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February 12, 2018

Coaching for Fundraisers

Life after fundraising - Julia Worthington talks about her move from fundraising into coaching other fundraisers.

Julia Worthington has been a fundraiser for over 17 years and now runs her own consultancy. Operating in a number of positions for a variety of organisations, including as a fundraising volunteer for National Childbirth Trust, a sole fundraiser for The Railway Children and for The Prince's Trust. Julia is also a Trustee of an Academy High School.

Julia's experience has built up an extensive range of expertise and knowledge, as well as understanding of exactly how not-for-profit organisations work and the importance of great relationships with the supporters of your organisation, whether they are donors, volunteers or clients.

What made you decide to make the move from fundraising into coaching?

I've been a Fundraising Consultant for around six years now, as well as running training for the Institute of Fundraising. With the training days, I realised that people were getting the benefit of advice and guidance on the day, but perhaps didn't always have time to put what they had learned into practice with 200 emails to deal with when they got back! With coaching, you are working over a period of six weeks or six months with regular input weekly or monthly. This bite-sized approach gives you time to work on the issue at hand rather than a massive amount in a single day that can be quite overwhelming.

I realised when I was implementing strategies for small charities that internal changes meant a whole strategy might be discarded (for example, when a CEO leaves and a new one comes in). If I work with someone on their strategy through coaching, they get six months' worth of my time and it costs them the same amount as me developing a strategy for them (usually around 8-10 days). I leave the skills behind and that is really important to me. I shifted my model so that I am still leaving with a strategy in place, but it is already embedded and the organisation has much greater ownership. I get so much back from that in terms of seeing people develop and that's what I love about coaching. I really do get a buzz from that.

For Fundraisers you work with, where are the typical gaps in learning and development and how can coaching help?

The simple answer is that there isn't a typical gap; it depends very much on the individual fundraiser. Some are absolutely phenomenal grant writers, but scared to death to speak to a corporate. I help fundraisers build their confidence, so that they have the ability to perform in all areas of their role.

My first coaching session is all about finding out where they think the issues are, as well as identifying their strengths. We can then build on the strengths. A lot of fundraisers tend to be 'people pleasers' and feel quite vulnerable. They always concentrate on what their weaknesses are and it is my job to reflect back their strengths. They presume that everyone can do the things that they are really good at and often don't realise that's not true. As someone who has been out there and done the job for a long time, as well as having met a lot of fundraisers along the way, I can reflect back truly, openly and honestly. We can then build on the things that do need work together.

We have heard rave reviews about your coaching groups. Can you tell us a bit about the format and why they are such a hit?

I set the groups up for fundraisers that are working alone, are new to fundraising or work in small teams, they are the people that often feel isolated and lacking in support, they can work for smaller local charities or be a regional fundraiser for a large charity, the sense of needing a sounding board is the same. I like to keep the price as low as possible so that the charities with smaller income can still afford to invest in their fundraisers, in fact a few of the attendees pay for themselves because they get so much from it. The group is all about confidentiality, accountability and support, attendees can feel this is a safe place to share their biggest challenges without being judged or ridiculed, the ethos is about a coaching culture, which allows the individual to discover what works for them, not telling them to do it the same way as I do.

The format is the same every month, we spend the first couple of hours discussing each persons current biggest challenge and a success they are proud of, we talk through the success to reflect on what has been learnt from it and what the individual did to make the success. The last hour is personal development, the workshop is different each month, last month we looked at goal setting, well it was January! A link to the groups is on my website

There is always loads of laughter and coffee. We all leave feeling uplifted, motivated and ready for our next fundraising challenge.

What are some of the other things Fundraisers can do independently towards personal growth and development?

There is so much you can do, either through work or simply doing things you enjoy that will help you grow as a person. One of the things I love is yoga and meditation. I go on yoga retreats where you really learn from people through hearing about their experiences. Sometimes, we are really earnest about how we are going to tackle professional development. "I need to go on this course". "I need to attend this conference". "I need to read this book". All those things are really useful, but personal development is equally as important. Growing as a whole person can benefit all aspects of your work and life.

Certainly in relationship fundraising, anything you can learn around emotional intelligence is helpful. You can get that from all sorts of places; it doesn't necessarily have to be a training course. My son bought me the Dalai Lama's book 'Happiness' and I'm reading it at the moment. His whole take on happiness is really interesting. It resonates in a search for resilience and work-life balance.

What are your top tips for Fundraising Leaders to continue their own learning and development?

Some of it is the same as growing and personal development, but would advise Fundraising Leaders to also look outside the sector. At the moment I am studying an ILM course (Institute of Leadership and Management). It is difficult at times because it isn't focused on fundraising, so the trick is finding the synergy in what we do. It just brings a different dimension and understanding. I would also recommend things like the Clore Fellowship, which is aimed at the third sector. If you work for a charity that has funds to support professional development, it is worth looking at the Ashridge or Cranfield training courses. At that level, you will meet other Chief Execs which will help bring depth to your own role.

There are also lots of everyday things you can do. I subscribe to an American guy called Dan Rockwell, or the Leadership Freak. I get a little blog from him every day. Some of them I delete immediately because they aren't relevant, but others are useful and get you really thinking. They are very short and only take a few moments to read, so you just get a nugget that is interesting and you can then go on to investigate further. TED Talks are amazing and so easy to access too.

Going to conferences can be very useful. Within the sector, I would always recommend the IoF (Institute of Fundraising), but also look at what else is out there. There are some brilliant things here in Manchester. For example, Forever Manchester have a women's leadership strand.

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