Progress your career in Individual Giving – with Shabby Amini

Ashby Jenkins

I’ve been lucky enough through my years of recruitment to meet some inspiring and talented people. One thing they always have in common and something I’ve always been impressed by, is the desire to continuously learn and develop their skill set. Knowing that you never know everything is humbling and simply keeps you striving for more.

Part of my role in recruitment is to ensure that people reach their full potential and there is nothing better than hearing the wisdom and experiences of the leaders across our sector. I’ve always heard great things about the Executive Director – Fundraising, Partnerships and Communications at Care International, Shabby Amini, and was lucky enough to sit down with her recently to learn more about her career, achievements and the advice she would give to the next generation of fundraising talent.

How Shabby’s charity career started

Shabby never set out her career to work in the charity sector and initially started working at marketing agencies in the UK and Australia. She had exposure to the hand-to-mouth experience of working in start-ups and was lucky enough to start working at a digital agency who were one of the first agency’s to run a text to donate campaign. Coincidentally this was for WaterAid (although oddly enough this was never one of the accounts Shabby was managing).

After a move into fashion PR and event management she stumbled across the charity sector once again and began working at Age UK covering acquisition and retention of supporters for their medical research arm of the then Help the Aged – Research in to Ageing. Age UK went on to fund her IDM Postgrad diploma and she fell in love with the sector.

Shabby was always passionate about international development and after two years, when the opportunity came to take a sideways move to WaterAid – she took it. This may seem strange now, when fundraisers expect big pay rises and title progression with each move, but the opportunity allowed Shabby to learn new skills, finesse her craft and become a real expert in her area. Plus she had always wanted to work at WaterAid.

Joining WaterAid

When she joined WaterAid they had recently agreed with the Board to set a £1m expenditure budget for acquisition. Within five years she secured two internal promotions and saw the team grow to 15 people and an income of £25m – almost doubling the direct marketing team’s contribution to the organisation.

The key to this was constantly questioning the way things were done and innovating wherever possible. When she first started, the direct marketing team and the campaigns team were working independently while targeting, at times, the same audience. Shabby was instrumental in integrating these two areas to create a team that delivered on fundraising and policy goals through the creation of a supporter engagement team. This felt to be fairly new for the sector back in 2009 (and this approach to collaborative working is something we still see a lot of campaigns and fundraising teams struggle with), but central to this merge was the supporter experience and journey.

The first campaign managed by the direct marketing team delivered just shy of 10,000 actions – more than had been achieved before. And the team continued expanding. Following this success Shabby then championed bringing community direct marketing into the direct marketing team which resulted in a more consistent experience for supporters, more efficiencies and better financial results.

A new challenge at Care International (UK)

After uplifting the way WaterAid spoke to their supporters Shabby was ready for a new challenge and moved onto Care International as Head of Direct Marketing, leading a team of five to deliver £3m. At the time Care had no digital presence and were only investing in face to face acquisition through one agency, which was incredibly risky.

Within her first two weeks, the agency they were using went bankrupt and urgent tendering was required. To modernise she knew they had to start testing across all channels. This was a challenge and she carefully managed expectations around the results which she knew would shrink in the short-term, however she managed to get the buy-in and trust of her Director to ensure they invested for future success – but first she requested half of the budget that had previously been assigned to have a year of testing across four channels. Within 3 years the results were improving with the team growing to a headcount of 8 and an income to a total of over £4m.

Continuously expanding her skillset

Always being keen to learn, Shabby went out of her way to support the Care International offices in other countries, providing help with their individual giving programmes. Her role was already demanding and there was no reward other than seeing these programmes perform better.

In recognition for going above and beyond her remit she was put on a 12-month leadership course, which was again an addition to her workload but a signal of her ambition and willingness to learn and develop. Shabby’s positive attitude and drive to take on new areas resulted in her being encouraged to apply for the Executive Director – Fundraising, Partnerships and Communications role which she secured three and a half years ago.

Shabby is now responsible for a department of 40 people and an income of £11m whilst supporting the wider organisation to deliver on income targets of £50m to at times £90m. Recent key achievements include building the global gender equality campaign #March4Women which grew from a couple of hundred people in 2013 to over had 10,000 people attending a march and rally in London’s Trafalgar Square in 2018. A few other countries followed the lead with Australia and Malawi showing interest in 2017 hosting their own events under the same banner – and this indicated something very special. This could be a global campaign. Shabby had been selected to join a global strategic leadership team for fundraising and mobilisation and the group decided to globalise the campaign. Under Shabby’s leadership the campaign went to 16 countries and 2018 and in 2019 a huge 47 countries – and not only that there was a huge campaign win with a new global law that aims to protect workers from harassment in the workplace. 

Shabby’s tips for progressing your career

  1. Understand that the people managing you might not have expertise in your income stream. Work with them as this will get more buy-in for your team. The CEO of CARE was not from a public fundraising background but has been out with the street fundraisers and is supportive of the programme.
  2. Stay curious – always ask questions and understand why things are done the way they are. Be nosey!
  3. Your job description is a guide, go beyond it – don’t expect to be financially rewarded for this in the short-term but do it as signal of commitment, passion and that you want to progress. It will pay off!
  4. Have someone from outside your organisation as a mentor – it’s useful to get an external perspective and a broader view. If you come across someone that inspires you just ask them if they would be happy to do this.
  5. Gain broad experience – Shabby had agency account management and event management experience; don’t just limit yourself to one income stream or it will limit your career.
  6. There is nothing wrong with a sideways move – look at whether the role will add something to your experience
  7. Enjoy what you are doing, as you will only do your best work if you are having some fun. If you aren’t getting up in the morning and feeling energised by your role, leave. Somewhere else will give you that great feeling each day.