Interview: Amanda McLean

New chief executive says she's arrived at the Institute of Fundraising at an exciting time

Amanda McLean
Amanda McLean

Amanda McLean took over what is probably the most influential job in UK fundraising four months ago, with the sector facing more challenges and turbulence than it has for decades.

Since her appointment as chief executive of the Institute of Fundraising, statutory funding cuts have hit charities virtually every week, the government's Giving Green Paper has been launched and the big society agenda has rumbled on: it's been a very busy time for fundraising.

"I feel like I've been here a lot longer than four months," McLean says. "But I have come in at a very exciting time."

She says the latest pressures on charities often mean that fundraisers are suddenly required to raise their game. "It can be quite daunting if you're in an organisation where voluntary fundraising has maybe just been a small part of what happens and all of a sudden people want you to provide the majority of the organisation's income," she says.

She criticises the speed of some of the funding cuts, saying charities are often being expected to change their income streams too quickly. "You can't just turn off the statutory tap and expect the voluntary tap to turn on the next day with no time lapse," she says.

Transition period

McLean thinks this period of transition is going to be challenging on a number of levels, and argues that there could be a "short-term clash" between big society policy and the localism agenda.

On the one hand, the government wants to give local authorities more responsibility over their spending, she says. But on the other, many local authorities will not make spending decisions that align with the principles of the big society. "The opportunity for unintended consequences over the next six months is great," she says.

Where particularly harsh funding cuts are made, McLean says, the charities that will find it hardest to survive are those without a sufficient cushion of funds to help them through the transition period. "The next two years will be tough," she says. "I think there will be more collaboration and mergers."

McLean already has personal experience of this. Prostate UK, the charity she headed before her appointment at the Institute of Fundraising, recently merged with the Prostate Cancer Research Foundation to form Prostate Action.

"The merger was one of the reasons I decided to move forward," she says. "In many ways, we were ahead of the game."

She says there will be no need for organisational changes at the institute, despite the fact that the government has decided to phase out its strategic partners programme by 2014. In 2010/11, it has received £269,300 from that particular statutory source.

Funding options

McLean confirms that the institute has submitted an application for funding from the programme for next year, but says plans have been in place for a while to do without it if necessary.

"Obviously, if you lose money like that, in one sense it has an impact," she says. "But we'd been planning for that to go at the end of this financial year for a long time anyway. So all the plans we had, including the growth plans, were made on the basis that that funding would not be forthcoming."

The institute has just produced its response to the Giving Green Paper, which sets out how the government hopes to make the UK a more generous society. McLean says the paper is of particular importance to fundraisers, which is why the institute consulted widely with its members to guide its response.

The institute is clear that the sector should be positive about the proposals. But it cautions that many charities are struggling for survival, says the government should support more research into people's motivations for giving and criticises the paper for being silent about tax incentives.

McLean says it will also be important to ensure the government is considering all types of charities. For example, one idea in the paper is that the public could be given more opportunities to give to charities through cashpoints. But McLean says this method would be unlikely to benefit local charities.

And what about street fundraising, now so commonly referred to as chugging? Does McLean have any concerns for the sector's wider reputation, given the public opposition that seems to have been building up?

"It's not something that worries me hugely," she says. "Most organisations that do it do it in a responsible manner. Where they don't, I don't have much time for that."

CV

2010: Chief executive, Institute of Fundraising
2008: Chief executive, Prostate UK
2006: Director of fundraising and communications, DebRA UK
2004: Consultant, Windsor Leadership Trust
1998: Executive assistant to the dean, London Business School
1995: Founding administrator, Windsor Leadership Trust

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