Back to posts

September 27, 2017

Nina Saffuri interview

In Nina's time with War Child, income has grown from £2.7m to around £18m. Find out about how find out how she has done it and what makes her tick.

Nina Saffuri - Director of Fundraising, War Child

Nina is a professional fundraiser, specialising in corporate, individual giving, major donor and events fundraising. With over 12 years' experience working in the charity sector in a variety of fundraising and marketing roles with Sparks, British Lung Foundation and for the last 5 years, War Child.

This is your first Director of Fundraising role - how different is it having total responsibility for a whole fundraising programme? How does that feel?

I love my job! I wake up every day and am really excited about coming into work. I feel so lucky to work for an organisation where every day is completely different. It's a vibrant and exciting atmosphere and I work with an amazing team. It certainly feels different having more responsibility compared to previous roles, although perhaps a lot of that is down to how much the organisation has changed over my time here. My background is in new business, corporate and major donor fundraising. I was previously headed the corporate team at British Lung Foundation. I joined War Child as the Deputy Director of Fundraising.

At the time the charity's main income source was through music events, and music albums - which is amazing, but my remit was to diversify and grow more traditional fundraising streams.

It was a huge job for me to take on responsibility for Individual Giving whilst building a new business function to transform High Value fundraising. Since then the organisation has grown dramatically. Income was around £2.7m when I joined and this year we will be around £18m.

So in many ways War Child now feels like a completely different organisation. My responsibilities are different too. As I have been on that journey with War Child, I suppose I have adapted with the organisation as opposed to being thrown in at the deep end with a huge new range of responsibilities.

People talk about the difference between leading and managing when you step up to Director level. What is your take on what that actually means and has it been something you have been conscious of - particularly when you went from Deputy Director to Director level?

It is funny as it is something I have added into interview questions now - "what do you see as high level leadership?" For me there is a huge difference between managing and leading.

To me leadership is looking into the distance and seeing what the future looks like, and then using influencing skills to take people in the organisation with you to reach that end point. Managing is more directional and functional and perhaps not so long term.

Leadership is so important when working in such a fast-growing organisation.

It's been such a shift from when I started - at that point the fundraising team was me and four others - and now I am leading leaders to inspire and motivate their teams. I can't even tell you how many books on leadership are on my desk! There are so many theories out there.

Interestingly, our CEO gives all of us on the Senior Management Team (SMT) a book each term to go away and read, and then come back to discuss. And once a year we have a two day away-day where we get together and talk about issues and ideas. Discussing these books is often a part of that. The most recent one was The Five Dysfunctions of a Team by Patrick Lencioni.

Moving from running fundraising to being a part of a team which is leading the organisation was a real shift for me. It's my role within the organisation to work with the SMT to set the strategy for the wider organisation. So the SMT is my priority team, quickly followed by the Fundraising team. Naturally I am expected to be the expert on the fundraising side for SMT, but I have no operational responsibility for fundraising.

When the SMT gets together, everything is focussed on topics like risk management, and is just not operational fundraising. I do miss the operational side as I love fundraising, but that has been replaced with the kick I get from the leadership challenges. I get the chance to create a culture that is effective and fun for fundraising which is amazing. But the main difference is about leading a wider organisation rather than a specific project, functional unit or campaign. ?

Do you have any tips for anyone looking to secure their first Head of/Director of Fundraising post?

I'll use the example of replacing a key 'head of' in my team, who got a promotion to another War Child department. One of the managers in her team came to me and asked what he would need to do in order to be considered for the role as a step up. I suggested the following:

  • My first tip is ensure you have a really open and transparent relationship with your boss.
  • Talk to people, make sure the key staff in the organisation know that you want to step up. Don't assume they will know.
  • Speak to the person who is currently doing the job, and ask for their job description. Find out their objectives and what's expected from them. Find out what the job feels like on a day-to-day basis.
  • Network internally - ensure lots of people know how great you are!
  • Take opportunities to take on additional responsibilities. It is not enough to just meet your objectives. You need to help others achieve their goals, because that is what gets you recognition and credibility from your leadership team. It all enhances your reputation and adds experience to your CV.
  • And finally I would recommend asking your line manager to delegate work to you and ask them to coach you with that delegation of that project. Of course you will get some additional experience but you will also be taking workload off your line manager which I am sure they will love!


