Saxton's year - Here's looking at you, Joe

Joe Saxton will stand down as chair of the Institute of Fundraising next year. John Plummer spoke to him about his record and his hopes for the future of the sector.

As chair of the Institute of Fundraising for the past two years, Joe Saxton has witnessed at close hand many of the profession's most significant recent changes.

In his view, the launch of the Fundraising Standards Board has been the main event of the past 12 months. Saxton says: "It's been a huge development. It's going to provide the public and donors with an increasing degree of reassurance about how their money is spent and how fundraising works."

Looking ahead, he thinks Gift Aid and professional development will be the most important issues for fundraisers over the next year.

Gift Aid has shot to the top of the agenda in the wake of the Treasury's decision to review the scheme. This followed the 2p cut in the basic rate of tax announced in the Budget, which could cost charities £70m a year.

Saxton talks about "Gift Aid mark two", which underlines how fundamental the review of the rebate scheme could be. "We need to find the best ideas to make it easier to claim Gift Aid back and to make it less bureaucratic, particularly for small to medium-sized organisations," he says.

Simon Burne, the institute's previous chair, identified professional development as a key issue when he handed the reins to Saxton.

Saxton claims progress has been made since then, but his aim is to see fundraisers taking degrees and regularly attending courses. "We need to make sure people don't become fundraisers and claim to be competent because of what they did 10 years ago," he says.

Saxton's own fundraising career began at Oxfam in the 80s. Since then, he has worked at direct marketing agency Brann and as director of communications at the RNID. In 2000 he founded not-for-profit research company nfpSynergy, where he is today employed as driver of ideas.

The publication of survey results may pay his wages, but fundraising remains a passion. Saxton's role entails chairing board meetings, attending regional and special interest groups and monthly get-togethers with Lindsay Boswell, chief executive of the institute, whose appraisal Saxton writes. He estimates his time as chair, for which he is unpaid, amounts to one or two days a month.

He describes the chair's role as "part manager, part ambassador, part chairing meetings and listening". It's a strange job because of the ebb and flow of work. Saxton can attend a flurry of meetings, then none for weeks. "I'm not based in the institute's office and my involvement is staccato," he says. "It's a bit like driving a car and finding out which levers get a response. It's a very hands-off management role." Being chair, he adds, is "about thinking of the big things we ought to be concentrating on".

The most frustrating aspect of the job, he says, is accepting that it's impossible to do everything. "The secret of being a chair is working out what are the things that you think are important and focusing on them," he says. "It's easy to have so many things going on that none are moving forward."

What is most rewarding is seeing new ideas come to fruition. "One of the things we do best at the institute is incubate ideas, such as the Fundraising Standards Board, and let them develop their own paths," he says.

The FSB's path has been far from trouble-free. Its launch was delayed, and last month it had to change its logo after complaints from the Federation of Small Businesses about its use of the initials FSB.

Saxton, however, prefers to look on the bright side. "We have to keep an eye on the long-term picture," he says. "Fundraisers are leading the way by saying 'how we do our job has a big impact on how the public sees us'. We are taking this seriously, and I'd like to see other parts of the sector doing the same."

Institute membership has risen by 12 per cent over the past year. There are now 4,500 individual members and 250 affiliated organisations, which suggests Saxton's tenure has been a success. However, it will end soon. He's been a trustee at the institute for five years. Six years is the maximum, so he will have to step down in a year.

How would he like his time to be remembered? "What I want to be most proud of is getting Gift Aid raising more money and having a professional development arrangement so people in fundraising have a breadth of certificates, diplomas and degrees that matches their needs," he says.

Is he confident of winning ministers' hearts and minds on Gift Aid? His less than bullish answer is: "I'm confident the Government is interested in listening and that the institute has the ear of the people whose views matter most."

Whatever happens, he will follow the fortunes of the profession after his chairmanship ends. "I've always found fundraisers to be far-sighted people," he says. "There is a fantastic amount of energy and excitement about the fundraising community."

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