The Presidents' Club: notes on the scandal

Many of you will have read the FT article (and consequently a number of other pieces) regarding the Presidents’ Club fundraising event. In fact, I know that many of my friends, colleagues or former colleagues saw this content as no fewer than 10 (and counting) sent me the link with a variety of accompanying emojis.

As someone who has delivered charity galas and fundraising dinners for the last 10 years (the entirety of my career) and as someone whose small business serves to deliver these events, this sort of “news” is not a complete surprise and yet it something that has really grabbed people’s attention and has the potential to give the sector a bad name.

I should definitely start this by saying that I think that the behaviour referred to at the Presidents’ Club is completely unacceptable and vile. This behaviour is something I have experienced first-hand and am glad that the issue is being brought to light. 

Here are a few other observations/reflections based on my experience (in no particular order):

  1. When the #TimesUp campaign launched and indeed, when Harvey Weinstein was first exposed, my thoughts turned to the experiences I have had where tolerating inappropriate behaviour and harassment was part of the job. Although this behaviour was not always in a work context, I have vivid memories of being encouraged to wear an LBD by (female) bosses and of p*ssed men at golf days and dinner dances asking how much they could bid for me. The classic raffle selling line “£10 for one, £30 for a strip” still rings in my ears.
  2. In my experience, many charities or organising committees have willingly “used” their female staff to promote their fundraising activities on the night. I do question whether charities would put male staff in the same position however the reality is that many fundraising and events teams are made up of females. The idea that good looking staff have been hired in especially for the Presidents’ Club event is something else altogether.
  3. The concept of staff receiving a written instruction to “dress sexy” is ludicrous, right? But how many hostesses, wait staff and retail workers at bars, restaurants and stores are given similar restrictions and forced to conform to a certain “look”? I hope that this is now an opportunity for charities (and indeed corporates) to reconsider their duty of care to their staff – both females and males – when putting them in a room full of guests who have been plied with alcohol.
  4. I do find it interesting that some charities who have benefitted from this particular fundraiser are now returning the money. I don’t yet know how I feel about this or whether I think that the best thing to do. For many of the larger organisations that I have heard referenced, there should probably be due diligence in place that ensures that they are only accepting funds from reputable organisations. That said, it’s one thing for larger organisations to return Presidents’ Club’s “dirty money” but for many organisations gifts of that scale are difficult to turn down or give back.
  5. As former chair of the Special Events Forum for the charity sector – now led by the Katy Payne (Parkinson’s UK) and Elizabeth Charles (Action Against Hunger) – we have often discussed the “Death of the Gala Ball”, questioning whether the traditional gala dinner has run its course. This sort of negative publicity threatens to have a significant impact on what is a thriving industry; events fundraising plays a truly valuable part in many organisations’ fundraising and I have worked with at least a few charities whose annual gala makes up the majority of their fundraising income. So, I therefore hope that guests and donors will not be deterred from supporting these events – they really do enable great causes to raise transformative sums and there are many great examples that do this in a way that doesn’t exploit.
  6. It’s definitely worth differentiating between in-house charity events and what we in the sector refer to as “beneficiary” or “third party” events. The latter are those hosted by a group/club/company who then give a cheque for funds raised to the charity at the end. In most cases, the charity holds little or no responsibility for the processes or plans for these.

When I started as an events consultant/freelancer, my first client was an education organisation who wanted to move away from the traditional gala dinner to deliver an immersive experience. Whereas there is undoubtedly still a place and an appetite for the gala and I continue to work with lots of charities delivering this kind of event, the immersive project was one that I feel most proud of – not least because of its fundraising outcomes and the creativity that went into the content (produced by Boz Temple-Morris and the Holy Mountain team), but because of the guts that it took for the charity to move away from the regular format in order to focus the evening’s programme on its work, rather than the presentation of the food or the colour of the flowers.

I am ridiculously proud of the work my peers across the charity sector have achieved and continue to achieve. Perhaps this will remind our Directors and Senior Management Teams how important it is to ensure that they have policies and procedures in place to protect themselves and their staff. I hope that this negative publicity doesn’t reflect badly or impact the hundreds – indeed thousands – of organisations striving to deliver meaningful events and raise critical funds for their work. But I also hope it will challenge organisations to think about their fundraising activity and to ensure that every aspect of their events reflect their mission, vision and values. 

