Career ladder: Emma McGuigan of Autistica

The trust fundraising manager at the autism research charity talks about her career so far

Emma McGuigan
Emma McGuigan

When Emma McGuigan broke her leg, it marked the end of one career – and the start of another. She had worked as a dance and drama teacher for the charity Ladders Young Performers and Writers Club, helping children with special educational needs in east London and Essex. The injury left her unable to carry on this role – but the charity asked her to do some administration work instead, and this led to a fundraising job.

That was seven years ago, and since then she has worked in fundraising  for a number of charities, culminating in her current role as trust fundraising manager at the autism research charity Autistica.

"I had never considered fundraising as a career," she says. "It’s not something that is promoted in schools. But I found that I enjoyed that aspect – I might not deliver front-line services but I can help behind the scenes."

After working for Ladders, McGuigan joined the disability charity Livability as trust and statutory fundraiser, working her way up to trust and statutory manager in three years. She then worked for a year and a half as institutional relations manager – essentially a similar role – for Fight For Peace, a charity that uses boxing and martial arts to mentor young people at risk of getting involved in crime.

Now at Autistica, her role is to create strategies to bring in money – including finding grant-making trusts and building good relationships with companies and individual donors.

"I think fundraising suits me well because I like contact, meeting people and I enjoy the creative side," she says. "It’s satisfying to translate ideas into a written document, as a proposal or application."

She chose to work for Autistica partly because of a personal interest in the subject. "I decided that I wanted to return to a disability charity, partly because my sister has a rare genetic disorder, so it’s a subject I really care about," she says. "And some of the kids I worked with at Fight For Peace were autistic, so I had some experience of the subject."

She has worked in the charity sector for seven years. "Things have certainly changed in that time: for example, fundraising is harder," she says. "But my charity is professional and creative – and I like the idea of getting up in the morning to make a difference. My friends say that I’m the only one who wants to go to work on Monday."

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