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January 24, 2017

Jools Tait Interview

Interview with Jools Tait, Director of Business Development at BEN. Jools spent 14 years at Cancer Research UK.

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.

Interview with Jools Tait, Director of Business Development at BEN

Jools Tait kindly agreed to be interviewed after being named as an inspiring leader and fundraiser by one of her former colleagues. Her impressive 14 year career at Cancer Research UK (and its predecessor Imperial Cancer Research Fund) included roles as Head of Special Events and The Bobby Moore Fund, Associate Director and Director of Corporate Partnerships and Celebrity Foundations.

In 2014 Jools moved to BEN (Motor and Allied Trades Benevolent Fund) as Director of Business Development and so she has a really interesting perspective having been a fundraising leader at two very different organisations.

So how did you get into fundraising?

I got into fundraising in the States, after I left my career as a primary school teacher in the UK and in Milan. I'm a US citizen as well and when I moved to Boston I joined a charity called Walk for Hunger, which organised the largest annual, one-day fundraising event - 40,000 people in the state of Massachusetts. From there I did more event fundraising as well as undertaking fundraising consultancy for the American Cancer Society before I came back to the UK and joined Imperial Cancer Research Fund in 1997.

And how did your role evolve at Imperial Cancer Research Fund and then Cancer Research UK over the years?

I joined as a London Events Manager and organised all of the high-profile events in London. And then quickly took on some campaigns such as our Breast Cancer Awareness Month campaigns and then I coordinated national fundraising with all the regional teams.

It became clear that my speciality was in the high value space i.e. high-value events, high-value donors and building relationships and partnerships. That naturally took me into the bespoke niche fundraising streams like the Bobby Moore Fund, and big third party events and then I moved to corporate fundraising and still kept high-profile niche with celebrity foundations.

Celebrity foundations within charities were a new evolution at that point. How did that come about?

I always thought there was mileage in something like the Bobby Moore Fund, a celebrity that was high profile, who was loved by the nation and was naturally associated with Cancer Research UK because he died of bowel cancer. You marry the celebrity, the cause and the output.

The Bobby Moore Fund had already been going for a number of years, and after working with Bobby's widow, Stephanie. I then took that model to Lawrence Dallaglio. As a team we helped set up Lawrence's foundation, which is still going today and the model was that we worked in partnership with him, but with no investment from CRUK, apart from our expertise and resource. He selected a project to fund and his commitment was initially £2million over two years. I think we worked with him over £4million pounds over the time period.

So the celebrity registers their own charity, we give them the model, the fundraising tools, the expertise and some resource, but no financial investment. We basically created a new product to go out to market with and we took that to celebrities such as Seve Ballesteros, Jenson Button, Gordon Ramsay and JLS.

What were the challenges you faced getting that new income stream to work successfully?

The challenge was all about the relationship - how did you get to those individuals? How did you get through the management company to the decision makers? And how did you show them that this model would add value to their brand and give them a different profile in the marketplace?

We also picked those celebrities where CRUK as a brand didn't have a natural inroad. So "youth" was a big problem for us. They were turned off by CRUK. You know cancer was something old people got. Whereas, JLS could talk to their fan base on our behalf about healthy living and cancer prevention and that was appealing to both parties.

In corporate partnerships we were also slightly reinventing the traditional corporate model of the time. General philanthropy was on the out and our approach was really identifying what assets have we got that are attractive to each corporate partner. And we started with a fact-find. What are their objectives? What are the challenges they are facing? And how could we then go back and tailor a pitch, so they thought 'hmmm actually our problem is customer retention, or our problem is new customer base or our problem is this' and how could we partner against those assets.

So that was my journey through CRUK and I finished there in 2014, having done those years as Corporate and Foundations Director and I have more recently moved to a smaller charity, BEN, as their Business Development Director which is a whole new challenge, because it doesn't have the engine room that CRUK had. It isn't a household brand and it's not consumer-facing in its fundraising. It's niche by industry and there are different challenges there but the principles are the same .


What do you think you learnt from your time at Cancer Research UK, in terms of fundraising and leading successful fundraising teams, that you could transfer across to BEN?

The most important thing, I think to me, whether it was building a team or being successful externally, was building good relationships, having great communication skills. Because people buy from people whatever you're selling. It doesn't matter how great your brand is if you're a really difficult, non-communicative individual, they'll never engage with you. And then it's really, also understanding the power and the importance of those relationships and maintaining them and developing them. And not just - go in, make the sale and leave.

