We talk to Eve Robinson, Fundraising Development Manager of the Epilepsy Society to find out what the daily routine of a charity worker involves.
What are your working hours?
A usual day for me starts around 8.30am and I try to finish between 5 and 5.30pm. However, my team and I regularly work outside office hours for events. For example, this Saturday saw an 8am start in an airfield in Northamptonshire for our first skydiving day. Then our dinner held at BAFTA this year will mean a 4am finish.
Epilepsy Society has a time off in lieu policy to help staff keep a work/life balance, but I also try to work from home every now and then to catch up on emails and projects, away from interruptions.
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What kind of projects do you work on?
Writing strategies, creating new fundraising initiatives and materials, budgeting, corporate client liaison with pharmaceutical companies, database development activity or project managing our supporter newsletter. Recently I’ve been a member of a new steering group set up to advise and approve our YouTube channel content and associated social media activity for National Epilepsy Week.
As a manager I support my team in their work, either with general advice, helping them to develop new skills and initiatives or crisis management, such as what to do when a celebrity speaker cancels two weeks before an event or the running vests that the design agency have designed can’t be manufactured in time for the London Marathon.
What does your average day entail?
I know it is a cliché, but no single day is ever the same. My particular role wouldn’t be suited for someone who thrives on routine.
One day I might be meeting with the managing director of a major pharmaceutical company, pitching ideas for thousands of pounds of sponsorship for educational projects. The next day I’ll be taking photographs at a 24-hour biking event, cheering on Epilepsy Society supporters dressed in sumo costumes. I might be deciding which Christmas cards will make the final cut for our merchandising catalogue or writing a financial report for the Board of Governors. It can get a bit surreal.
What are your key tasks?
I manage a small but busy fundraising department and have overall responsibility for corporate partnerships, community and sporting events, special events and merchandise. I also manage our fundraising database manager. I report into the Director of Fundraising and Marketing and work very closely with the other fundraising senior manager, the Head of Individual Giving and Trusts. Together our annual income target for this year is £1.8million.
Why did you get into charity work?
I read Film and Literature at Warwick University and I worked for a few years in arts based businesses; art gallery, auction house, magazine publishing. A road trip around New Zealand in 2003 gave me the distance and perspective to think about what I wanted out of life.
I realised it was all well and good working in a creative environment, but the reality wasn’t any different from any other commercial enterprise; it was still at heart about making a profit for investors that I’d never meet. I realised I wanted my job to mean something, to contribute to society in a positive way, no matter how small that contribution might be. Most of my housemates at the time all worked in the non-profit sector. It hadn’t really occurred to me before then that working for a charity was a career option. Eight years on, I still love what I do.
What skills do you need?
Ideally a fundraiser is a fully rounded character. You are numerate, strategic, have solid business sense and creative flair. You are an excellent communicator and target driven too. You must be able to work independently and be a team player. However the exact skills you need depend on which particular area of fundraising you specialise in – fundraisers come in all shapes and sizes. For example a trust fundraiser must have outstanding writing and research skills, and be able to pay strict attention to detail. A corporate fundraiser needs to be a confident account manager and public speaker, as well as an influencer and negotiator.
But your interpersonal skills and personal qualities are as vital as your qualifications and academic achievements. It’s a classic fundraising mantra that “people give to people”. Fundraising is a lot to do with marketing, supporter stewardship, and building excellent relationships internally and externally. Enthusiasm, initiative and a “can do” attitude go a long way. Being resilient, tenacious and staying calm in a crisis are essential. The willingness to stay up late, work weekends, lug boxes up and down stairs, and put up marquees while keeping a sense of humour is really important if you want to work in events and community fundraising.
What are the best and worst things about your job?
There is always a certain amount of pressure working in fundraising, but I have certainly felt it increase with the recession. It can be tough at times to deliver added value on an increasingly tight expenditure budget.
As a senior fundraising manager, one of the best things about my role is collaborating with others and coming up with new opportunities or creative solutions to problems. I love that my job is varied and that I am empowered to make decisions. I really appreciate the passionate, knowledgeable and lovely people I work alongside. But nothing beats chatting to a supporter and hearing how Epilepsy Society has helped to radically improve their quality of life.
The Epilepsy Society is the leading national epilepsy medical charity working for everyone affected by epilepsy.