Kerys Sheppard, Head of Fundraising at Shelter Cymru, tells us how important it is to have a supportive team and what the term 'home' means to her.
Like many fundraisers, I fell into the profession completely unintentionally. I was working for a Chamber of Commerce when a position came up in my local hospice, which I took very little notice of to begin with. Until that point, I had never considered fundraising as a career. But I had personal experience of some of the great work the hospice did and knew a couple of people who worked there. I was going through some life events that made me take a leap of faith and the rest, as they say, is history! From the hospice, I went on to become Head of Philanthropy at Wales Millennium Centre and then moved to my current role at Shelter Cymru, with various voluntary roles along the way. I have learned so much from being a volunteer, inside and outside of the Boardroom, and would always encourage people entering and working within the sector to give their time to a cause they care about, if they’re able to do so.
The thing that has kept me in fundraising to this day, is the people. I have had the privilege of working alongside some of the most talented individuals you could hope to meet. I don’t know of any other sector that is so collaborative and shares knowledge in such a generous way. It’s a job where you’re constantly growing as an individual and learning from others, and I really value the expertise that comes from just connecting with people doing the same job as me. This continuous knowledge and insight means that I can lead in a way that remains current and relevant to an ever-changing landscape. As fundraisers, our job has impact and meaning, and I feel fulfilled knowing that when I go to work every day, I’m enabling some good in the world.
At the beginning of the pandemic, we lost many of our income streams pretty much overnight as events ceased, businesses closed and fundraising channels were restricted. There was nothing in our contingency plans to prepare us for the financial impact of a global pandemic. I found it extremely hard seeing colleagues struggle, personally and professionally, and I wanted to take away the worry of the ‘day job’ from them as much as I could. Balancing that with the critical needs of the charity at the time was probably the most difficult fundraising and leadership period I’ve ever experienced.
Shelter Cymru is a charity that supports individuals and families throughout Wales who are either living in bad housing or are facing or experiencing homelessness. The resounding messages we were all hearing were ‘Stay home… work from home… home school your children’ – home became a focal point for everyone. And yet, furlough and the lack of financial stability meant that more people were at risk of – and in genuine fear of – losing their home. Our charity was being heavily leaned upon to help more people and yet our financial resilience to keep ourselves operational was at risk. We were in survival mode.
In a nutshell, it all came down to trying to be human about it and ‘do the right thing’. For our people, that meant putting their needs and wellbeing front and centre. For our service users, we adapted our delivery channels so that we were still accessible and able to help. Financially, we really had to prioritise our focus. We diverted our income generation activity to emergency grants and fundraising streams that could help to mitigate the huge losses we faced. It was an ever-changing response, led by what was needed most from me as a colleague, a fundraiser and a leader at any given moment in time to do the right thing by the charity and the people who needed our help.
I feel tremendously lucky that I was part of a senior management team that faced the challenge together, head on. We shared responsibility for managing the crisis we had been thrown into and although, admittedly, there were times when I inevitably felt as though the strain was all on my shoulders, in reality that was never the case. Our Board met more regularly and their constant encouragement and understanding was a huge source of support. They continued to challenge us on our decisions but there was balance, empathy and respect. I know some fundraisers who were in the same scenario that were constantly pressured to replenish income and just keep the money coming in. The problem the sector faced was far bigger than that, and it wasn’t something any fundraiser could fix alone. I was surrounded by people who understood this and it made a real difference.
I’ve always believed that my job is all about people, and there was no greater affirmation of this than working with a team who were experiencing the worst of times, but came through them in such solidarity. Humanity in decision making is everything. Our people – volunteers, donors, employees – are the biggest enablers in the third sector and without them, charities can’t function. I’m much more aware of the importance of that in the ‘business as usual’ now.
Getting the job done as fundraisers became less about the hours we worked and where we worked them, and more about celebrating successes whenever we could. Our team dynamic changed by necessity, and we’ve clung on to the good stuff. We trust and champion one another more and only focus our energy on the things we can control. We have a small, but solid and successful, fundraising team. Our agility has meant we’ve continued to grow our voluntary income despite the challenges of the last three years. As a result, we’re doing what we do best; enabling our charity’s amazing work to continue.
We’re making the world a better place. As we say in Wales, “That’s lush!”