Amanda Bringans: 'We want to do things right'

With the sector under scrutiny, charities being fined and GDPR looming, Amanda Bringans has become chair of the Institute of Fundraising in interesting times. Nevertheless, Rebecca Cooney finds her ready for the challenge

Amanda Bringans
Amanda Bringans

< This article has been amended; see final paragraph

As director of fundraising at the British Heart Foundation, Amanda Bringans, the recently appointed chair of the Institute of Fundraising, knows only too well about the trouble charities can get into when they don't comply with the rules.

In December, the BHF was fined £18,000 by the Information Commissioner's Office for breaking rules relating to the wealth screening of donors and data matching, although the fine was reduced to £14,400 because the charity chose to pay early. It was one of 13 charities to be fined for breaches of data-protection law.

Bringans says experience will inform her approach to her new role as IoF chair. "What the sector has gone through and what I have been through have been incredibly helpful in terms of a learning curve," she says.

There have been "difficult pressures" on fundraisers in the past few months, Bringans says, but she "really, truly" believes the sector will be stronger for it.

"I know from a very personal perspective that everything I've learned will help me to bring an added level of experience to the role and an understanding of the difficulties some fundraisers face," she says.

And it has given her a new perspective on the challenges facing fundraisers who work in smaller charities, she says. "Let's take the issue of donor consent," she says. "If you're a big charity and you've got resources, you can do some of this stuff more easily, though it's expensive and time-consuming. But if I'm a lone fundraiser in a small charity and I'm faced with all of this stuff, which has become current because of what's happened in the past year, then where do I go, what do I do about it?

"If I've learned anything, it's that we need to support the whole sector, particularly smaller charities, and provide resources to help them."

Bringans has been a trustee of a small hospice in the past, but during her 23 years as a fundraiser she has worked exclusively for large charities. She started out as a corporate fundraiser at Comic Relief before taking roles at Macmillan Cancer Support, VSO, Battersea Dogs & Cats Home and Leonard Cheshire Disability. She became director of fundraising at BHF in December 2015.

'Fortuitous'

It was a "fortuitous and lovely thing" that she fell into fundraising, she says. After a nine-year stint in advertising in the 1980s, she went back to university to study for a degree in English literature and came across an advert for the Comic Relief job. She got it and was "hooked", she says.

Bringans comes across as friendly, persuasive and sharp, but equally she's keen to stay on-message. When asked for her thoughts on the future of fundraising, she frequently returns to the IoF strategy, published in January, which she says "embodies" the lessons the sector has learned from the scandals of the past two years. "It's about being respectful, understanding regulation and what that means for your organisation, and driving effective regulation," she says.

"Listening to donors is a really important lesson. It's not just about money, but also about building relationships: over the long term, the better a relationship you have with the donor the more value you're going to get from them."

Bringans says fundraising has evolved greatly since she joined it in 1994, but says many of the old rules still apply. "Whether it's 1995 or 2015, we've always had to understand that the best fundraising is based on great relationships," she says. "It was always like that and it always will be."

Heated debate

In February, she attended the joint data-protection conference organised by the ICO, the Charity Commission and the Fundraising Regulator, which became heated when some fundraisers took issue with the ICO's stance on the law.

Bringans bumped into Elizabeth Denham, the Information Commissioner, in the ladies' toilets and took the opportunity to have a quick word with her. "I said that we wanted to get better, to learn how to do things right," she says. "I haven't seen a single fundraiser say 'we want to break the rules'. Everyone is saying they want to get better and they want to move on."

Bringans won't reveal Denham's response, but it is clear she wants the conversation to continue now she's IoF chair.

Last year, the IoF handed control of the Code of Fundraising Practice to the Fundraising Regulator as part of the shake-up of fundraising self-regulation. The move was not universally popular in the fundraising community, but Bringans says it will give the IoF more time to focus on rebuilding the reputation of fundraising.

One area in which she believes the IoF could improve is the level of support it provides to mid-level fundraisers. "There's stuff for directors and stuff for fundraising teams, but I know a lot of mid-level fundraisers who would love to get together in forums and discuss, learn and innovate," she says. "I would love to work with the IoF to facilitate more groups like that."

