Why your supporters are wealthier than you expect. Course details.

Fundraising at GOSH: a Chief Exec looks back

Howard Lake | 24 April 2019 | Blogs

Tim Johnson, former Chief Executive at Great Ormond Street Hospital Charity, looks back at his time at the organisation.
People often asked if it was upsetting working at Great Ormond Street Hospital Charity, given there are so many children with life threatening illnesses at the hospital. Nothing could have been further from the truth.
I was constantly amazed and inspired by the bravery and zest for life of the patients and families – the beneficiaries – display. None more so than Cameron, who I first met when he was 11 years old. Following a routine eye test Cameron was diagnosed with a brain tumour and referred to GOSH, where he had surgery.
Cameron’s parents started supporting the charity and Cameron kindly came along to tell his story to a group of potential supporters – something he continues to do regularly now at 21 years old. He still has a tumour, but despite the hand he has been dealt, Cameron is one of the most upbeat, and positive people you could meet.
My own children are around Cameron’s age and he really brought home to me how lucky we have been when he said, “My family never expected to be needing GOSH.  No one ever does, as this stuff only happens to other people’s children – well hello there, I am someone else’s child and I am eternally grateful that GOSH was there for me.”  It’s a message I remember every day.  

Tear-drop logo at the London Olympics

The London 2012 Olympics opening ceremony, where the tear-drop logo was beamed across the world, is another moment that will stay with me forever and it is testament to what the hospital and charity stands for that it was part of such an historic moment for the UK.
These are a couple of the many highlights that being part of the team at GOSH Charity for 17 years has given me, and it’s been a privilege.

Investing in fundraisers

When I joined in 2002, the charity was raising £15 million a year. Last year it reached £100 million. But whilst fundraising income grew over the years, it was not without its challenges.
While the increase in regulation in recent years is vital to re-build public trust and confidence in the sector, to ensure we were compliant, we needed to invest in specialist skills to help fundraisers navigate the new and changing landscape. And that comes at a cost, which adds to the challenge of keeping the cost:income ratio as low as possible.
As a Trustee of a small overseas aid charity, The Costa Foundation, I recognise that whilst investing in these specialist skills is hard enough for many of the largest charities, it is even tougher for smaller charities with limited resource. As a sector, we must find ways to make it easier and more cost effective for charities to access this guidance.

How do charities’ voices get heard?

We are also all operating in a context of increasing competition. There are some 180,000 charities across the UK, each one striving for the public’s support. So how do we ensure our voice is heard? It is imperative that we all have clear organisational strategies, fully understand the contribution we want to make and can communicate clearly the impact of our work. Engaging both the hearts and the minds of our supporters is critical; Cameron has had a huge impact not only on me, but more importantly, on the charity’s supporters.  
We need to keep innovating if we are to retain supporters and motivate more people to support us and remain competitive – but of course, this too comes at a price. Good innovation strategies accept that most new ideas will bear no fruit. As a result, justifying spend in this area can be difficult. But standing still simply isn’t an option.
Naturally however, smaller organisations with less opportunity to invest could be more disadvantaged. And for some, if they are to do the best for their beneficiaries, there is a duty to consider partnership or merger arrangements, with those organisations that have shared values and a shared mission and vision.

Partnerships with other charities

This is one of the reasons why GOSH Charity agreed to enter into partnership when approached by the children’s medical research charity Sparks. We had a shared vision: there is a desperate need to increase funding into paediatric research in order to unlock future medical breakthroughs that families so desperately need.
By coming together, we felt we could achieve this in a much more impactful way. Partnering enabled Sparks to reduce overheads, remain viable and crucially, continue to offer their supporters the opportunity to maximise the impact of their giving on life-changing paediatric research.  

Great donor stewardship

While innovation is key, we should never lose sight of the fundamentals; the importance of great donor stewardship. At GOSH Charity we sought to personalise supporter communications wherever possible and adapt our interactions, in line with the changing wishes of  supporters. And we saw this yield real results. Many of the donors and volunteers I interacted with when I first joined GOSH Charity 17 years ago remain with the charity today.
It is these acts of generosity, no matter how large or small, that have enabled the Hospital to provide world-first treatments and cures in world-class facilities to hundreds of thousands of families.

My next steps

I am excited to take my next steps as a fundraising consultant with More Partnership. Having worked in the sector for nearly 30 years I am looking forward to sharing what I have learnt to enable a wide variety of organisations to make a bigger difference to the causes that they serve.
Whilst fundraising has perhaps never been more challenging, the need and the opportunities remain huge.  People like Cameron inspire others to be part of creating a better world. And technology can help us reach them and communicate with them in ways we never could when I started my fundraising career.  If we do so at the right time, in the right way and with the right proposition, there is real hope. 
Tim Johnson
Tim Johnson, former CEO at Great Ormond Street Hospital Charity. After 17 years, he has now left the charity and has joined More Partnership as a fundraising consultant.
Before joining GOSH Charity, Tim was Head of Fundraising at University College London and at Community Service Volunteers. His fundraising career began at Mencap followed by the British Trust for Conservation Volunteers. He is also a Trustee of The Costa Foundation.