Fundraiser of the Week: Deborah McCahon of Woodcraft Folk

The director of development and joint chief executive of the youth charity talks to Third Sector about impact monitoring, Brexit and making dreams into reality

Deborah McCahon
Deborah McCahon

What is the best thing about your role?

Making people's ideas a reality. All the best funding projects start with consultation based on need, wishes or dreams. Going through the process of consultation, developing, designing and project planning can help to focus the mind on what works, what is needed and how best to improve the experiences of others (young people in my case).

In my career I have often had the pleasure of co-creating projects with young people and, once funding has been confirmed, overseeing the delivery and development of their ideas. On reflection, young volunteers have often fed back that they never thought it would happen or they were surprised that someone listened to them, took them seriously and gave them an opportunity to test their ideas.

Do you think fundraising has changed since you have been involved with it, and how?

Very much so. I wrote my first funding application in 1995. Since then grant and trust fundraising has become more focused on evidence of need and impact. As a fundraiser and project manager, I was lucky enough to live through a golden age of full cost recovery, but I am now experiencing increased competition for funds and a need for more robust monitoring and evaluation. At times it feels that some funders have lost perspective of what is proportional. Most recently, at Woodcraft Folk I have seen funders require grantees to commit to external evaluation and monitoring programmes. This can help, but sometimes the one-size-fits-all approach doesn't support organisations to learn lessons about their own delivery.

If you could have any superpower, what would it be?

A magic wand to bring peace, understanding and cooperation to our communities. Woodcraft Folk has a strong history of creating cooperative solutions, international understanding and inspiring young people to take action to improve the world around them. Today, the need for organisations such as Woodcraft Folk is even stronger: we need to build positive relationships and resilience, help young people to develop critical thinking skills and give them the skills and confidence to bring about social change.

What do you think is the biggest challenge for the sector in the year ahead?

Brexit and the fear of Brexit. Much time, energy and passion is being distracted from meeting the needs of our beneficiaries by planning for Brexit. Our funders, support bodies and partner organisations, through anxiety and uncertainty, are making limited progress on planning for the future as they try to second-guess the impact of Brexit.

What advice would you give to organisations applying for grants?

My advice would be to stay true to yourself and your organisation. If your project is based on need, created in partnership with your beneficiaries and has an infrastructure to support it, it will get funded. Do not try to deliver what you think a funder is looking for, but stick to delivering activities that meet the needs of your beneficiaries.

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