Julian Sayers, Royal Agricultural Benevolent Institution

The charity's chair has been on the fundraising circuit, he tells Kaye Wiggins

Six months into his first term as chair of the Royal Agricultural Benevolent Institution, which supports members of the farming community who face need, hardship or distress, Julian Sayers is discovering that his new job has taken over his social life.

"On five consecutive weekends this summer I visited Truro, Pembrokeshire, Gloucester, Carlisle and Ripon to attend fundraising events Rabi was holding," he says. "I've also visited the two nursing homes that the charity runs and I'm trying to meet as many members of our 53 county committees as I can. It's important that I'm seen to be supporting the charity's fundraising work.

"I suppose my work did take over my summer social life. But it was great fun because the events were very well run."

According to Sayers, who works full-time as a chartered surveyor, visiting local fundraising activities is particularly important because about 40 per cent of the charity's annual income, approximately £900,000 each year, is made up of donations from its network of county committees.

He says he plays a hands-on role in the charity and works closely with its senior staff. "I report back to the chief executive on everything I do," he says. "We meet on a regular basis and we're in touch two or three times a week."

He was particularly busy this summer, when the charity marked its 150th anniversary. It's been a time to reflect on how it faced and overcame past difficulties, such as the 2001 foot-and-mouth crisis.

"When foot-and-mouth struck, it was a very dramatic time," he says. "In a normal year, we pay out about £2m to our beneficiaries, most of whom are farmers and their families who have hit difficult times. That year, we paid out £9m, some of which was from the government."

Sayers says the charity has enjoyed looking back on its history this year, but he wants it to start thinking about the future. "We may still be looking after the same group of people we looked after 150 years ago, but the world is constantly changing," he says.

One of his new ideas is to work more closely with other charities. "We have done some joint fundraising with Wales Air Ambulance, and also with Marie Curie Cancer Care in south-west England," he says. "We'd like to expand this. We'd also like to attract corporate sponsorship, although that is difficult at the moment. Businesses are struggling, so it isn't easy to persuade them to give money away."

About half of the charity's income comes from investments and assets that have been donated: the value of these has fallen since the recession began, says Sayers. "Although much of our fundraising income has held up, the board has had to make some difficult decisions," he says.

"We had to stop running trips for our long-term beneficiaries, who are farmers with illnesses or disabilities, because it was too costly."


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