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An Interview with Richard Lee: Fundraising and Communications Director at Shelter Box

Posted on 2/11/2017 by

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In the first part of our Fundraising & Development interview series, we sat down with Richard Lee, Director of Fundraising and Communications at ShelterBox. In this interview, Richard shares his insight into the sector and discusses his thoughts on the future of fundraising.


1. What is it that you do?

I am the Fundraising and Communications Director for ShelterBox. My role involves increasing income from £6 million to £40 million through driving awareness of the ShelterBox brand to key audiences who we believe will help us raise more funds and reach more people.


2. What did you want to do when you were ten years old?

If I’m honest, a myriad of different things! I’d gone beyond footballer which was my choice at about seven years old, because I think I just knew, even at that early age, that it wouldn’t be where I ended up in life. At ten it was probably my veterinary / doctor phase or my lawyer phase, because my grandad was a vet and my mother was a nurse in an operating theatre so I guess I was inspired by them. I knew that I wanted to do something that would help somebody, but as I got older I realised science wasn’t my strength!


3. How did you get into your current role?

When I worked for Oxfam, I spent a disproportionate amount of time noticing ShelterBox. Obviously, Oxfam is a very large brand, and ShelterBox, on the other hand, was a smaller brand that was really resonating with groups of supporters - I was really drawn in by this. So when I came about looking for a new position and I realised ShelterBox had an opening, I just knew I had to go for it. The potential for ShelterBox and what it could achieve was just incredible. ShelterBox is based in Cornwall and I am from Devon - so I have a South West bias. I also have a real passion for international development and supporting the most vulnerable, so it made sense.


4. How did you come into contact with TPP?

I’ve known about TPP for years, they’ve always been there since I began looking for roles in the charity sector.


5. Did they help your search in any way?

Absolutely! They’re one of the agencies you can go to and have those conversations about what candidates you’re looking for in terms of recruitment, but also when you’re looking for your next role. They’re very human and will always be realistic and pragmatic with you.


6. What made you decide to work for ShelterBox?

There are two main factors. One is it’s an incredible cause; ShelterBox reaches people who are the most vulnerable, at their most vulnerable time and they’re there to support them. Also, I could see real potential for what the organisation could achieve. It had a real ambition to grow, driven by the projections around the huge increase in the number of displaced that may have been a project in the future. I could see that pathway to how it could reach those goals. So it marries up as an opportunity to be a part of something, with huge potential with a cause that is important, that genuinely needs to grow.

On that note, we have almost doubled income in two years and it’s important that translates into reaching more people. We’re still on the first steps of an exciting journey. So far so good.


7. What makes them a good employer?

A real shared ownership of the mission. We’ve said we want to reach one million people per year by 2025, and that started off as 120,000 per year. So it’s almost ten-fold growth that we’re aiming for and there’s a sense that everyone supports this. Also, ShelterBox treats its staff fairly and will support you to reach your own personal goals and grow with the organisation.


8. What do you think is the biggest challenge facing the not for profit sector right now?

I think the intrinsic support that was once given to Charities is changing. The public perception of the sector has shifted. Many people are not so willing to reveal their details, but it’s as much an opportunity and a challenge. I think many people in the sector would love me to say GDPR. however, I don’t think that is the challenge itself but a symptom of a bigger issue that we need to address - being focused on the supporters needs and wants has to be at the centre of our approach.


9. What lessons have you learnt from past challenges?

I think my honest answer would be, for most challenges there is always a way around, you just have to be open to different routes. Life is full of obstacles and you have to be open to change and keeping focused on the outcome of the route.


10. What advice would you give to your younger self?

Realise that there are two groups of people in this world; one will oversell themselves and one will undersell themselves. Don’t listen to everything over-sellers say, but make sure you don’t miss what the under-sellers say.


11. You recently asked the question, ‘what will fundraising will look like in 2030?’. What are your thoughts on this?

This is really interesting for us. If you look at where the commercial sector is, it’s ahead of the charity sector on this, the real embracing of digital and data and what it can produce is really exciting. I can see a world where data and AI can produce more rounded and exciting journeys for people engaged with charities. Hopefully, we will see more transparency and the experience can be more tailored to each individual with the ability to anticipate what they like or dislike. But to do that will take some investment and risk-taking before we can maximise the full potential that the future can bring.

This also comes back to GDPR, and the issue is how can we create amazing donor experiences and what does that look like? My belief is we’re in for a fundamental shift. I’m not sure we’re ready for what it’s going to be but I think large charities could to struggle because it’s massive change and small charities could too due to costs. We have to start thinking about how we’re going to get ready for this change.


12. Do you think chartered status would benefit fundraisers?

Yes I do, but what we equally have to be aware of is the word fundraising is quite a catch-all. Within fundraising, there’s strengths in sales, data-led people, creative individuals, relationship builders, a variety of different skillsets. It’s important to not forget how diverse those skillsets are and I’d hate to limit that and box it into a list of competencies that all should have. So chartered status would have to address the diversity of the skills and qualities within fundraising.


13. What role do you think technology and data will play in the future of fundraising?

Everything! In ten years I expect it will be creating amazing, instinctive journeys for charity supporters.


14. Where is the most interesting place your career has taken you to?

This question was the most difficult because if the word was inspiring, then I would say the different beneficiaries I’ve visited along the way. I’ve met all sorts of inspiring people, be it young people tackling all sorts of adversity or people that have had a cancer experience and are ten times stronger than I will ever be. I’ve also met some people from developing nations who are really driving forward - despite the hardships that surround them.

On the other hand, I’ve had other amazing opportunities to sit on the BBC red sofa, go to Buckingham Palace, backstage at festivals and meet incredible individuals who are famous and passionate for the cause. All these things are a part of the amazing career that is fundraising.


15. What are you most proud of from your time at ShelterBox?

It’s about creating a vision which is driven by an understanding that the world is going to get a lot harder for displaced individuals and working with a team of amazing people and doubling income to help this cause.


16. What would be your advice for professionals joining the fundraising sector?

Fundraisers with tenacity can get a long way. I’ve never found anyone that gets offended by a targeted well-presented ask - so never be scared to ask for money.


17. How would you describe TPP in one word?



18. Would you recommend TPP’s services to someone seeking a new role?

Yes I would, I think they’re worth having a conversation with!