And, as only the second female chair in the IoF's 34-year history, she's also interested in the role of women in fundraising. "There are clearly a lot of women in fundraising, but we haven't got that many women right at the top," she says. "The numbers are increasing, but how can we nurture and grow that level of senior women to be able to take on chief executive roles?"

Her major concerns for the charity sector and fundraising in particular include the economy as we head towards Brexit and the higher level of consent required under the General Data Protection Regulation, which is due to come into force in May next year.

"I think it is absolutely essential that the sector gets under the skin of consent and the GDPR, talks about them and understands the implications," she says.

"This will be very difficult for fundraisers to solve on their own, so we need everyone in the sector to help and support us to do that. We need the lawyers, the chief executives and trustees on board: everyone has to buy into it. I think that, as chair of the IoF, I've got an important role to play."

Innovation will also be important in fundraising, Bringans says, adding that in times of trouble fundraisers are generally really good at coming up with new ideas. "I suspect that the pressure we have been under in the past couple of years or so will drive a resurgence of even better fundraising ideas."

WHAT BRINGANS NEEDS TO BRING

Ian MacQuillin, Director of fundraising, the think tank Rogare

This is a fascinating time to take the reins at the IoF. Having been relieved of responsibility for setting fundraising's professional standards by the Fundraising Regulator, the IoF is, as it were, no longer "in government" but is now in "opposition". The new chair has to make sure that fundraisers' expertise is taken into account in how fundraising is regulated. But fundraisers have said they want more public advocacy from their professional body.

So the trick for the new chair - if she can pull this off - is not only to stand up for fundraising, but also to be seen to stand up for fundraising, rather than trying to do it all behind closed doors, as the IoF has sometimes tried to do in the past.

Lynda Thomas, Chief executive and former director of fundraising, Macmillan Cancer Support

In an increasingly regulated and competitive sector, charities look to the IoF for advice and support for building a better fundraising environment. There is so much fantastic work going on throughout the sector and the IoF can help to facilitate shared learning and issue guidance on the areas we are all finding particularly challenging. We look forward to seeing the IoF's continued training offer for members as we look to equip our teams with the best skill sets for the future.

More specifically, I am sure that much of Amanda's focus will be on helping members to prepare for the impact of the GDPR, which is front of mind for many of us in the sector.

Dominic Will, Joint managing director, Home Fundraising, and a trustee of the IoF

The chair's role is not to be underestimated and requires understanding of the significant issues and opportunities facing fundraisers in the UK over the next few years: from the impact of the GDPR to the need to further develop standards and accreditations. The challenge as chair is to drive the appropriate strategy with balance by listening to a membership that represents the full spectrum of the fundraising industry. It will be essential to forge a strong working relationship with the executive team, plus the trustees, some of whom will also be new to their roles and will need to hit the ground running.

We're in an exciting period of development for the IoF, and Amanda brings a wealth of fundraising and leadership experience to her new role to support this.

Adeela Warley, Chief executive, CharityComms

Amanda's incredible track record in charity fundraising and communications will help to drive a truly supporter-centric approach. We need a strong champion to help charities find innovative ways to engage supporters in multiple ways that meet their needs and expectations. We also need to raise standards to the highest levels and increase transparency about how our money is spent.

Amanda will need resilience to support charities that are making change, and to overcome inertia in the face of uncertainty and, for some, a risk-averse culture. These are exciting times for charities that are prepared to think and act differently and to tell strong and compelling stories about their purpose.

Stephen Lee, Professor of voluntary sector management, Cass Business School

The IoF has been seen by many to be too eager to represent the interests of a coterie of large fundraising charities, to the exclusion and some detriment of the majority of its individual membership. This needs to be seen to be changed.

The IoF's reputation has taken a hammering in government and with other charity sector umbrella bodies. This can be addressed only through strong, impartial leadership that focuses on the interests of all individual and corporate members as we move forward, and not, as has too often been the case in the immediate past, on the interests of the few, many of whom subsequently turn out to be operating at the heart of improper practice.

< This article originally said that Bringans had chaired a small hospice but she in fact served as a trustee and chaired its fundraising committee. 

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