Charities are increasingly helping to shape or influence public service and health and social care policy, particularly through organisations such as the Richmond Group, a coalition of 14 health and social care organisations in the voluntary sector. What impacts is this having? Are charities supported enough to undertake this additional activity?It’s vital that charities, no matter whether large or small, have the ability, expertise and commitment to undertake influencer engagement. Working with key influencers allows charities to transition beyond helping one beneficiary at a time to effecting massive, long-term and sustainable change for a much wider group of existing or potential beneficiaries. In my mind, Macmillan Cancer Support has a key role to play in this area.
I feel passionately about working in coalition. The power of a collective voice, through that of organisations such as the Richmond Group, is an effective route to talk to government and policy makers about end-of-life care and other health issues.
Increasingly, we see Macmillan beneficiaries living with a whole range of other health issues such as heart disease, diabetes or dementia. In the UK today, there are hundreds of charities supporting the 15 million people who are living with long-term conditions. Working together means that there are not 15 or more organisations approaching policy makers or health officials separately. Working together makes it smoother and easier for the person you are trying to influence as it means we are influencing with one voice. A lot of the issues which affect our beneficiaries also affect those of other charities, so by working together to influence, inform and share we are achieving more. However, for coalitions like the Richmond Group to work, it’s vital that each member leaves its organisational badge at the door and goes in on behalf of the sector.
We recognise we’re a larger charity, and sometimes this can open doors for smaller charities to policy makers when working together. However, we are also learning from others who are smaller but do the influencer work incredibly well. Rethink Mental Illness, which is part of the Richmond Group, is a great example of this.
Does your approach differ across the devolved nations? At Macmillan we absolutely understand the importance of approaching each political and health administration accordingly. However, our influencing work typically focusses on our key issues and this ensures a consistent and clear message across the nations.
When I joined Macmillan, our spotlight was on Westminster, but so much has changed since then. We recognise that the governments and populations across the UK are very different so we have dedicated teams in each devolved country.
In Scotland, for example, health and social care are joined up and we can learn a lot from that. In Northern Ireland, with a population of 1.9 million, we often see some of our most innovative programmes take place. It is an ideal pilot ground as we can achieve scale and deliver impact for every person in the country. The challenge then is how to bring it back to other devolved countries.
In my experience, it has become clear that England has a problem accepting learnings and examples from other devolved nations. It is often the case that we are asked for international examples rather than those undertaken at a national or neighbouring country, which is a big mistake.
England has the biggest population in the UK. That makes it much, much harder than anywhere else to deliver change and improve service so that is where a lot of the problems are at this moment.
As part of the sustainability and transformation plans for NHS England, we are moving to smaller devolved areas in terms of healthcare. I believe now is the time to be focusing on the other countries in the UK and what we can learn from them.
Regulation continues to be introduced in the charity sector. Does this create more challenges, or are there opportunities to be found? How is this shaping the charitable landscape? Overall, we welcome the regulation and the greater level of scrutiny which has taken place over the past two years, particularly in the fundraising space.
At Macmillan, we have taken a long hard look at our fundraising practices and streamlined them to be clearly in line with donor choice so that they have an optimal experience with us.
We have a brilliant fundraising portfolio and I do believe that we are ethical. However, what the increased regulation has given us is the mandate to have honest conversations between the Board, the executive and fundraising teams, asking ‘what are we really about?’ We have personally spoken to 3,000 donors to get feedback on how they see us and our practices. We are committed to developing long term relationships with donors, and this is enforced through our fundraising promise.
We do have a good relationship with the Charity Commission. We have worked hard to make it reciprocal, bringing the team in to our organisation to see what a fundraising practice in a large charity really looks like. In turn, they have helped our people understand more about regulation. This has been a very positive experience across Macmillan.
The regulation has brought about a positive impact to the executive team, making us work closer together and be very clear about what we are doing, how we are fundraising and where the money is going. It has also enhanced the relationship with the Board, bringing the operational and governance functions closer together. The Board cannot run the charity, but its members now have a much better understanding of how we raise money and how we operate, and will also be much more involved in key decisions about how we fundraise into the future. Regulation is here; we can’t and shouldn’t fight it. We do, and will, work with the regulator and make sure that we do all we can to be open. We are in a much better place than we were two years ago. That can only be a good thing.
Do regulation challenges make it harder to bring in new appointments, trustees and boards?They have definitely put trustees and chairs of charities in a slightly different space, but it hasn’t impacted the level of interest in the roles. Well, certainly not with Macmillan Cancer Support.
With more responsibility and a potential for these roles to be much more public or media facing, we do need to be much more explicit about the job description. We do need to discuss clearly any challenges or reputational issues facing each organisation. This is quite a change, certainly from five years ago.
The benefits that can be achieved from supportive Chairs and trustees is invaluable. Our chair, Julia Palca, has been hugely positive and open in her support, and this has enhanced our overall approach and integration of regulation considerably.
How has scandal and media speculation affected the charitable sector? What changes has this brought about at an operational, fundraising and cultural level and how do you move on from this?This has not been a positive experience for the sector. It really upsets me that the public do not trust charities the way it used to, as overall the sector has such a positive and tangible bearing on people’s lives. However, I can only really address the impacts and effects it has had from Macmillan’s perspective.
