Fundraiser of the Week: Les Heyhoe of the Sailors' Society

The community fundraiser at the seafarers support charity talks to Third Sector about professionalisation, ring-pulls and a day to celebrate fundraisers

Les Heyhoe
Les Heyhoe

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

My involvement over the past four decades in the voluntary fundraising and charity sector has seen vast changes, and in the majority of instances for the good of the sector, individuals and fundraisers.

It has transformed from a few people ora  group within the community getting together to support one another or a good cause to a more professionally organised, structured approach, with more focus on targets, objectives, and goals – something I feel wasn’t clearly present when I started.

What is your charity’s main income stream? What are the positive aspects of that and what are some of the challenges?

The Sailors’ Society is fortunate to receive support from the maritime industry and through people with long-standing connections to its work. But we can’t take this for granted. The industry has had its challenges with the global recession, so we’ve been diversifying in recent years. All of us, whether in the maritime industry or not, depend on seafarers because 90 per cent of everything we use comes by sea, so a key part of my job is to get people interested in the "invisible workforce" that brings us the things we rely on every day.

What advice would you give to a new fundraiser just starting out?

My first rule – as it has been for decades – is "make sure groups have fun and the raising will automatically follow". Be yourself and respect everyone’s contribution, whether that is monetary, financial, time, effort or energy, irrespective of how big or small it might be. 

What do you do to switch off from work?

I enjoy entering competitions and have scrapbooks recording all the things I’ve won, including two cars, holidays around the world, cameras and my height in crates of ale – I’m 5’3", so I wish I was a bit taller!

What’s your favourite book and why?

Perhaps somewhat appropriately considering I now work for a maritime charity, my favourite book is Moby Dick by Herman Melville. It demonstrates man’s ability to obsess and fixate, which is not always a good thing and can lead to one’s downfall, leaving me with the impression of being grateful to be alive.

What did you want to be when you grew up?

I remember watching the moon landing, which had a profound lasting effect on me, so my ambition was to be the UK’s first astronaut. The closest I got was building an Airfix Saturn V rocket kit.

How did you get into fundraising?

When I was 16, my local Lions Club in Norfolk approached me while I was on leave from the Royal Navy, asking me to collect ring-pulls from drink cans. In those days, ring-pulls were made from aluminium and had a high scrap value. The thanks I got gave me a really warm feeling, something that has continued throughout my fundraising career.

In my fledgling fundraising years my catchphrase was "Give Les a ring". By the time I was 18 I had received millions of rings from around the world and collected £1.2m for worthy causes.

Would you like to see more done to support fundraisers? If so, what?

In the UK and around the world people are recognised through things such as volunteer days and weeks, but global recognition – such as World Fundraisers Day – would be a fantastic way of thanking people.

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