My charity sector experience: Lily Elizabeth Davies

We spoke to CharityConnect Champion, Lily Elizabeth Davis, to discover what she went through in order to break into the charity sector.

How did you first get into the charity sector?

I first got into fundraising when I was 14, where I held a cabaret fundraiser at our local arts center in aid of a children’s hospice – and I even got us a celebrity host for the evening! After that I got the bug, volunteering and raising money for causes I supported on and off.

However, I didn’t make the transition until 2014, when I transferred my proposition development and commercial experience into a role at Marie Curie, where I helped establish their first innovation team.

The transition from commercial to charity was not as steep as I had expected – although there are a couple of shifts in terminology (i.e. talking more about ROI and less about profit and margin).  I had been determined to make the change as smooth as possible, so in the 6 months leading up to my new charity role I immersed myself in books and blogs to get a feel for what best practice looks like across different fundraising disciplines.

What interested you about the charity sector?

It was the chance to use my skills to make a positive change in someone else’s life.

I cut my teeth in fairly unforgiving commercial environments which didn’t always put people at the heart of their decision-making. In contrast, a friend of mine who had worked in the charity sector for some time always loved her job and always had a smile on her face – and that clinched it for me. I haven’t looked back ever since.

How did you progress in the charity sector to where you are now?

This is my second charity role, and I came into the sector at a fairly senior level. My approach has been fairly consistent however, regardless of where I’ve been working:

  • Learn from someone better than you!
  • Try to get a broad spectrum of experience wherever you can. Sit down with someone in another part of the business and ask to learn more about what they do and how you can work together. It will help you to understand their perspective and you will get a lot more out of your working relationships as a result.
  • Make time to work on your personal development. A book on fundraising might not be as enticing in the short-term as a Jackie Collins, but it will pay off!
  • Put your hand up and say ‘yes please’ wherever you can – gain experience, be flexible, adaptable and positive.
  • Believe in yourself. Make a leap to the next role when you are 90% ready and trust that the 10% can be bridged through honesty, positivity and determination.
  • Always, always, always be kind. 

What is your favorite thing about working in the sector?

I think it’s the genuine warmth and care that we show our colleagues. You just don’t get that to the same degree in the commercial sector.

What is the best piece of advice someone has given you in your career?

“Always leave a good-looking corpse.”

Despite being a bit of a vile phrase, the sentiment is true. Help others, be kind, do everything to the absolute best of your ability (even if your heart isn’t in it) and your reputation will follow you.

What do you think the biggest challenges there are for people working in the sector?

Staff attrition. We try our hardest to meet staff needs, but we can’t always offer competitive pay, commission or benefits.

Sector-wide, the average tenure in role is something like 18 months. Which means that all the time that is invested – along with direct costs of recruitment – doesn’t have the return that you would hope for.

Which means, if you’re a manager, you are constantly in recruitment and don’t get as much time to truly develop your people. And if you’re a member of staff you don’t get the richness of experience or development that staying somewhere and progressing internally can offer.

… And this is why platforms like CharityConnect are so important!

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