It was a shock at first and it took us a while to come to terms with the fact that people had started asking questions and doubting some of what we were doing. We took a decision early on that public perception and trust in Macmillan were key to us. With 99 percent of Macmillan’s income coming from the British public, we really can’t exist without that trust. We have worked hard to start regaining it, and are very clear that long-term trust is more important than short-term fundraising.
We needed to make sure that we were not seen as defensive and that we were taking on board what people were saying. Equally, we cannot be seen to be saying ‘we don’t need to fundraise’ anymore as clearly that is not true. We continuously need to think about how we ask. The reality is that people don’t just give, so we do still need to ask.
At an operational level, we have analysed the long-term values and risks of every single one of our fundraising channels and products. We have established a new executive committee for fundraising and marketing whose sole job is to look at this issue and review on a regular basis. We are working hard to give trustees and donors the confidence that we are behaving the way we should. This emphasises that we have carried out the due diligence. It feels good. It feels like the right thing to have done.
From a cultural point of view, we have moved to a place where we are certain that we are putting our donors and beneficiaries first, and this simply must be the way we operate. Macmillan staff are passionate about supporting beneficiaries so we’ve all had to look at what the impact has been on beneficiaries when we get it wrong. It has been quite a journey internally but one that we were all committed to.
The reality of our fundraising is that it is a closely-connected cycle as for every £4 we spend £3 has come from someone who has had a Macmillan service. Putting the needs of beneficiaries and donors at the heart of what we do has been vital and has enabled us to continue to fundraise successfully. This is maybe easier for healthcare charities, as people have greater affiliation or correlation with fundraising and the services being delivered.
If I ask myself ‘do I worry about fundraising?’ my response is always this: ‘What I really worry about is services. Provided we have excellence in services, our fundraising will come.’
How have you seen Macmillan change since you have been involved with the charity and now in your role as CEO?There has been a seismic change in the organisation since I started 16 years ago. Back then it was a sleepy, slightly apologetic organisation, which did excellent things, but didn’t talk about them very much. We certainly didn’t ask people for money in a systemic way, nor did we have a consistent approach towards campaigns or influencer activity.
I started as part of the media team and with my job share, Hilary Cross, we set up the campaigning team and then went on to establish a fundraising team. I certainly don’t want to discredit anyone who was here all those years ago, it was just more the way it was across the sector.
Today, a career in an organisation like Macmillan is professional from the word go as the sector is becoming unbelievably professionalised. Fundraising is a great example of this. Previously this was done on a bit of a wing and prayer; now this is a great career to get into.
I think we have moved from a world where we hoped and thought that we did great things to one in which we have to constantly prove we do great things with tangible benefits for people affected by cancer.
Obviously, we are now a much larger organisation and that brings opportunities and challenges. We have perhaps diversified to the point that we need to think about a refocus. In the charity sector we have a tendency to say yes, but we are getting to a point where we need to focus on the things that we must do and consider those things that maybe we aren’t able to do.
What is next for Macmillan Cancer Support?Ultimately it is establishing how we can be the organisation that really makes a fundamental difference to people affected by cancer.
There is not enough money in health at a time when the number of people affected by cancer is increasing. We are working in a very cash-constrained market and this will get harder. If we were a supermarket we would be saying ‘the doors are going to open and the customers are about to flood in’.
We really need to think about innovation in the Third Sector. We need to focus harder than ever on how we work collaboratively with other charities and the health service. Most people who have cancer in this country will have two, three, four, sometimes five other long-term conditions. The more we can work together to offer joint services, the better we can be for patients.
Service innovation and fundraising are key. We have to put aside our individual views and think about the bigger picture. An example of how we are working together to innovate is in our new graduate programme with the British Heart Foundation. We are in the second year of this programme which we hope will equip new graduates with a range of skills across both organisations. It means we have achieved a successful pilot project between our two organisations. Why wouldn’t we want to do that?
At the core of it all we need to make sure that what we are doing matters. I always feel like I am the custodian of my donor’s money. We owe it to them to ensure that we are using it in the best way in all we do.
Lynda was appointed Chief Executive of Macmillan Cancer Support in March 2015. She joined the organisation 16 years ago as joint Head of Media and has played a significant role in transforming Macmillan into one of the UK’s most trusted charities. During her first ten years in the organisation, she was promoted to Board level as joint Director of External Affairs and helped develop the campaigning arm, as well as launching and maintaining the multi award-winning brand. In 2011, Lynda became Director of Fundraising, overseeing the launch of successful new fundraising products and a significant growth in income. In 2014 she was named Fundraising Magazine’s second most influential fundraiser in the UK.
Lynda started out her career in communications over 20 years ago, spending the first eight in consumer PR. She then moved to the Third Sector where she took on a voluntary role at NCH Action for Children that led to a job in the PR and Marketing team. After two years, she moved to the NSPCC as Media Manager, during which time she was part of the Full Stop Campaign launch, before joining Macmillan.