NEWSMAKER: Fundraising maestro - Simon Burne, Director of external affairs, NCH

Emma Maier

Simon Burne has always been a risk taker. At 22 he had already decided to abandon the security of his job as a buyer for Sainsbury's in favour of something a little more adventurous. "I have always had a deep suspicion of career paths - they just mean that you miss out on all the exciting and unexpected stuff," he says.

Instead he joined a VSO programme, and before long he was winging his way to Papua New Guinea to advise villagers on how to run their own businesses.

It was there that he got his first taste of fundraising. "I arrived expecting to run a project, but there was no money, so before I started on anything I had to get some cash together," says Burne.

The pattern re-emerged a few years later when he joined a development organisation. "When I arrived at Panos, there was only three days of funds in the bank, and again I had to start finding money pretty fast," he recalls.

"All of this taught me two things. First, good fundraisers are essential because no matter how good the rest of the organisation is, it won't work without money; and second, I discovered I was quite good at it - and I enjoyed it too."

Since then, Burne has been able to amass an impressive track record.

He doubled Panos' income to £1.7m in two years, and then doubled the project income for Relate National Marriage Guidance. His propensity for risk-taking remained evident during his time at the Children's Society, where he took a punt on a fledgling technique called face-to-face fundraising.

"Working with Caring Together, we ran a test and recruited about 100 new donors," he recalls. "Six months later, it had snowballed and we were getting 6,000 a month. It was scary because we had to ask the trustees for an extra £2.5m to plough in without being sure how stable it would be. But we stuck with it and it really paid off."

But working at NCH has provided Burne with an altogether new sort of challenge. When he joined the charity last May, charged with running fundraising and communications, he was tasked with making a "quantum leap" in voluntary income and getting NCH on the public's radar, all without any significant increase in budget.

But he has risen to the challenge with elan. The past few months have seen a significant increase in the organisation's campaigning work, especially around issues of child safety and the internet. This has served not only to promote public awareness of an important issue, but also to increase awareness of the NCH brand. The theory is that bolstering the charity's profile will impact positively on fundraising, eventually creating a virtuous circle.

The charity has also just been selected as the first charity partner of the Nectar reward card, and with two-thirds of UK households signed up to the scheme, the partnership is a significant opportunity.

"There were a number of organisational blocks to clear when I started, but now I am more confident than ever before about the opportunities open to us," says Burne. "For example, there was a real unwillingness to really stand up and be counted - people were very coy about saying 'this is what we will go to the barricades for'. That has really changed, especially with the work we have done on internet safety. Now I am looking forward to developing as strong a voice in other areas."

The media coverage that the internet safety campaign achieved has been valued at £1m - no small feat given that it was achieved on a budget of £10,000. But Burne is determined to make his budget work harder still.

"My motto is 'simpler, better, cheaper', which I nicked from Tesco actually, but it does the job nicely," he says. "It is only right that we should make the most of our budget before we think about increasing it. I am not a fan of chucking money around for no reason - there's no point in doubling your gross income by tripling the amount you spend on generating it."

And, of course, Burne is always on the lookout for "the next big thing" in fundraising - no bad thing given that he is chair of the Institute of Fundraising. He admits that the growing use of face-to-face means that its success is reaching a plateau, but believes that fundraising is cyclical.

So, just as face-to-face was the new direct mail, there will soon be a new method to adopt the mantle.

"What will it be? I haven't a bloody clue," he admits. "If you want to know the next big thing, don't ask fundraisers. After all, face-to-face came from Glastonbury, door-to-door came from direct sales, and challenge events came from tour companies. As a fundraiser, my skill is being good at jumping on the bandwagon - seeing the potential of something and being able to innovate."

With the continuing furore over face-to-face and the nascent plans for self-regulation, these are interesting times for fundraisers. If he subscribed to career paths, Burne would have no imminent plans to alter his. "In the next 20 years, I see the balance of activities I am involved in changing, perhaps giving me more time to dabble in others bits and pieces," he says.

And Burne's interests certainly offer limitless potential for him to stray from his career path. He still has dreams that his band, Dementia, which plays "Elvis to the Strokes and everything in between", might be spotted by a passing A&R man. Failing that, he would be content with devoting more time to garden design, or perhaps opening a restaurant. There are no guarantees, but rumour has it that Dementia does a mean cover of Wild Thing...


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