Autumn round-up: a colourful few months

Another amazing but knackering few months has passed and as we enter the Christmas season, I'm once again so proud and thankful to have worked on some fantastic events with some bloody brilliant people and organisations. 

The one with Patsy, darling! 
I have to admit I hadn't watched any of Joanna Lumley's travel documentaries until she spoke about them at this event on 15 September and I've since binge-watched whatever I could get hold of. Hosted within the beautiful surroundings of The Ned (where the service was first class), Ms Lumley was our special guest for BAFTA's Academy Circle and all of our guests left as serious fans.

We ate seabass and lemon tart (at Chef's recommendation) and drank Le Croix Belle from The Ned's beautiful cut glassware.   

The one that smashed all targets
On 19 October, the AKT Gala moved to Cafe de Paris for an evening bursting with entertainment, hosted by Gok Wan. The Gala exceeded all expectations, with the auction including the opportunity to enjoy dinner at Sir Ian McKellan's home. As always, the dance floor was packed until the early hours... 

We ate smoked chicken and papaya on blini, pan roasted Gressingham duck breast, strawberry feuillete with cognac cream.

The one with David Attenborough
On 23 October, what more can be said about this incredible evening generously hosted by Hotel Cafe Royal, one of my favourite places in London. Sir David had all 80 of our guests eating out of the palm of his hand during a Q&A hosted by his friend and former colleague Alastair Fothergill.

At an intimate supper afterwards, we ate venison loin with twice baked sweet potato souffle and braised red cabbage, followed by blackberry and apple pie with calvados cream. We drank Comtes de Taittinger and the wonderful Louis XIII. 

The one showcasing amazing emerging talent
On 25 October, the sixth annual Breakthrough Brits took place at Burberry's flagship store and we were delighted to host an informal supper afterwards at Thomas's Cafe. The event celebrates breakthrough talent in film, games and television. 

We ate cherry ponzo seared tuna, Hereford beef with Jerusalem artichoke puree, ricotta gnuddi with spiced winter tomato. We drank nothing but Nyetimber.

The one with breakfast with Doctor Foster
I binge-watched the two seasons of Doctor Foster in the two weeks prior to this breakfast on 1 November with the amazing Suranne Jones. Dressed in a jumpsuit and Converse, the former Coronation Street star had the whole room (both BAFTA and Quintessentially members) hooked as she spoke about her career to date, her production company and her plans for the future. She truly is a superwoman!

We ate mini bagels and pastries and drank Buck's Fizz and strong coffee. 

The one filled with colour
On 22 November, we worked with Richard House Children's Hospice to deliver their Rainbow Ball, where the dress code was strictly "anything but black". Our friends at Bloomsbury Ballroom hosted the event with The London Cabaret Club providing a breathtaking array of entertainment, from a contortionist to an aerial dancer. We beat all targets to raise over £350,000.

We drank Laurent-Perrier and ate heavy hors d'ouevres, cut out the starter, opted for a duck main (although we had over 40 guests request a vegetarian meal on the night - we will avoid in future!) and a rainbow-inspired white chocolate bombe. 

The one celebrating our teachers
And before we move into the Christmas period, we closed the season with an inspiring day at Teach 2017, bringing together school leaders and teachers from Birmingham and further afield for a day of learning and sharing of best practice. Our keynote speech from Ofsted Chief Inspector, Amanda Spielman, and our panel discussion on collaboration guaranteed lively debate, with our breakout sessions providing valuable professional development opportunities focusing on teacher wellbeing, behaviour management and coaching for excellence.

We ate sandwiches and drank copious amounts of tea and coffees - it is a free conference after all...

International inspiration: some learnings from IFC 2017

Perhaps I'm being disloyal but having spoken at and attended a number of somewhat lacklustre UK fundraising conferences, I don't think that I'd prepared myself to be quite so impressed by International Fundraising Congress (IFC) in Amsterdam last month. 

