At Work: Fundraising - Personal account - Simon Bernstein

The founder of Bernstein Associates on scary campaigners and gut feeling.

The best advice I've had

It didn't begin with the words "can I give you some advice?" but came from the behaviour of my boss at NSPCC in the early 1990s, Giles Pegram, who would pad around the office minus his shoes. He would always challenge the status quo, get straight to the most fundamental questions and look at issues from unexpected angles. Challenging people's assumptions and finding ways of doing things in a constructive way is a skill that has served me well ever since.

The biggest challenge I've faced

It was joining Friends of the Earth as director of communications and fundraising. I'd just finished a full-time MBA with a bunch of thrusting young capitalists and landed in this alien world full of scary PhDs and campaigners who would lecture my team about the ills of the planet, then demand that weighty tomes be published in their names. I'd also gone from managing a team of five people to a department of 35. I stuck it out, learnt masses from some brilliant, highly committed people and helped win some incredible campaign victories.

My greatest hit

The changes I helped to bring about at Friends of the Earth during my five years there. By the time I left we had doubled the income, transformed the culture, introduced a more marketing-led approach and successfully launched a new brand positioning and international visual identity.

My worst moment

The horror of finding out that the new marketing director of a charity client had ignored the fundraising budget I'd submitted at his request and put in his own figures, despite having no experience of fundraising. The finance director asked me if the budget she'd seen was mine and I had to admit it wasn't. It ended up with an excruciating meeting in which the marketing director tried to cover his tracks. I had to resubmit the budget from memory in two hours for a trustees meeting that day.

My top tip

Never underestimate the power of good market research to support your case and show people in your charity things that will guide what they're doing. Although the sector has got much better at using market research over the years I've been involved, there's still a tendency to think of it as a luxury. On the other hand, sometimes a bit of inspiration based on gut feeling can go a long way.

- Interview by Annie Kelly.

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