Establishing A Charity During A Pandemic

Establishing A Charity During A Pandemic

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Virtual Coffee With Sue O'Lone, Director of Fundraising and Engagement at Tessa Jowell Foundation

Suzanne Watts, Editor of The Fundraiser chats to Sue O’Lone about her role as Director of Fundraising and Engagement at Tessa Jowell Foundation, the challenges of establishing a charity during a pandemic, and what gets her up in the mornings. 

1. What areas will you be focusing on during the first year of your role as director?
It’s already been more than a year, even though we only launched publicly in September 2020. The team spent the first months of lockdown busily creating the charity including agreeing on our name, branding, website, defining charitable objectives and writing fundraising plans. There was a lot to do.
Our fundraising has been initially focused on engaging warm contacts because it would be silly not to, and alongside that, we’ve been building a list of who to approach and developing the initial resources needed to engage cold contacts. This has included developing a 2-year appeal, which is built around funding very tangible projects.



2. Your organisation is receiving a lot of media attention. How are you managing to get your charity message noticed in an era full of crisis headlines and emergency appeals?

We’re incredibly lucky to be part of two very supportive communities; the brain cancer community which is filled with passionate families affected by this devastating disease and the community of people who knew loved and admired Tessa. Her many decades of high-profile public service meant that her work touched many, many lives. We are not aiming to reach everyone, we are focused on reaching the two communities I’ve mentioned and then trying to provide meaningful communication which keeps them engaged. We’re active on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, and more recently, LinkedIn and we have worked with both national and local media outlets when we have had big announcements to make.



3. What have been the key achievements of your charity so far?
We are part of an incredible collaboration called the Tessa Jowell Brain Cancer Mission (TJBCM) which was formed after Tessa gave her final, very moving, speech on the House of Lords in 2018. The TJBCM brings together all of the leading minds and organisations in brain cancer who together created a new, national roadmap to improve the treatment and care of NHS brain cancer patients as well as supporting the medical research and treatments of the future.

We play a leading role in the TJBCM, our founder and CEO Jess Mills is a member of the leadership team and we second a significant amount of our team’s time and skills to support the TJBCM. Our fundraising purpose is to secure funds for the projects designed and championed by the TJBCM.
In February we were so proud to announce the first hospitals to be designated as Tessa Jowell Centres of Excellence. This was a fantastic achievement and is the first step towards the UK becoming a world leader in brain cancer treatment and care.



4. How has your charity had to adapt its strategy during the Covid19 crisis?
We choose to slow down, take stock and plan. We are very fortunate to have our core costs covered by a very generous founding patron and this allowed us to spend last spring and summer focusing on making the charitable objectives a reality, building a professional back office, drafting fundraising plans and creating necessary fundraising resources such as proposals.

We continued to engage with very warm contacts through this time but felt that it was not a good time to go out to cold contacts as there was rightly so much focus on supporting charities focused on COVID. This has also meant that we’ve waited until we have concrete projects happening on the ground before approaching funders.



5. Do you have any exciting fundraising campaigns / new projects in the pipeline?
We’re about to launch a £4 million 2-year appeal to support the Tessa Jowell Centre of Excellence programme. This programme includes multiple projects and aims to improve the treatment and care offered to NHS brain cancer patients through raising expected standards, training staff and developing innovative new services and techniques.



6. As a director with 16 years in the sector, what are your daily motivations for staying in fundraising?
For me it’s always being about the cause, I’m very mission-focused. I’ve been very proud to work for charities that I am passionate about and the Tessa Jowell Foundation is no different. All I ever want to do is achieve the charitable objectives. I really hope to one day work for a charity that has to close because it’s fulfilled its purpose.



7. How is your charity finding working with the NHS at this very challenging time?
It’s been a very difficult time for NHS cancer services as so many staff and resources have been redirected towards dealing with COVID. As many members of the TJBCM actively work within NHS cancer services, plans to develop and roll out the Tessa Jowell Centres of Excellence programme have been able to continue at the same time as being sensitive to the increased pressures on both services and staff. The programme is a positive celebration of the hard work put in by NHS teams and this approach has been warmly received by hospitals across the country during such a difficult time.



8. What are the key skills you need in your fundraising team (or charity) right now?
Being so new, we have a start-up mentality. This means that flexibility in what work each of us takes on, an understanding that objectives and plans can change frequently and a willingness to take on projects outside of your usual area are essential. Also, we are a small team that mostly works remotely, even before COVID, so kindness, empathy and good communication skills are essential.



9. What’s been your proudest achievement in your career to date?
I led an incredibly high-value team at JDRF- the type 1 diabetes charity and was so proud that we grew our team’s income by over 70% over 4 years. It was a tough period for fundraising nationally and it was amazing to achieve that level of growth with such a wonderful and positive group of people.



10. On a lighter note, it’s been a tough old year (!!). How have you been taking time out to relax and unwind during the various lockdowns?
I have two young daughters and have worked throughout the past year so I can honestly say there has been very little relaxing or unwinding! It’s been very special though having so much time together as a family and seeing how much the kids have grown and developed in this time. I’m really proud of how well they’ve coped with the constantly changing nature of the last 12 months.

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