What I learned about charities from Sir Terry Wogan.
I was a TV-watching child of the 1970s and 1980s, and Sir Terry Wogan was ubiquitous on that medium during those decades, presenting his chat shows, fronting programmes including Blankety Blank and Children in Need, and of course commentating on the Eurovision Song Contest.
News of his death really struck me and got me thinking this week about how much I learned from him, and in particular what charities can learn from his example.
Don’t take yourself too seriously
Many will remember Wogan for his hilarious, often bemused, sometimes cynical commentary on coverage of the Eurovision Song Contest. I also loved his self-deprecating singing of The Floral Dance.
What do I take from both of these? He didn’t take himself too seriously. Yes, there are some things that we need to be passionate or serious about, but I learned from him that I should guard against earnestness. It’s not an attractive quality, and life is an absurd, rich, song-contest of a pageant that should be celebrated with an indulgent smile.
Stay loyal to what you believe in
Wogan presented Children in Need for over 30 years, and I can’t think of many other examples of such high-profile longevity of charity association. This is important because it flies in the face of the accusation that celebrities and personalities will flit between causes. Not Sir Terry. He stayed loyal to what he believed in and what he was passionate about. And I’ve learned from his example the importance of staying true to my values.
Speak to one person, not to many
And of course, he was a giant of radio as well, and the mellifluous quality of his voice, his humour, his superb timing, and his ability to convey real emotion lent itself superbly well to that medium. He built himself a huge, dedicated following of listeners (often referred to as “TOGs” or “Terry’s Old Geezers/Gals”). Clearly, listeners felt he was speaking directly to them. He was able to make a real singular connection. I think charities can learn so much from this. Let’s stop considering we’re addressing groups of supporters with our communications. Let’s remember how Wogan made direct connections with his listeners and move away from anything beginning “Dear all…”
Be yourself, no matter who you’re with
So many of the tributes to Sir Terry Wogan have made the same point: he was the same person off-air as he was on-air – genuinely amusing, friendly and without airs or graces. This to me speaks of his absolute authenticity. Do we show different sides of ourselves to different audiences, and if so why?
All of our supporters are important. All of our supporters deserve to see the real us.
Charities are interesting and important
And finally, through his presenting of Children In Need, Sir Terry brought the wonderful, important world of charities into the front rooms of millions of people. He helped show the world that our work is interesting, vital, relevant and of course worthy of support. As a well-respected and loved broadcaster, he also gave our causes tremendous legitimacy. We could see how important the work was to him and shared his delight as the sums raised were announced.
I’ve learned from this that helping charities to achieve their mission is not only a valuable vocation, but that understanding and supporting charities is both exciting and life-changing, not just for me but for millions of others.
Thank you, Sir Terry.
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