Fundraiser of the Week: Emma Malcolm of the Macular Society

The director of fundraising and marketing on the challenges of raising money for a condition few know much about

Emma Malcolm
Emma Malcolm

How long have you been in your role? I started working for the Macular Society in February 2018. The director role was created as part of an organisational-wide change programme with Alan Clayton Associates to significantly grow income. Our aim is to grow income over the next five years to about £12m so we can spend significantly more money on macular research.

What is the most challenging aspect of your role? The biggest challenge is that no one knows what the macular is, never mind macular disease and the devastating impact it has on people’s lives.

It is the biggest cause of sight loss in the UK. It affects more people than Alzheimer’s, but awareness and research into the condition does not come anywhere close. We are constantly educating people on the impact of macular disease, both on the individual and on society, and it is a huge barrier when it comes to fundraising.

Do you think fundraising has changed since you have been involved with it, and how? Yes, and for the better. I am probably one of the few who think that all the changes with the General Data Protection Regulation that have happened since the Olive Cooke case were much needed. Too many fundraisers were tasked with increasing income, whatever the consequences. As it was, these consequences were huge. We should always have been putting relationships with our donors at our hearts, but we didn’t and it was catastrophic. We (the charities) need to remember that we are their charity and they are not our donor.

What advice would you give to a new fundraiser just starting out? There’s so much advice to give someone starting out as a fundraiser, but the main thing is to talk to your peers and learn from them. Something I also encourage a lot of my staff to do is to speak to their equivalents at other charities and learn from them. The best thing about working in the third sector is that everyone is happy to share and learn from each other.

And always remember that you are doing one of the best jobs in the world.

What advice would you give to organisations applying for grants? Have a fantastic case for support and have a real understanding of the difference that someone’s gift will make. This understanding can come only from speaking to the people you are supporting. At the Macular Society we encourage all staff to speak to our members and visit our peer-support groups. The only way you can learn about the impact of a condition is by speaking to someone who lives with it.

What reaction do you get from people when you tell them you’re a fundraiser? Fear. Then admiration!

What do you do to switch off from work? Parkrun – I love it, and it has loads to teach fundraisers.

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