was Kirkland Newman, at The Prince's Trust, who started up the Urban Music Festival.

In my first month there, my boss asked my opinion about The Trust's established music events, and I said they were all so white middle class, and this organisation is not trying to convey that image. I said, "Why don't we ask young people what they would be interested in?", and I was young, 22 at the time and quite into hiphop music and that's what the young people we supported said they were into too.

My boss introduced me to Kirkland and suggested I go and work with her. It was an incredible achievement, in the first year we put it on, over two days and got Jay-Z and Beyonce to headline it, for free. Kirkland just made it happen, saying "we are doing this", and yes, The Prince's Trust is an amazing place to get people to do things, but without her absolute sense of 'we can make this happen' 'we're going to work super, super hard'.

She flew to the US, I think paying for it herself, met with record labels and told them they were going to support it. She just made these things happen. She just absolutely smashed it. I think 32,000 people attended, at Earl's Court over one weekend. It had a huge impact on web traffic and how we were perceived, particularly by young people and raised significant income.

If it had just been me, I was so young, I didn't know you could make these things happen, but she was just so focused. It was so important for me. It was the start of my career. I've looked back and thought when have I had my Kirkland, UMF moments? What I learned from her is - where there's a will, there's a way. That's a message to anyone in the charity sector- just take on the challenges, don't think it's too big. She was amazing, and made a big difference to me early in my career.

Joe Howes was a panelist at our June event.

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