Last Friday, the Cause4 offices were bustling, alive and loud with laughter and conversation. The work day had finished and it was time for Cause4 to open their doors and focus upon its own development, structure and journey through an informal 'evening with' Chief Executive Michelle Wright. It was the first time the London-based Arts Fundraising and Philanthropy Fellows, Guildhall School Creative Entrepreneurs and those involved with the Cause4 Entrepreneurship Programme were all in the same room. Hence, I was curious as to see which direction the conversation would take, hearing new and exciting perspectives and obviously meeting some very interesting people!
The atmosphere was relaxed and informal as Michelle began describing her beginnings, training to become a professional violinist at the Guildhall School of Music & Drama. She talked about feeling stranded after completing her studies, entering the ‘real world’ with a feeling of inexperience and lack of knowledge in various sectors, such as business and personal development. This was something that resonated with my own experience, as well as a number of the Fellows, as discussions arose regarding the need for business processes, entrepreneurial skills and personal management to be integrated into the foundations of educational courses. Better knowledge of the former would add to the social, mental and physical skills gained during education: as Michelle stated, ‘I think the training that musicians and actors go through in performance and resilience could mean they have great skills to become entrepreneurs’.
Michelle then talked of her journey through various marketing and management roles at organisations such as Youth Music and London Symphony Orchestra, falling into fundraising ‘by chance’ along the way. Her work at LSO led her to being judged the Best Upcoming Fundraiser at the National Fundraising Awards in 2008, setting up Cause4 in May 2009 to support charities, philanthropists and social enterprises as development and fundraising partners. Having such a variety of backgrounds and specialities in the room, it was great to hear Michelle’s journey through a number of very different organisations, as well as how fundraising was something that became part of her journey through its links, partnerships and fusing with other departments.
Various facts and figures stated throughout Michelle’s talk were quite shocking, such as there currently being approximately 186,000 charities in England. If you had told me that a few years ago, I would not have thought too much of it – yet two weeks into my fellowship, it made me realise just how vital and important fundraising and development really is, especially in terms of making sure it is, and remains to be, an effective, well structured, progressive and sustainably strong sector. It was great to hear Michelle talk about the importance of looking at organisations as a whole, developing innovative business models and most importantly, making a productive and continual impact in order for growth.
Hearing Michelle say the words ‘coaching’, ‘leadership’ and ‘development’ and realising that all the people sat in this room are a part of these key words, part of this vision for the future of the sector was quite a significant moment. We are all in this together, whether it is looking into developing a better model for Philanthropy, diversifying the sector both through the people within it and the methods used or looking at ways to share the professional development skills and knowledge we gain through our own personal pathways. The evening provided a personalised touch to Michelle’s biography, adding emotion and thoughts to a fantastic CV and allowing a well acquainted and dynamic insight into the sector, which I am personally just beginning my journey on.
I think I speak for many in the room that it really is such a fantastic opportunity to be part of this Fellowship programme funded by Arts Council England.
Quotes from Fellows:
Dana Segal, Roundhouse ‘I thought it was great to hear Michelle’s thoughts on what makes a successful charity/social enterprise, and how fundraising is also a way of finding out what works best for your organisation as a business as well’
Jill Richens, A New Direction ‘I was particularly interested in Michelle’s emphasis upon professional development and chasing further certifications and qualifications, which is something we will achieve through the Fellowship. I found her explanation of Cause4’s ‘Theory of Change’ useful in illustrating the organisation’s purpose and I am looking to develop a clear Theory of Change model for my organisation, so I can better articulate need, purpose and outcomes’.
Follow Emma on Twitter as she undertakes her fellowship @espickering