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February 8, 2017

Kate Collins Interview

Interview with Kate Collins, Director of Fundraising & Marketing at Teenage Cancer Trust

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.

Kate Collins, Director of Fundraising & Marketing at Teenage Cancer Trust

I've been lucky enough to work with Teenage Cancer Trust at The Charity Collective and have seen first-hand that there's something special about their culture. So it was great to have the opportunity to sit down with their Director of Fundraising & Marketing, Kate Collins, and talk about leading the fundraising & marketing team, retaining fundraisers and keeping the culture in times of growth.
With a background including BBC Children In Need and Cancer Research UK, Kate joined Teenage Cancer Trust just over six years ago to be Head of Regional Fundraising and has been Director of Fundraising since 2013, adding marketing to her directorate in 2014. Teenage Cancer Trust has shown impressive growth in fundraising over the past five years and has ambitious plans for the next five years too.

How would you define a successful fundraising team?

It's a fundraising team that's making the right amount of money for the organisation. And doing it in a way, and this is particularly pertinent at the moment in terms of in the sector, that isn't irritating people and is congruent with the values of the charity.

How you go about doing that at Teenage Cancer Trust?

I believe that a successful fundraising team needs to be really behaviourally aligned. But it's not necessarily about standardising everything. If you donate to Teenage Cancer Trust you might get a different 'thank you letter' depending on which way you give money to us but fundamentally you'll get thanked and you'll get (or you should get!) something that is friendly and warm.

What makes things work at Teenage Cancer Trust, might not work at another charity because their culture might not be as strongly driven as ours is by relationships, by being a family, by looking after each other, by teenage spirit and by eating far too much cake. [Note from Carla - truly, in my experience there's a celebration involving cake at Teenage Cancer Trust almost every day] In other places I've worked - and this isn't a judgement either way - some of the things that work here would be really weird behaviour, out of step with what those charities do.

So here a successful fundraising team is a team that really cares deeply about each other, cares deeply about supporters, that pitches in across teams, and celebrates success and has fun. And actually playing and laughing is really important at Teenage Cancer Trust. We are a young organisation, we look after young people. And I would very much hope that we are raising money through relationships in a way that fits with the organisation.

Your fundraising team has a lot of fundraisers working regionally. How do you keep the culture aligned and keep fundraisers motivated in those circumstances?

Not always perfectly, would be what I would say. All my answers have to be qualified with that, that I haven't quite worked it all out yet and I'm not sure if anybody has. If they tell you they have, they might be stretching the truth. But when it comes to dispersed teams you need to deliberately engineer the things that happen more naturally when you're all working in one place. So when I was Head of Regional I spent a lot of time on the phone and I used to make sure that Fridays in particular would be the day I checked in with people. You phone them up and give them a space to download about their week or tell you about something they probably didn't think was exciting enough to email you about, but is something they really want to tell you about. Often those are the most important things.

It's also good to get people together as a whole team or as a regional management team and we find that arranging a creative session or a bit of an update session the day before allows people to stay over and be sociable. You have to be quite a lot more deliberate about engineering casual social interaction because otherwise it doesn't happen and fundraisers, I think by their nature, love contact.

You work partly from home. How do you manage your time to make that work well?

Since I became a director, which is two years ago, one of my learnings, has been to understand what makes me productive in a different way. I've realised that actually being good at my job isn't about strategies and budgets. Those are important, but those are almost the hygiene factors, it's kind of a given you can do those. It's all the other stuff, the soft stuff.

Because when you need to have a difficult conversation or something comes up that's a challenge within or for the organisation, that's when you need to have the bank of goodwill and trust and connection. And if you haven't invested the time in people to have goodwill in the bank, you could be technically brilliant but if you're on your own, it's pretty bloody lonely, and it doesn't work.

I really like that analogy of the bank, that you're investing. You're investing in your relationships, you're investing that time in people and then that does come back to you. And if you haven't done it, you can't then go and ask them to go 'above and beyond' and expect them to pitch in. How does that work practically for you?

I used to spend almost all my time in the office in pre-arranged back-to-back meetings. By contrast, today I've had loads of meetings, but many of those have been informal, unplanned conversations that have needed to happen.

