NEWSMAKER: No mountain too high - Jennie Meadows, Director of fundraising and communications, Sight Savers


Jennie Meadows, director of fundraising and communications at Sight Savers International, could fit the bill of mother superior at the charity's ex-convent headquarters - apart from the fact that she's six months pregnant.

Based in Haywards Heath in Sussex, the 40-year-old director is the driving force behind a team of 50, all of whom, says Meadows, have played a significant part in increasing the charity's income by 20 per cent for a third consecutive year to £16.5 million.

"We have tremendously loyal staff,

she says. "Some have been here for 20 years and still get excited when they open cheques - whether it's for £2 or £3 or a huge amount."

Meadows is responsible for all the charity's voluntary fundraising activity, which accounted for £15.5 million of turnover last year.

The "soon-to-be

mum, who goes on six-month maternity leave in November, has the task of running five departments: direct marketing, fundraising development, community fundraising, communications and income processing.

Meadows believes that communications and fundraising practices should sit together. "There's a big debate in the sector about combining marketing and fundraising functions. There's never a perfect way of doing it but it works for us here,

she says.

Sight Savers began reviewing its marketing programme before Meadows joined the charity nearly three and a half years ago. At her interview, Richard Porter, executive director at the charity, played devil's advocate, asking her if Sight Savers was a tired proposition.

Meadows replied that the marketing materials were a bit old-fashioned but the appeal had the potential to attract a broad section of people.

She bagged the job, joining the charity from Save the Children, where she had spent eight years and risen to head of media and campaigns. While at the charity, she set up the campaigns unit, which lobbies for children's rights.

Her experience from Save the Children has helped her to update the Sight Savers offering. "Our message is clear,

she says. "So little can achieve so much. There's a 'wow' factor about what we do. To be able to restore someone's sight for £15 is remarkable, or indeed preventing a child from going blind for 50p a year by supplying them with the drug they need.

It's just jaw dropping because it's tiny amounts of money required and people are so moved by that."

Sight Savers has three main diseases that it wants to eradicate: Trachoma, a severe eye disorder caused by poor health; river blindness, which is spread by flies; and cataracts. All of these deeply concern Meadows.

These diseases are reflected in the use of three DRTV ads, with a new one on the way shortly. "We have to buy airtime very cleverly in order for it to work,

says Meadows. "We aim for a return on investment of at least £1 for every £1 we spend."

Around £10 million of the charity's turnover last year was raised through direct marketing activity and targeting individual donors. Approximately £3.5 million came from legacies, with the remainder generated from trusts, companies, community groups and government sources.

"Legacy donations account for nearly 25 per cent of our income, but we're not so dependent on it to be vulnerable,

says Meadows. "You really have to invest in marketing legacies - it does take a while but we're broadly keeping it up. It's a difficult area to predict."

Meadows anticipates 100 per cent growth from her fundraising development team, which includes corporate fundraising, private appeals and money from trusts. The department raised £1 million last year.

One way in which Meadows hopes to double income is through the recently launched private appeal, which aims to raise £1 million by next year through wealthy connections of board members including John Major, who is honorary president of the charity.

However, Meadows expects little movement in the corporate fundraising figures for this year, which amounted to £500,000 last year. This is an area that she is looking to improve through investment. "As we're a niche organisation working solely overseas, it's not easy to raise money from this sector."

According to Meadows, the combination of fundraising activity is beginning to acquire a younger audience in their thirties and forties, rather than its traditional core audience of people aged over 60.

Another important part of Meadows' role is revising the department's fundraising forecasts every three months. She has to keep the charity's programmes department posted on what they can spend in the 25 countries that Sight Savers operates in including India, Kenya and Ghana, where medical provisions are poor.

Meadows is so determined to combat "needless blindness

in developing countries that she plans to climb three mountains next year to raise funds including Snowdonia, taking her first-born with her. She has already scaled Ben Nevis when she was three months into her pregnancy. "I wanted to shout: 'I'm 40 and I'm pregnant and I'm at the top of the highest mountain in Britain'."

It would seem that there's no mountain high enough to stop this director.

She has set her team a target of £18.5 million this year, which they're on track to achieve, says Meadows. "It's a good position to be in and long may it last."


Have you registered with us yet?

Register now to enjoy more articles and free email bulletins

Already registered?
Sign in

Before commenting please read our rules for commenting on articles.

If you see a comment you find offensive, you can flag it as inappropriate. In the top right-hand corner of an individual comment, you will see 'flag as inappropriate'. Clicking this prompts us to review the comment. For further information see our rules for commenting on articles.

comments powered by Disqus