Interview: Peter Lewis

The new chief executive of the Institute of Fundraising tells Sophie Hudson he is working on a new strategy

Peter Lewis
Peter Lewis

Peter Lewis was something of a surprise appointment as the new chief executive of the Institute of Fundraising: he has never been a fundraiser and his previous job was leading the London Voluntary Service Council.

But he doesn't see this as a problem. "I'm a proven, successful chief executive," he says. "I've run two membership organisations and I left them in a far healthier state than when I joined. They're delivering to their members and representing their members well."

He says he has a lot to learn and went on an awayday with the institute's board before he began the job two weeks ago. This gave him some useful insights and a good steer on the future direction being proposed for the institute. The current strategy, he admits, is two or three years out of date.

"We're going to work on a strategic direction as a staff team and then ask members and the sector for their views either later this year or early next year, just to get proper feedback about where we should be going over the next five years," he says.

"Many membership organisations can sometimes get too introverted. One of the things I think the institute needs to do is to state clearer positions on issues. In some cases, that might mean 'we think X' - in other cases, it might be 'this group of our members thinks X and this group of our members thinks Y'."

The institute was without a chief executive for seven months and some in the sector feel the voice of fundraisers is not being heard at the moment. Last week, for example, Joe Saxton, co-founder of the research consultancy nfpSynergy, told delegates at the institute's own conference, Legacy Fundraising 2011, that "philanthropists have the ear of government; put crudely, fundraisers don't".

Lewis's response is that he has already had a meeting with the Office for Civil Society and he expects the institute to have a very productive relationship with the government under his watch, particularly in light of the fact that it is a strategic partner of the OCS.

He wants other strategic partners, such as the National Council for Voluntary Organisations, Acevo and Locality, to promote the institute's codes of best fundraising practice to their members.

"The government's got a point when it says that we need to collaborate more," he says. "If we are the experts in fundraising, it absolutely makes sense that the other strategic partners should promote what we do to their members."

This is all part of Lewis's plan for the institute to be perceived as the best possible membership and training organisation in the country.

"That means a lot of things," he says. "It means being good at representing your members and meeting their needs, always being ahead of the curve, helping to generate ideas for your members and sharing best practice. There are many things underneath that aspiration, but that's where I want the Institute of Fundraising to be."

Another part of this process will be the creation of an online portal of fundraising research for the institute's website. "Looking at it from the outside - and you must remember it's very early days in the job for me - I think there is a lack of research around the fundraising agenda," says Lewis.

To improve things, he says, the institute will embark on a four-stage process. First, it will find out what research exists. Second, it will collate that research: it has already asked academic institutions and big charities for permission to allow it to have their data on its website.

Third, says Lewis, the institute will identify gaps in the research. And finally, it will need to work out how to get the money to do the work that will fill those gaps.

"There are other key pieces of research to be brought in and there are clear gaps in our understanding of giving and how to widen it," he says. "I think the institute should be leading on the agenda of how we increase giving."

Lewis says the portal should be brought together by the end of the current financial year, and that it will be part of the institute's new website, which is due to be launched in January. Many details of this wider project are under wraps, but the general idea is that members will have access to more personalised content.

CV:

2008: Chief Executive, London Voluntary Service Council
2004: Business manager, Olympics, sports and regeneration, Mayor of
London's Office, Greater London Authority
2003: Borough liaison manager, GLA
1999: Executive director, London Cycling Campaign
1997: Programme development manager, Crisis
1991: Solicitor.

Topics:
Fundraising

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