Now in its 36th year, the conference brings together almost 1,000 delegates from 60 countries for presentations, workshops and masterclasses, providing learning, networking and sharing opportunities for the charity sector. From the big names like UNICEF, Red Cross and Save the Children, to local medical, research, children and animal organisations. It was an eye-opening experience to be amongst so many peers and colleagues from the sector, all striving to raise more for their work.

When in post as Chair of the UK's Special Events Forum, I remember having numerous discussions about the fact that Events Managers see themselves as fundraising professionals. With responsibility for raising six- and seven-figure amounts from our events, it's only natural that this is the case. For a number of smaller organisations, their flagship event counts for significant proportion of fundraising income. UK Top 5 charity Cancer Research UK cites that events contributed 10% of its £650m income in 2016/17. And aside from our own financial success, events teams work closely with our Major Donor, Corporate, Trusts and Foundations, Community and Individual Giving teams to provide them with a plaform to raise both funds and awareness.

I was therefore surprised to be in such a minority at IFC 2017 and to discover so few Events professionals in attendance. Those who I talked to about events had seen varying levels of success in their activity and I found myself wishing that I could work with them to help elevate their events and enable them to generate some serious income from their programmes. I would love to have an opportunity to lead on event content at IFC in the future.

My takeaways from the week included the following: 

  1. The market is changing  - Although globally there is quite a stark difference in progress in fundraising, for many, there is a clear shift from the more traditional fundraising methods and the impact of GDPR will be felt over the coming years  
  2. And yet, the need remains significant - As the gap between rich and poor widens in many contexts, fundraising targets are increasing, the number of charities is rising and the need for high impact fundraising campaigns continues to grow. Now, more than ever, fundraisers are playing a critical role in transforming lives.
  3. Formal professional development can be rewarding - More of a reminder than a learning! It's usually a low priority on our ever-growing task lists, but coming together with others across the sector and participating in interactive workshops with genuinely useful tools to take home was really valuable 
  4. The social aspect of a conference shouldn't be overlooked - Providing more meaningful relationship building than the official networking opportunities, the drinks receptions, pub quiz and 70s gala night (yes, really) gave us the chance to get to know other delegates in a very different way! 
  5. We have an opportunity to use our privilege - Keynote speakers Jeremy Heimans of Purpose and Bisi Alimi both talked about the importance of recognising and leveraging the position we are in to do some good in the world 

And we're not alone. Being amongst peers from across the world served as a welcome reminder that others are facing the same pushback from their Boards, the same politics within their organisations, the same budget cuts... As a freelancer it can be a lonely existence at times, but experiences like last week provide the recharge that we often crave. 


Fundraising Definitions

Fundraising organisations will often consist of some or all of the following departments, representing different income-generation streams.

Major Donors/Philanthropy - This team raises funds through High Net Worth Individuals, working with them to identify a funding project or gap to meet their philanthropic interests.

Corporate Partnerships - As the name suggests, this stream can be from longstanding/ongoing relationships with businesses or one-off Charity of the Year (COTY) partnerships, often part of an organisation's CSR policy.

Individual Giving or Direct Marketing - Chuggers, mailshots and TV adverts are all methods used by direct marketing teams. With the aim of raising nominal amounts from large numbers of people, they will use data segmentation to produce targeted campaigns and mailings.

Trusts and Foundations - From family trust funds to corporate foundations, there are pots of money available to charities and projects who meet the criteria. T&F teams will often work to produce detailed proposals in order to secure this funding.

It works for me: setting up as a freelancer

Over the summer I had a few weeks out of the office which included a short break in Spain, returning to a spot that I’d visited almost exactly three years ago. It is, therefore, almost exactly three years ago that I decided to set up Coveted Events.

