I remember my third board meeting as chief executive of JDRF. I'd had years of experience in fundraising and senior management in the sector, but this was my first chief executive role and I came into it with ambitious plans for growth.
I went into the meeting all fired up to put across a clear business case and persuade the board to invest significant amounts of money in fundraising. But I suddenly realised that I had to manage people's emotional responses as well as their business responses, because at the time the board were all parents of children with type 1 diabetes. It is a life-threatening condition and tremendously frightening for parents whose children have it. They keep their children alive by injecting them with insulin several times a day – and even with these injections type 1 can have serious immediate and long-term health consequences.
I was asking them to take money from research in the short term to invest in our mission in the long term. Logically it made sense, but of course our donors hope that the next penny is the one that finds the cure for their children. I realised that it was a huge leap of faith for our trustees and learnt that I must always link the business case back to the impact that it could have on our beneficiaries – their children. The empathy that I learnt in that meeting has continued to influence the way I work and ensure we always look for integrity with our beneficiaries and the cause.