The Value of Coaching
23rd October By Richard Taylor
Richard Taylor is well-known and highly-regarded throughout the third sector. We interview him about his career and time as Chair of the Institute of Fundraising and about his new coaching and mentoring consultancy with some of the top UK charities to address the challenges facing today’s fundraisers.
Can you give us some background on your career leading up to the point where you left to focus on coaching?
I spent the first 20 years of my career in retail. I worked my way up from the shop floor of Boots the Chemist to the board of the Early Learning Centre - a large high street chain - where I was responsible for all shops in the UK and Europe, before the parent company sold the chain on.
In the late 1990s, I consciously made the decision to target the third sector for the usual reasons – I had had enough of helping people get rich. So, I moved to what was then the Imperial Cancer Research Fund, heading up their retail chain of some 600 volunteer-led run shops which I helped to professionalise and return to decent profits. In 2002 I played a key role in the merger with the Cancer Research Campaign, creating a brand new charity – Cancer Research UK - and inherited another 300 shops. When my boss left, I was promoted to his broader role of fundraising and marketing. I enjoyed 17 incredible years witnessing CRUK more than doubling in size in just five years. By 2015, I thought I had achieved all that was possible and moved to Macmillan who were interested in the model of bringing communications and marketing into fundraising, as we had done at Cancer Research UK.
You were chair of the Institute of Fundraising around the time of the Olive Cooke case. How did that impact you?
It wasn’t without its drama. I was about to move from Cancer Research UK to become the Commercial Director at 'Which?' when the Olive Cooke story first broke. The CEO of 'Which?' saw a conflict of interest for me and asked me to step down from the IOF. 'Which?' took a very negative view of that period, perceiving charities to have knowingly broken the law but that wasn’t something I agreed with. Rather than step down from the IOF I stepped down from 'Which?', a decision I never regretted - it was more important to retain integrity and faith in a sector I loved than to side with an organisation chasing a sensational story.
The fundraising fraternity was also putting pressure on the Institute of Fundraising to defend their practices, but I didn’t wholeheartedly support that either. There were clearly poor practices at play and I believed we needed a root and branches review of the entire system and that included the re-writing of the fundraising codes of practice and an overhaul of the regulatory system. As we all know, that was exactly what happened and it was tough for a lot of charities and fundraisers but I believe a lot of good has come from that time and those changes. Of course, it is unfortunate that charities are raising less money through some channels, but I believe we are in a much better place, and donors and their interests are better served and protected. Especially vulnerable donors like Olive Cooke and Samuel Ray whose cases were very high profile at the time.
This point resonated with me very personally a couple of years later when I gained power of attorney of my mother’s finances when she became ill with dementia. I discovered she had been giving £200 a month to charities through overt, pressurised door-stops and telemarketing techniques. There was no way she could afford this and it would eventually have bankrupted her. I’m very grateful that vulnerable people like my mum are less likely to be exploited today than in 2015.
Tell us more about your coaching work
By the end of 2018 I wanted a different type of challenge, to be independent and do the kind of work that I had naturally enjoyed over many years. In February 2019 I set up my own company and started an Executive Coaching Level 7 course, which is the equivalent to a Masters.
I offer executive coaching and mentoring to clients mainly at Director, Executive Director or Partner level from both the Charity and Commercial sector. However, at the moment my clients are mainly from the charity sector, with a mix of large charities raising over £100 million a year, ranging down to smaller ones.
Mentoring involves drawing on your own personal experience and expertise, giving advice, and being more directive. It can be particularly useful when you are trying to upskill an individual or they are in a new role and need to speed up their capability or fast track their knowledge. It involves goals specifically related to a role someone is in, for example they might need help with writing a fundraising strategy.
Coaching is more about insight and learning, and tends to involve conversations around attitudes and behaviour. It is about people learning to understand themselves better or unlearn behaviours that don’t help them and to think about how that has been impactful. People often get caught up emotionally in the politics of their work and coaching can help identify the underlying causes. Having been coached myself, I always recognised the value of a safe, private space where you can take issues that are not working for you and unpick them.
Are there any common themes that come out in your coaching?
I am particularly interested in strategic learning and impact, and the politics and dynamics playing out at the top levels of organisations. I explore with clients how they can influence those dynamics in a positive and helpful way, and how not to be caught up in the negative elements.
There are more tensions now for fundraisers than when I was in my roles. Today few charities are growing and there are huge pressures on fundraisers to deliver more with less. This can be a good thing, but often trustees and CEOs are putting unrealistic demands on fundraisers to raise more money without taking any risks.
The struggle for fundraisers is how to be assertive and to explain to trustees the costs of working with smaller budgets and in a risk-averse way. There is fear or nervousness coupled with a lack of innovation, especially from the top. We don’t hear enough about senior leaders making it their mission to enable fundraisers.
I help clients build their confidence, insight and self-belief in a safe, confidential space. I help them to become more assertive in their views in a respectful way, and to be a bit braver. We explore the ‘what ifs’ - what are the consequences of taking that risk? We are all fearful of the unknown, and we know that we are disposable in our roles, but that can paralyse people at the very time they need to be brave.
What is the benefit for the charity?
Naturally charities want to have faith in their fundraising strategy and leader. Often the benefits are inclined to be strategic and long term, but that’s ok. There is little better than having a confident, knowledgeable fundraising and marketing director. Someone who is prepared to fight for investment and their team, a person comfortable with big decisions with far reaching consequences. Strong, independent leaders who can navigate their charity through the complexity of long-term sustainability. Believe me, CEOs and Boards want robust, confident opinionated fundraisers at the helm.
What do you enjoy most about coaching?
It’s a little cheesy, but it’s when I see progress with a client, when I help them with something they are stuck on and as a result of a session they feel more equipped to tackle a problem or a challenge. It might be when they realise they can start to diminish the effect others have on them, so that they feel able to have more difficult conversations and be more vocal. When they feel excited about their role and are more prepared to make some waves to make a difference, I get a buzz because this is the moment they begin to understand their power and impact.
Has coaching helped you in your career?
Absolutely. I first received coaching in 2000 from someone who was a psychotherapist by background. When I look back, I really believe that coach was the most influential person in my career. She built my confidence and gave me resilience. She always pushed me and challenged me in a way that perhaps my teams and bosses didn’t. It was never easy and was often exhausting! I learnt stuff I would never have done otherwise and she helped me in the way I led my relationships with my teams and my work/life balance.
What do you think your legacy will be?
I think the thing I am most proud of was the critical role I played in the merger that created Cancer Research UK – it became and remains the most successful Charity in the sector. I am also proud of a couple of big projects I led, like the rebrand in 2012 and the Channel 4 Stand Up To Cancer Telethon that has generated millions from a standing start. Finally, I was chuffed that we nudged CRUK over the £500m a year threshold the year before I left. I’m not sure I’ll have a particular legacy, but I want to simply be remembered for investing in and believing in great people and teams. I’ve been privileged to work with some of the most talented people in the UK’s Charity sector and hopefully haven’t made too many enemies along the way.
How do you know AAW?
I have known the three partners for many years. I did some work with Tobin when he was at WWF. I have known Mark for ever – he was Chair of the Institute of Fundraising before me and when I was a trustee. I see Imogen regularly, we are both fellows of the Institute. I am really impressed with what AAW has done in a short period of time – I tell people they are the go-to people for recruitment and placements, they have their finger on the pulse.
How can people contact you?
Anyone interested in discussing coaching or mentoring please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org or call me on 07771 982929.