Pride, lessons and stepping away

Beth Upton

Beth Upton | 13 September 2017

Beth Upton, former Chair of the Institute of Fundraising's South East & London regional group, reflects on her time volunteering with the largest IoF Group, and what she learned over that time.

On Thursday 7th September, I stepped down as Chair of the Institute of Fundraising's South East & London regional group. This is the largest of any Institute of Fundraising group, with circa 5,000 members across the formal catchment area of Kent, London, Surrey and Sussex as well as lots of people from other areas for whom London is convenient/providing them with activities of interest and value. Being involved has been an absolute privilege and I take away from it a really wide range of lessons and experiences:

I have been able to learn about all sorts of fundraising skills and disciplines outside my direct experience thanks to the amazing speakers who give up their time each month to teach a room full of fundraisers about their specialism.

I have a working understanding of the mechanics and finances of running a small-scale voluntary organisation.

I have had a crash course in leadership.

I have made decisions I would never get to be part of as a fundraiser. For example, we chose not to reapply for funding that covered all of our mentoring scheme's costs because it was too restrictive to best-support the fundraisers in our area. Instead we have used our reserves to carry on delivering the programme whilst we seek a more flexible supporter.

I have met many interesting people across such a wide range of charities who all have one thing in common: a desire to be better at what they do. 

I have led a really dedicated and hard working bunch of people who all give up tons of their time, for free to deliver a mountain of value to the fundraisers of the group. Each year the committee has delivered at least 11 networking and masterclass sessions, at least 10 training events and at least two intakes to our formal mentoring programme. This is more than 2,000 hours of learning every single year that is delivered at or below cost-price thanks to the generosity of those people.

I have enjoyed influence. I have had several direct lines to senior staff and trustees at the Institute of Fundraising as the voice of the membership in the region. I have been asked my view, I have been listened to, I have been challenged. I have been able to peek behind the curtain and see that hard work that is undertaken on our behalves (not always transparently) by the staff at the Institute of Fundraising. I have been able to share some frustrations and some celebrations.

I have learned that there is a time to step away and enable the next person to breathe fresh air into the work. I served a total of six years, which is the maximum term under the rules of the group. Had those rules not existed I would not have prioritised looking for the next Chair and I probably would have found it easier to stay than exert the effort needed to leave.

Along with the responsibility, the position of regional Chair does bring great benefits and it will be hard to lose these as they now start to drift away. But I was flagging at the end: coordinating up to 20 volunteers across five or more project areas is tough when you also have a job and a life outside of work or volunteering. It has not been without its challenges.

I already know that I need to fill the volunteering gap now left in my schedule (my schedule has already closed up to fill the space of course) and I am clear that I will want to give as much to that opportunity as I gave to this one. That's why I'm going to take a bit of time and work out where that enthusiasm will be best kindled and nurtured.

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