And building teams internally with different strengths. So within a fundraising team, actually having different skills and different strengths, but always considering cultural fit and those interpersonal soft skills that no matter how hard you try, you can't teach people, to be good with people. People are either engaging or they're not.

And how do you pick that up at interview? Because there are quite a few people who are good at playing the interview game, aren't they? And then they get into an organisation and actually the fit just isn't there at all.

You also have a gut instinct feel of 'do you know what, they will really fit the team' or that they get the sales model. You see their enthusiasm. How they communicate. They're not robotic in how they've prepared for an interview. Also by talking in interview more about them as an individual and the things they do outside work and what motivates them and where their hobbies lie. Rather than just career skills because they practiced that and mastered that to within an inch of its life.

You never go into a meeting and its 100% what you expect it to be. You've got to be able to think on your feet and engage someone with the organisation, in any situation. An MD, a CEO or whoever is in the meeting, will throw a curveball so in an interview, if you throw those curveballs out, its also quite interesting to see how people react in that situation.

And some people nail it and you know they've got the gift of the gab and they probably could sell coals to Newcastle and you just think, okay they can think on their feet.

What was it that appealed about moving to a smaller organisation?

I didn't want to go in and do the same thing with a different brand. And if you look at the other top ten, whether it's Oxfam, Save the Children, NSPCC, British Red Cross, MacMillan I can picture their org charts. I can picture their hierarchical structure. I can picture the departments and how it will work. And there's a lot more political, operational hoops, hurdles, processes to get through and you sort of have to prove in some ways your credibility to make some quite big changes. Whereas, going into a smaller organisation, do you know what, they are so excited, from the Board of Trustees to the Chief Exec, to have somebody that thinks a little bit differently.

The big charities are 100% about the bottom line. Nothing else matters and that's where a lot of the big charities are suffering, through their relationship fundraising because the ROI on high value type fundraising tends to be lower than a mass event like A Race for Life or MacMillan Coffee Morning. And it is harder to find the right individuals to high value fundraising and it takes longer, it's not a quick win, but the long-term value's greater. And sometimes people aren't prepared to hang it, to wait, to believe in it enough.

Also in a small charity you can move quickly. You don't have to tick the box from the policy director and the brand director and then this team and that team and before you know it, you actually need to book out the board room just to get the new campaign or a new initiative through the channels to even get the business case approved. Bigger organisations I think are in danger of stifling creativity and innovation, just through their internal processes.

Where do you think the next innovation in fundraising is coming from?

When Movember first came and registered that was interesting, it was different, it was a movement. As was the icebucket challenge and its use of technology but then everyone tried to get on the bandwagon and find an ice bucket challenge equivalent. What interests me is where the driver comes from. Do the drivers always have to come from the charities? Or actually should we be more aware of and supporting the population and individual and society drivers?

How would you define a successful fundraising team?

A successful fundraising team for me needs to know and understand the brand, the organisation, the cause. They need to be able to consistently give a coherent 5 minute elevator pitch about what the organisation stands for. They need to have real clarity and understanding, about what the organisation does, but also what their role is within it.

A successful team also needs to have licence to be creative, take their own initiative, take risks. So I think, one thing that stops fundraisers being as successful as they can be is the, 'oh no, better not do that, because we haven't sought permission to do it' and 'well I'll go back and check with my supervisor'. Just be a little bit more ballsy, a little bolder. Be proud of what you do, have the confidence. A successful team always has confidence.

Fundraisers need to have the will to act on their own initiative and, I really think this one is really important, not be afraid or held back because they're think they will make a mistake and they'll be berated for it or that they'd have to explain it.

It's that freedom to fail. Because you know what, the worst case scenario, it doesn't work out then nothing lost, nothing gained.

How would you describe your management style?

It isn't all my way or the highway. It isn't all about the director's ego, it is about positive motivation. It's give praise and credit, where credit is due, it's passing it down. Building that sense of team and talking the "I" out of it for want of a better expression. Succession planning is key and keeping people and building their skills and experience, I think you hold your workforce for longer.

But it's also taking the time to inspire and lead your team with your aspirations and your vision for the team. And also I think when you are in a more senior role it's important not to forget that you are also part of that team. I think it is a combination of how you set the culture of the team and that mutual respect, people having a voice, being able to listen. It's bringing them with you on the journey.

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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