Congratulations on delivering such incredible growth in income for War Child - how have you done it?

Thank you, there are of course so many different variables:

A huge part of it has been getting buy-in from the trustees and securing investment for fundraising to enable the growth from the board. I did a lot of work educating the board around fundraising Return on Investment (ROI) in addition to net income. Initially that meant a lot of recruitment and supporting the existing team members to bring in more income from these areas.

I started with the corporate and major donor functions with the aim of getting some big money relatively quickly, in comparison to individual giving (IG). Once we got a couple of big wins, that obviously helped build trust and ultimately persuade the board to increase our investment in wider fundraising activity.

I have an amazing dedicated and talented team and we don't do "lazy fundraising". We accept minimal restricted gifts; we have made a promise to each other that we will go back to the donor, deepen that relationship until it transforms into an unrestricted gift.

Everyone understands what their ratios are and what they need to return on the spend that they are given - rather than just income targets. That pushes them to do anything they can to drive the ROI.

We have ensured that we have a hugely collaborative team, so we do things like away days where, for example, the IG and the Corporate team will spend time developing strategies together. Everyone partners with each other and that has been something I have been conscious of from day zero.

I have always tried to create a collaborative culture, but now because the team see the success in it, they want to keep that and protect it. It also enables the fundraisers to work across a number of different areas, broadening their experience.

And lastly the Fundraising team and the Finance team are absolute best buddies - and we work very, very closely with them.

What do you see as War Child's biggest opportunities in fundraising over the next 3-5 years?

We are still a small, maybe medium-sized, charity. But the bigger organisations are doing a lot of things that we aren't, such as digital fundraising. Innovation is a huge part of what we do. We live and breathe new ideas and we are professionalising a data, and compliance and innovation function here, which is really exciting.

And tell me about your move into "Gaming" for Fundraising purposes.

We have been working with the gaming industry for about ten years - firstly with Football Manager which was an introduction from a previous donor. Initially it was all very ad-hoc. But then in Summer of 2015 it came up in one of our innovation workshops as an opportunity to look at. I saw yesterday that the industry has just hit £100bn in value.

There are only a few charities really accessing it as a fundraising industry, so there is a lot of potential there. We recruited some gaming specialists to work within our fundraising team and they develop relationships with large gaming studios - an example being our Armistice game - which won an IOF award - enables people to donate to War Child in game in a market that is just not saturated at all - essentially it operates as a digital CRM.

And we want to do more in mobile gaming where there is huge potential. But funnily enough we could actually do with more charities working in that space - it is such a large industry so it would be useful to have more organisations telling the CSR story to the industry as a whole.

It is also worth highlighting that we have found that we can use the relationships we have with the gaming industry to support our programmes work - supporting education programmes in conflict zones that we work in. And we are making these culture specific to different countries we operate in. All of the work we are doing in that space is so scalable and offers us so much potential.

What do you say to people who suggest your successful fundraising programme is largely thanks to being linked with the music industry?

I would probably laugh and totally agree with them! I am not going to be apologetic about our heritage and we do benefit from that. Every organisation should utilise their roots. And we work hard to maintain those relationships. But I would say that our music team is going to bring in around £1m this year and we will close on £18m, so it's a relatively small chunk of our programme. Every fundraiser should grab every opportunity they can.

Are there any campaigns or appeals you think have been particularly ground-breaking?

I have just been looking at what Liz Tait has been doing at Battersea Dogs and Cats Home and what she has done in totally transforming their Direct Marketing programme. From what I have heard they did an amazing job persuading the board to significantly increase investment. So not a campaign, but hats off the team to deliver such transformational growth.

I am also noticing the general shift to a united strategy for donor engagement, rather than communications doing one thing and fundraising doing another. It's vital treating everyone as a human being, and inspiring them.

When was the last time you cried and why?

Ha, yesterday! I had a coaching session and that is a really relevant point. As a leader it can be very lonely - there is a lot less support from peers - so sometimes it's great to have someone impartial that you can talk to, vent at and bounce ideas off. Yesterday I think I was talking about one of our programmes and just found myself getting emotional - but that is really useful for me to have that support - with someone from outside of the sector.

Tips, advice, news and more straight to your inbox

Sign up to our newsletter