Barnardo's scales up ambitions with appointment of Louise Parkes

The charity has appointed her as its first dedicated director of fundraising since March 2015, writes Susannah Birkwood

Louise Parkes
Louise Parkes

When Louise Parkes announced last October that she was leaving the British Heart Foundation after serving as the charity's director of fundraising since 2012, she described it as a difficult decision. "The BHF is such an incredible organisation," she said at the time. "It has been an absolute privilege to work with so many talented and inspirational colleagues."

She might also have felt a hint of trepidation at leaving a charity whose voluntary income has grown steadily over the past four years - from £94m in 2011 to £114m in 2015 - to join Barnardo's, whose income from fundraising and legacies has stagnated, falling from £44m to £41m over the same period.

In March, Barnardo's trustees approved a new 10-year corporate strategy that emphasises the importance of scaling up its investment in fundraising. They want to bring it more in line with the charity's other forms of income generation, for which Parkes will also be responsible: statutory funding, which grew by 9 per cent to £171m between 2011 and 2015, and retail, which grew by 46 per cent to £57m.

Parkes, who is the charity's first dedicated director of fundraising since Diana Tickell left in March 2015, will be expected to set Barnardo's on course to double its net voluntary income by 2025. This means a jump from £23m to £50m. "Statutory funding is increasingly competitive and we want to redress the balance slightly between that and voluntary income," she says.

Parkes is preparing to launch a capital appeal to mark the charity's 150th anniversary this year. She aims to raise £1m to build a residential project in south London for adults who spent time in care as children - an approach she says Barnardo's could repeat if the project proves successful.

She also plans to open at least 60 new shops between now and April 2017 - building on the network of 700 shops the charity currently runs - and increase its presence on online retail sites such as eBay.

Another priority is to address the shortage of community fundraising initiatives at Barnardo's. "I'm huge believer in community fundraising," says Parkes. "It feeds in to all the other areas of income generation and that strong local presence on the ground is really important."

But the charity currently has no equivalent to Cancer Research UK's Dryathlon event or Macmillan's Coffee Morning, whereby supporters can host their own events on the charity's behalf. "We don't even have quiz packs, so we probably need to develop a portfolio of products to support people," she says.

The Big Toddle

The charity does hold an annual mass participation event - the Big Toddle, a sponsored walk for children under the age of five - which has been running since 1997. Yet this raised about £700,000 in 2015, a tiny fraction of the charity's overall income of £300m - and a far cry from the £2.1m the charity aimed to raise from the event in 2007.

Parkes says she wants to grow the event, but in recent months Barnardo's has faced an obstacle. Changes to the Information Commissioner's guidance on the Telephone Preference Service, announced last August, mean the charity no longer feels it can call previous Toddle participants who have registered with the TPS. The ICO announced last August that charities could be subject to enforcement action if they called donors who were signed up to the TPS - even if they had been donors to a charity for some time before doing so.

Luckily, Barnardo's does not have a large telephone fundraising programme, Parkes says, so the financial impact of the new guidance on the charity has been minimal.

But the impending introduction of a Fundraising Preference Service, which would enable members of the public to stop receiving all fundraising communications from charities, could be more harmful, she fears. "Charities genuinely believe it will have a significant financial impact on them, so it's about being aware of the unintended consequences of bringing it in," she says. One of these could be a reduction in the amount of communication charities have with their beneficiaries or volunteers for fear that these could be perceived as an attempt to fundraise.

The opt-in option

Both Barnardo's and the BHF were part of a coalition of large charities that last December wrote to the Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee calling for the postponement of plans to encourage charities to bring in opt-in-only systems for their fundraising communications. This came in response to Sir Stuart Etherington's review of fundraising self-regulation, which recommended in September that all fundraising organisations should make a public commitment to adopt such a system.

Parkes recently decided to bring in an opt-in-only policy at Barnardo's, although this will apply only to new donors who sign up to give by direct debit. "If we were to move to an immediate opt-in across the board, there would be a significant cost," she says. This, she says, would come from the staff time associated with checking the communication preferences of thousands of donors across multiple channels.

Another expense Barnardo's will need to shoulder soon is its £15,000 contribution towards the start-up costs of the new fundraising regulator, which is due to be launched in the early summer. Parkes says the charity has agreed to pay this in principle, although she says she would not accept payment for holding a board position - unlike the regulator's board members, who will be paid £300 a day.

Overall, she is positive about the new body. "We welcome the set-up of a regulator - we endorse increased transparency in the sector, so we're happy to play our part in making that happen."

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