Last week’s announcement of Peter Lewis as the new chief executive of the Institute of Fundraising took some people by surprise.
Lewis is currently chief executive of London Voluntary Service Council, an infrastructure organisation.
He has held a range of other positions in the voluntary and public sectors, including executive director, business director and development manager, and has also been employed as a solicitor. But he has never worked as a fundraiser.
Stephen Pidgeon, an IoF trustee who was involved in the recruitment process, says one reason the institute did not choose a fundraiser was that there weren’t many of them among the 49 applicants.
But he says it’s wrong to think that only a fundraiser could do the top job at the IoF, and that Lewis’s qualities outweighed the superior fundraising experience of some other candidates.
Lewis, he says, has shown the ability to influence government, manage teams and understand membership organisations – key qualities for the role.
"We wanted someone with the broadest skills, and he shone like a beacon," says Pidgeon, who also chairs the marketing agency Tangible. "He understands the voluntary sector and is passionate about it. That’s enough, given his other skills."
So what approach will Lewis adopt in the job? He is declining to comment until he takes up the post in October. "I am still leading the team at LVSC for the next three months, and my attention is properly given there," he says.
Mark Astarita, chair of the IoF, also did not wish to discuss the appointment. He says people should "give the guy a break" and "get off his back" until he arrives at the IoF’s London headquarters.
Elizabeth Balgobin, Lewis’s predecessor as chief executive of LVSC and now the chair of Voice4Change England, describes him as a "well-connected campaigner" and a good motivator. "He can spot trends and has a well-developed social conscience," she says.
The appointment to such a senior post in the voluntary sector has generated particular interest in the light of the brief tenure of the institute’s previous chief executive, Amanda McLean. She left in March after only four months, saying she found the job "overwhelming" and that it left her little time to see her children.
McLean says the role did not suit her circumstances and she does not have any criticisms of the IoF, adding that she wishes Lewis success. Bruce Leeke has been acting chief executive since McLean’s departure – upon Lewis’s arrival, he will revert to his normal role of chief operating officer.
Rowena Lewis, a fellow of the Clore Social Leadership Programme, which was set up to improve the quality of leaders in the third sector, says it is short-sighted to think the chief executive of the IoF should be a fundraiser.
But she says the appointment highlights a deeper issue about how few fundraisers go on to become chief executives. Lewis says she studied a list of chief executives of the top 100 charities by income last year and discovered that not one of them came from a fundraising background. Most had been promoted from finance, policy and service provision departments.
"The sector is doing itself a disservice by not seeing the skills that fundraisers bring," says Lewis. "We should be asking ourselves what more the sector can do to help more fundraisers to become chief executives."