And planning for informal interaction has become really important. I now give myself time in the morning to chat to people and I believe that a lot of my job is about relationships, connections and talking. If I look at my diary and think 'I've only got one meeting, is it worth going to London?' that's probably the day I most need to be in London because I'll get such richness of connection and conversation. What I shouldn't do is try to write documents on those days, because there's no point coming to London and sitting behind a closed office door.

Lots of people I work with also work from home or are on the move a lot, so I try and to use my at home time to do calls and get my head down writing reports.

What is challenging you currently?

For me the key challenge right now is all about keeping our fabulous culture as we grow. Yes, you know you've got to make sure the money comes in at the right return. But the team are really good at that. The team don't need me to worry about that. If they need me to worry, I know they will tell me to worry and when they need me to help me with that, they will pull me in to work with them. So I think the biggest challenge right now for me personally is about not losing some of the intangible cultural elements of the organisation, the ones that actually meant that when we didn't have a complex formal strategy we were still doing a great job.

So what are those intangible elements that you need to keep going? What is it that you think makes Teenage Cancer Trust special?

Well we do genuinely care and I think we as an organisation have been able to move quickly and change things in the NHS without actually ever being part of the NHS. So we've really embodied the ability to make things happen, even if we're not the experts in something. To be that really clear, simple voice for change. And I think we need to be very careful we don't lose that, as we're now moving to a place where we're working more in partnership with more organisations.

We need to focus on what makes us unique. Fundraising for a proposition around young people with cancer is attractive to bigger organisations than us. Bigger cancer charities than us are in that space with their propositions and big charities have more budget to spend and can afford to take more risks. Our approach is around personal relationships - we talk about our supporters being 'part of the Teenage Cancer Trust family' and you're more likely to get a hug than a handshake from one of my team.

I think we've got a quality that means our supporters feel like they've found us. And they like to tell other people about us. "Oh you really must get involved with them. They're really nice". That kind of endorsement is like gold dust and that's real return on engagement, not just return on investment.

You talked about the engagement that your team have with the donors and a lot of that, I presume, is down to recruiting the right people or knowing what kind of people succeed at Teenage Cancer Trust. How would you describe your profile for a fundraiser at Teenage Cancer Trust? What kind of person do you want to come and work there?

I think somebody who believes that fundraising can make a difference to the lives of young people with cancer and is hungry for and comfortable with accountability. Someone who is able to say 'yes I'll make something happen here, but also I'll be accountable for what happened if it wasn't brilliant and I'll learn.' Someone with a really curious mind who asks how they can learn and improve. You can't reverse engineer attitude.

And you need to be able to attract good candidates who will thrive in your culture - those two things are a rare combination. I've been quite deliberately making an effort (particularly after Stephen's Story because Stephen's Story is a remarkable story to tell) to speak at the Institute of Fundraising Convention and other sector events. Because it shows fundraisers who we are, what our culture is like and builds that broader sense of connection around our employer brand.

How do you develop and retain talented fundraisers? Because a lot of fundraisers end up moving on for their next big opportunity, don't they? You've been good at retaining your staff, but how do you do it?

Actually I'm re-reading the 'Happy Manifesto' by Henry Stewart at the moment and it talks about how, in order to retain people who are really good at their jobs organisations tend to turn them into managers, which they might not always enjoy and has a very different skillset.

So in terms of retention, I'd love us to be able to be creative and brave enough to have a path for people who are bloody good fundraisers and don't then have to become managers to progress or be recognised. I certainly look at my team and look at what they do and think 'you're an amazing fundraiser'. So it's a very current thing for me, thinking around 'how do we help people have more internal stretch and collaboration and be a safe place place to learn?'. And I think sometimes that within your current organisation can be the scariest place to learn, because you can feel so exposed. I think people sometimes feel they need to go somewhere else to do their learning. Reinvent themselves. And it would be great to not have to do that.

And I think particularly with a growing organisation it's about making sure we don't lose that technical brilliance. I categorically know I've got people here who are technically better than I'll ever be so how do we let them fly and know that they're making progress without having to move into management and away from fundraising?

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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