20 May 2016

What inspires charity leaders?

 Top charity

We’re always inspired by the work charities do and wanted to find out what drives the people behind them. So we asked four top charity leaders questions about what motivates them, and what some of their biggest challenges are. Even though charities might differ in size and the causes they support, it seems that there’s also a lot of shared ground.

Drawing inspiration from individuals

Many charities look to their fundraisers, patrons or beneficiaries they’re helping for inspiration.

For James Davis, Corporate Partnerships Account Manager at SSAFA, the UK's oldest national Armed Forces charity the individuals they help, the staff and volunteers are often at the core of the charity’s function. “The people we help are our inspiration. Many of the people we support have gone through a lot, and it is the individuals that matter the most – whether it’s our volunteers and fundraisers or veterans, we draw inspiration from them.”

Jan Garrill, Chief Executive of Two Ridings Community Foundation, which helps communities in York and North Yorkshire, draws inspiration from the foundation’s long history, says, “Two Ridings is really fortunate to be part of an international movement of community foundations. The first foundation was set up over 100 years ago in the US and there are 48 of us in the UK, so there is a wealth of experience and wisdom I can draw upon.”

For Fiona Devine, founder of Alexander Devine Children's Hospice Service, which provides hospice care to children in Berkshire, the answer is simple: “My inspiration is my son, Alexander, and our experience as a family. During my son’s illness, we identified specialist care requirements for children like him, and wanted to fill a gap we found in treating children with life limiting, life shortening conditions.”

The charity sector as a whole can also be a great way to search for new ideas and inspiration. Lisa Boyles, Communications Executive at Childreach International, which provides support to children in need across the world, says, “I like to keep up with what other charities are doing; not just other children’s charities, but across the sector.”

Overcoming obstacles

Running a charity can be very tough, there are several challenges to overcome – and reaching out to people can often be the biggest struggle.

“The biggest challenge to SSAFA is raising awareness about what we do – and getting the word out to those who need our help and can benefit from our services. Last year, we helped 55,000 people, but there are always more people we can help so reaching out to the right people can be a bit of a challenge,” says James Davis, SSAFA.

Lisa Boyles, Childreach International, agrees with James, but also speaks of the importance of being able to balance several things at once. “At Childreach International, our biggest challenge is finding the balance between communicating our work and the children we support, and supporting our fundraising team.”

At times, it can be difficult to know where to even begin, as Jan Garrill, Two Ridings Community Foundation says: “Prioritising our team’s time and directing scarce resources for the greatest impact is a challenge. Although we made nearly £500,000 in grant awards last year that’s a drop in the ocean compared to the unmet needs in our communities.”

Fiona Devine, Alexander Devine Children's Hospice Service, says, “Our biggest challenge with regard to fundraising is converting from Capital Cost to revenue fundraising. Funders understand the build, it’s exciting and very tangible, core costs are less appealing but completely necessary, that’s the service we offer. We have managed to maintain service and run a capital campaign as a small local charity, we know that we will need to give a clear key message and understanding when it comes to fundraising for core costs.”

Memorable moments

Despite some of the obstacles, the most positive moments are those that stick in mind the most – and make it all worthwhile.

Jan Garrill, Two Ridings Community Foundation, recalls her most memorable day: “It was Tuesday 4th January, because by then we had raised £250,000 in just one week for the York Flood Appeal - and we had made our first grant of money to someone who had been flooded. When I set my overall fundraising target on the BT MyDonate site only a week earlier I had put £250,000 thinking it would be good to be so ambitious!”

Lisa Boyles, Childreach International, values being able to see tangible results of their efforts was great: “The most memorable day for us was when we were able to watch the videos and see the photos of our first new classroom going up in Nepal after the 2015 earthquakes.”

Fiona Devine’s most memorable day was when they finally started building the Berkshire Hospice. “The moment the first shovel went into the ground, and standing on our land was a memorable moment.”

BT MyDonate’s impact

BT MyDonate takes 0% commission and there no set up or registration fees. Our focus is on making every penny count so your charity can thrive.

Jan Garrill from Two Ridings says, “The team at BT MyDonate was brilliant when we had to set up the flood appeals in an incredibly short space of time. I was trying to do it all at my kitchen table with limited IT support as our office had been affected by the floods too. The team made sure the BT MyDonate pages for York and North Yorkshire worked straight away so people could respond immediately and donate. Also, whenever we’ve had queries about reports or payments, BT MyDonate has been responsive and helpful. The fact that the site doesn’t charge a fee is a real bonus, as it means more money goes to the good cause.”

As well as helping to maximise donations, James Davis says BT MyDonate has helped them to standardise SSAFA’s fundraising logistics: “BT MyDonate has played a critical role for us and now we are able to account for all of our fundraising income in one place.

Taking 0% commission means that charities are able to calculate exactly how much money they have been able to save as a result: “At Childreach International, in 2014/15 alone we saved over £400,000 by using BT MyDonate as our primary online donation platform. This is a huge sum of money for an organisation our size and using BT MyDonate is essential to our work,” says Lisa Boyles, Childreach International.

Fiona Devine, Alexander Devine Children's Hospice Service, says “BT MyDonate have offered us fantastic support in many aspects. They’ve helped us with our social media strategy, as well as helping us raise awareness and fundraise for various campaigns.”

Find out more about these charities:


Childreach International

Alexander Devine Children’s Hospice Service

Two Ridings Community Foundation

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