I recently put together some notes for a friend’s blog and thought I’d share these too. The following five things were my “must haves” before I decided to move away from permanent employment and into freelance consultancy:

  1. Varied experience - Don't rely on one piece of work to carry you! I knew that I wanted to reach a senior level in events before I moved into consultancy - I wanted to be taken seriously and for my career history to speak for itself. Before I took the plunge, I deliberately sought to work or volunteer with small and large organisations, to deliver large-scale and more intimate events, and to work on team-led and independent projects, in order to demonstrate how diverse I could be. 
  2. Clear expertise – I knew that I wanted to focus on helping charitable organisations maximise the amount of money they raised through events. I’ve diversified a little since then but largely I continue to work with clients who need my support in this area. Having a niche has helped me pitch for work and to feel confident that I can add value. 
  3. A strong network of contacts within your field - I continue to be surprised at, and grateful for, the amount of work that I have become aware of through former bosses and through the wonders of social media. Remember to keep in touch, make the most of LinkedIn to stay aware of where your contacts move to and it doesn't hurt to maintain regular coffees or glasses of wine with those who could make introductions in the future. I will always remember a former colleague whose personal PR skills were second to none - she definitely inspired me to work on my profile and to focus on building working relationships with those who were influential. 
  4. A next step – Now this is entirely up to you but for me, as a planner, I needed to know what the next few weeks looked like. I made the move out of a permanent role knowing that I had a holiday lined up, followed by a piece of work that would see me through for a couple of months and help me pay the bills. This helped me sell the decision to my family and partner, and took away some of the initial fear. For others, I know that part of the attraction is the unknown and I also know how helpful it can be to have space to think and breathe and regroup, before jumping into something new. 
  5. Confidence and motivation – So finally, yes it's cheesy but I really have found it to be true! If you have reached the stage where you believe that you can do it, then put yourself out there and go for it. From this point forward, you will be your biggest advocate, particularly when you're having to prove yourself all over again to new people and clients, and your biggest motivator, particularly when you find yourself working seven days a week. 

But remember, it doesn't have to be forever. Use your freelancing time to build up your portfolio, to work with a variety of organisations, and to experience life without the infrastructure of a larger company. Permanent employment will still be there if you change your mind! 

I have often said the same about having a baby and stand by the same principle that there is never going to be a perfect time and you could put it off forever if you started listing reasons to wait. Three years in and I’m still learning and still have big ambitions for the business. 

I’m always happy to share my experiences and talk through what I’ve enjoyed/struggled with so if you want to hear more, get in touch.

Judgement day: Third Sector Awards

Having spoken at Third Sector magazine's Fundraising Week conference in April, it was a pleasure to be invited to be on the judging panel for the Third Sector Awards this summer, specifically for the Fundraising Event, Fundraising and Marketing Campaigns and Fundraising Team of the Year categories.

The third sector or not-for-profit sector as it is often referred to, is frequently under scrutiny and as I read through the applications for the shortlist, I was given a reminder of just some of the innovative, creative and truly groundbreaking work going on within the industry. And it is an industry - a viable one at that - full of hardworking, intelligent, career-driven professionals. Regardless of our motivations for working for and with non-profits, to assume as many do that charity workers are doing so because they couldn't succeed in a corporate environment is often far from the truth.

Reading about national campaigns that have transformed lives, behaviours and opinions, I'm bloody proud to be part of the sector! And believe that corporates could learn a great deal from some of their charity counterparts.

Of course, the results are yet to be revealed so I wish the very best of luck to all of the nominees...



Fully immersed: the rising popularity of experiential events

For years I've been reading Event Magazine's articles on experiential and immersive events delivered by corporate brands across the world. And last week, I read with excitement as Save the Children received national coverage for their Forced to Flee event.

Having worked on Ark's immersive event Ark by Night since 2014, I often speak to charities who are also keen to do something different. In recent years, I’ve seen a shift away from the often very costly traditional gala dinner and a move towards something that better reflects the work that they do. In order to truly bring their work to life, charities need more than a three-minute film or a compelling speech to get their mission across.

From my work as Chair of the Special Events Forum for the charity sector, I’ve become aware of a whole host of innovative and unusual events, breaking the mould of the traditional fundraising dinner and dance - from the DEC taking guests on a journey to demonstrate how they take action in emergency situations to the Royal Opera House hosting guests for behind-the-scenes experiences.

It’s long been a bugbear of mine that the charity sector is seen as a cardigan-wearing, risk averse and boring place to work – with 10 years in the sector, I can confidently say that this is far from the truth. And perhaps you'll be lucky enough to get an invitation to one of these events in the future so that you can see for yourself...