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How Birmingham Children’s Hospital show that culture change is possible

At the Annual Lectures in 2013, Louise McCathie, then Head of Fundraising at Birmingham Children’s Hospital realised that her biggest challenge was the culture of her organisation.

birmingham childrens hospitalIn the context of the thousands of people who work for the hospital, her fundraising team made up a tiny percentage of the total staff. And her team couldn’t possibly have conversations with all the people who might care enough to fundraise for the hospital.

The problem was that very few of her colleagues beyond the team had time to / or knew how to engage in fundraising. Inspired by the Annual Lectures, Louise set herself this challenge, ‘how can I create a fundraising culture, that is, help the many employees who are not officially fundraisers, to get behind fundraising?

As you can imagine, given the status quo in the majority of charities, and certainly at most busy hospitals, then even if this was not Mission Impossible, it certainly felt like Mission Very Difficult. As she set herself the challenge in December 2013, Louise felt somewhat daunted.

Two of the ideas in Louise’s favour were:

A) Even if not all her colleagues had the time and inclination to get involved, the number of patients and their families who they interacted with was vast. So even if, for example, one third of her colleagues became more inclined to get behind fundraising, this would still make an enormous difference to potential income.

B) Though it takes some effort, there are many things about fundraising which are rewarding, once you get on with it. At its very simplest, if your precious son or daughter has just been nursed over many painful months back to good health, many families and their communities will be delighted to get the chance to celebrate and thank by raising funds to help future young patients.

After a challenging and highly eventful year Louise came back to the Annual Lectures in 2014 to tell us how she got on. This is one of the most inspiring fundraising stories I have ever heard. If you missed it, here are six key learning points I took from what she told us:

  1. Commit! She made a decision. Even though she did not yet know how to solve the problem, she dared herself to commit to it. One way she convinced herself she had no option was she asked herself these two questions – ‘if not now, then when?’ and ‘if not me, then who?’
  2. Focus. She focussed on building relationships with a few key influencers. She realised that she would not be able to influence everyone, but that a handful of colleagues were disproportionately powerful in relation to influencing large numbers of people. Two of Louise’s key influencers were the Chief Officer of Nursing and the Director of the Estates. Who would your equivalents be, and how could you build those few relationships?
  3. Understand. She sought to understand the needs and wants of these key influencers, and ask how she could help them. One idea she came up with was an apprenticeship within Estates, which would help solve a couple of the challenges they were facing.
  4. Small YESes. She sought small, relatively easy victories first, then built momentum. The Donations Office was hidden deep in a far-flung corner of the hospital. Because it was hard to find, it received only 40 visits per week. Louise knew she needed a more visible, physical presence, and secured permission for a temporary, pop-up Christmas merchandise/fundraising shop in the entrance to the hospital. This was so successful that when some permanent space near main entrance of the hospital became available, she was able to make a strong pitch to use it for fundraising, citing the success of the ‘test shop’.
  5. Positioning. She and her team used language and branding to convey that fundraising is easy and fun. The new space near the image002entrance was not to be called the drab, confusing Donations Office, but instead, the Fundraising Hub. It offers fundraising advice as well as selling merchandise. The old Office had received 40 visitors per week. The new Hub has received a staggering 29,000 visitors in its first year!
  6. Psychology of Influence. She applied Cialdini’s Social Proof principle. A key opportunity was to encourage fundraising for specific wards, because in many ways families identify with their child’s ward as much as with the hospital itself. If you work in a hospital you know how important issues around hygiene control can be, which meant that getting permission for a new fundraising noticeboard in each ward was far from straightforward. So Louise sought permission from the smallest wards first, and then helped them succeed. This meant that people responsible for larger wards, who initially could have been reluctant, now approached her team wanting a noticeboard for their ward.

Clear Progress

In addition to increased income through this activity, the point at which Louise knew the culture of her organisation had changed was when the Board decided that fundraising was too important not to be represented at Board level. And so they decided to change Louise’s role from Head of to Director of Fundraising. So she is now involved from the very start in all kinds of Board discussions that affect fundraising.

What ideas does this story give you for embedding fundraising more firmly in the heart of your charity?

And in Louise’s words ‘if not you, then who? If not now, then when?’


On February 16, 2015 / Uncategorized


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