Happy International Women’s Day!

Today is all about celebrating the achievements and tenacity of women and as such we wanted to share the stories and career advice from successful women across the sector. Hopefully their stories will give you practical tips on how to progress professionally and inspire you to reach your career goals.

When talking to these leading women a couple of themes started to show, firstly was their passion for learning throughout their careers, being open to new ideas and changes. Secondly, the importance of building and maintaining networks within the sector. Utilising these networks to learn from, to reach out to in times of challenge and to ensure they are keeping up to date with the fundraising landscape.

Amy Oberholzer – Head of Individual Giving, Prostate Cancer UK

I initially started my career agency side after moving to London from South Africa. Within days of my first role within the sector, I knew that this would be a lifelong career path for me. I was promoted relatively quickly due to my passion, tenacity and ability to manage a wide range of key stakeholder relationships. Although at the time I was one of the youngest AM’s in the team, I didn’t let that get in the way of delivering some of the agency’s most successful campaigns. I started to attend sector conferences, meet-ups and joined a few committees – to build up my networks, alongside my practical experience. After spending just over 5 years working in an agency, I was ready to move into a charity, to live and breathe one cause. That led me to work for a couple of charities before finding my current role at Prostate Cancer UK.  Each role helped to broaden and develop my experience, but alongside this – people management, strategy development and budget creation. This mixture enabled me to secure my ultimate role as Head of Individual Giving at Prostate Cancer UK. Over the last three and a half years I’ve had several successes within my role, including increasing income by over 50% in my first year, doubling the number of regular givers in under 2 years and leading on the first integrated campaign that surpassed its £1m target. Alongside financial successes, I’ve played a key role in breaking down silo’s across departments and bringing several key deliverables in-house, to optimise performance and embed a collaborative approach across teams.  

My advice for any fundraisers in the current market would be to be bold and try new approaches, as a sector we cannot stagnate, and the next group of leaders will be the people that adapt quickly to a changing market and aren’t afraid to put forward new ideas. Experience in small and large charities would also be a must, to find your fit and broaden your perspective.

Victoria Bednall – Director of Fundraising, Place2Be

I’ve worked in the sector for almost 18 years now and for a diverse range of charities including WaterAid, The Prince’s Trust and Breast Cancer Now. One of my most important career objectives at the outset was to gain as much exposure to and experience of, as many different income streams as possible and as such I have worked across community, philanthropy, events, IG and more recently corporate before moving to a Director of Fundraising role.

I particularly enjoyed corporate fundraising. Being able to opportunity spot and create strategic, mutually beneficial, high-value partnerships was hugely motivating and rewarding. I have also worked on some extremely interesting commercial projects, such as re-energising Fashion Targets Breast Cancer campaign (taking it from £700,000 to £1m within a year) and setting up Tomorrow’s Talent at The Prince’s Trust.  

I believe, what has helped me to be successful in my career is the breadth of understanding and experience of the various income streams but also, importantly, the ability to step back and question the way things are being done and consider how we can improve the experience of supporters.

As a team leader, you are only ever as good as your team, so getting the right talent in place and ensuring you nurture and support them is essential to success. You are there to shoulder the mistakes, challenges and tough times but to also look on these as real opportunities to learn and grow as a team. You are, of course, also there to ensure you celebrate their successes as a team. Your success does not exist without theirs. I’ve always pushed my teams to learn from others, to stick their head out from the comfort of their current role / charity and explore what else is happening in the sector; what is working well for other organisations and what projects they can get involved in or learn from. Knowledge and insight is key to success but above all that, passion and commitment to the cause drives all!

Dilys Winterkorn – Partnerships Manager, Comic Relief

My move into the Third Sector stemmed from my internship in Ghana where I assisted the work of foundations – however fell into fundraising on my return to the UK! I started out my career at a small charity, The Gorilla Organisation, where I was able to explore lots of different areas within fundraising; later finding my specialism in Trusts, Foundation, Institutional and major donor fundraising. A few charities later, I moved into managing programmes overseas and a small charity – the ability to fundraise and manage resources were key! Fast forward 12 years – I work with Comic Relief as Partnerships Manager. My work involves building partnerships with funders and securing multi-million-pound investments.

I attribute my success to having a career plan, purpose and meeting people! This is crucial within fundraising as the sector is so small – it is important to know your field. Take time out to get to know of the events and networks taking place which progress your interests and get involved. Purpose, knowledge and confidence paves the way.

Susana Lopez – Head of Philanthropy, Cystic Fibrosis Trust

After doing an English degree I fell into fundraising and was lucky to have a strong female leader in my first role, she pushed me hard, always ready with a red pen for my proposals and helped me learn the value of producing high-quality work. I’ve worked in a variety of charities, at the smallest we either secured funding or had to face cutting services, this was incredibly pressured but motivating and reaffirmed my decision to work in the sector. At the larger charities I learnt a lot about managing internal stakeholders and this is a key asset to have the more senior you become. I spent 10 years working at CRUK securing gifts up to a value of £10m, I was fortunate to work with some of the best talent in the sector and learnt what excellence really looked like. Moving on from CRUK I took my first Head Of role and the biggest thing I learnt during this transition was the importance of delegation, this is something I still focus on and is the key to success in leading teams.

The most challenging thing for trust and major donor fundraisers is organisations not having a vision for major gift fundraising or investing in developing enough funding opportunities. More generally it can be hard for relationship fundraisers to be taken seriously by their donors, I have experienced donors overlooking my presence or addressing the man in the meeting rather than dealing with me because of my age or gender. Hopefully this will change as the demographic of donors evolve but for now, I would advise fundraisers to ensure they own their space, dress formally to match your donor, make sure you have a decent notepad and pen and present calmly and formally. They other key thing that has helped my success is my willingness to learn from those around me, network and ask for help. Resilience is also key, a no is only a no for now, be creative, stubborn and find a way to get the yes.

Jenni Anderson – Director of Development, The Invictus Games Foundation

I have just joined the Invictus Games Foundation as Development Director from The Duke of Edinburgh’s Award, where I was leading on philanthropy, partnerships and events.  I’ve been working in the sector for 16 years managing fundraising, communications and marketing teams and I feel incredibly lucky that I’ve been able to contribute to the success of some wonderful, life-changing organisations. This never equates to personal success, as the endorphins of being part of a team that is purposeful and passionate cannot be beaten. If you can seek out an organisation and culture that enhances your strengths and allows you to grow and develop personally and professionally, then success will follow.

We all suffer with low confidence at times but to help mute that inner voice protect some time to take on opportunities outside of your current sphere of influence. This is about taking control of your development and saying ‘yes’ to activities, ideas or projects that push you outside of your comfort zone. Find a peer or network who can give you an honest nudge in the right direction. This might be at work or finding a volunteering experience which is completely different to your current career trajectory. I joined the charity sector, like many, to leave this world in a better place than we find it. But we can only do that if we are open to new ideas, and diverse perspectives. Seeking out a wider understanding of the challenges that face charities means you can bring some unique perspectives and experiences back to the ‘day’ job.

When historically it’s been portrayed that the way for women to succeed is to compete with each other it was refreshing to hear that the women above have all built their success of similar columns – adaptability, but more significantly collaboration and learning. And if these are our leaders now, doesn’t that spell something great for the future of our sector?

Get in touch with us if you have any questions or thoughts.

[email protected] or 020 30062787