Week 3 of our charity leaders podcast bring us to the CEO of Career Connect and someone that we’ve known for a couple of years at Thirty Three Percent, Barry Fletcher. Career Connect is a charity committed to ensuring both children and adults can achieve their potential through career, employment and training services.
Barry comes from a background in the private sector but when you hear his story it is clear his career has been heading into a more formal charity role. He has always looked to support and help those in need of help. He is another of those charity leaders that helps more than one charity and also puts a big emphasis on supporting his team.
We learn the importance of putting the charities values ahead of selling at all costs, the importance of marketing in raising awareness & funds and most importantly, how key it is that everyone involved believes in what you are doing.
Belief Is Central To Success
Working for a charity is not easy, but it can be incredibly rewarding. Barry is very clear that to be successful in helping people you have to believe strongly in the message. You are competing against quite ruthless commercial entities as well as other worthy causes, so you need to express your message with conviction.
For Barry that is easy, because they deliver a service that makes a real difference every day. They are helping with children’s future, so it is not hard to be authentic and work just that little bit harder.
But it isn’t just Barry, his entire team believes in what the charity does. They have a passion for Career Connect and the people they help. However, don’t mistake having a mission for not being the best, as Barry puts it
“It’s about delivering a high-quality service, we have the people we are supporting very much at the heart, but it’s the teams and our staff that make the real difference through their expertise”
You Have To Be Agile
Barry accepted his new role, was planning lots of new ideas and planning how he was going to meet the new team and then… A global pandemic hits! Interestingly, Barry is not the only leader we interviewed who was in this predicament and like the others, he didn’t let this change his effectiveness, in fact, it seems to have spurred him on even more.
Not that they didn’t have their challenges. 99% of the services were delivered face to face, so switching everything online was never going to be easy. But it was achieved and it was done incredibly quickly.
The success of that transformation can be seen in the results
“We managed to continue all services and didn’t have to furlough a single employee”
I don’t think many in any sector, let alone charity, could claim that.
Part of the reason Career Connect could achieve this is that unlike a lot of charities, they are not dependent solely on funding, they have a large proportion of money coming from providing paid services and it was a new service that I think perfectly highlights the ability to be agile and creative that Barry has shown in his leadership.
Career Connect had provided a form of outplacement service (supporting those losing employment) in elements of their overall packages, but it was decided to provide this as a formal new service. This decision came for a couple of reasons
They recognised with the pandemic would come an economic crisis and many would be out of work, so there were people that would need their help
They also realised that businesses would need help during this process and be prepared to pay for the service
So Career Connect was able to adapt quickly and put in place a team dedicated to this new service, as well as pull together an identity, alongside a web presence. Within months they had begun supporting businesses and most importantly helping people who would otherwise have no plan as to what to do next.
It is another great example of how charities and their leaders have shown creativity and strong leadership in very difficult times.
Make The Most Of Your Charity Status
Another great discussion with Barry centred on how being a charity wasn’t a reason for someone to pick you for a service. In the case of Career Connect, a school won’t automatically select them to run a career service just because they were a charity. They have to compete with many commercial businesses and ensure they offer a comparable service.
However, that doesn’t mean you cannot use your charitable status to your advantage! Barry cited a couple of great examples
“Because you are not as focused on the bottom line, you can be more flexible on pricing and provide better value. Plus, organisations are looking at social responsibility, so like to work with a charity because it’s the right thing to do”
The key of all this is to offer a service that can be compared to commercial competitors, then use the advantages you have as a charity to close the deals - if two providers look similar, chances are the business will select the one that is also a charity.
Marketing, Authenticity and Charities
One truth remains consistent for any charity
“People won’t come to you if they have never heard of you. You cannot sit there and wait for them to arrive”
Marketing is not the preserve of the commercial world, in fact, getting across your message and raising funds is even more important for a charity because they are supporting people more important than shareholders. Great marketing can lead to helping more people and we can all agree that’s a good thing.
So what does great marketing look like for a charity? Well, it starts by achieving something many businesses struggle to do, being authentic.
“You can actively market and still be ethical and authentic”
This was one of the more powerful statements Barry made in the interview. It goes back to what he said near the beginning, everyone has to believe in what you are trying to achieve. When you do that, then your message will ring true and you will genuinely deliver on that marketing promise. Believing in your message and delivering on them are the cornerstones of authentic marketing.
He also talks about how the marketing basics are as important in charities and that begins with knowing who your customer is. People don’t mind being marketed to by a charity if it is relevant to them, so make sure you have clear customer personas and that they are embedded across the charity, not just in marketing.
Always Remember Your Mission
Towards the end, Barry talked again about the importance of the mission and always remembering the values of the charity. It is clear to be a great leader in the charity sector you need to live by these values and ensure people always remember them.
“You have to pick your partners carefully - they reflect on you”
One great example he used was selecting partners. As he made clear, you cannot hide from what they do because they reflect back on you. If you select a partner that’s responsible for poor working conditions or a bad approach to gender equality, your selection of them will be seen as approval of these practices.
So, whatever decisions you make, people you hire or even when looking to diversify, always look back to the mission and values and ask a simple question - does that decision reflect well on the charity?
Three Big Takeaways
Throughout this podcast series, we have asked our leaders to supply their top three tips for aspiring leaders. We think these three from Barry are particularly helpful.
Remember the focus is NOT the bottom line, it is the people you are helping. Sometimes, if you are not the right fit for a client then you should push them in another direction - it’s more important that people have the right support
Question any marketing campaign to make sure it fits your values
Charity doesn’t mean low quality or cheap but never be afraid to leverage the advantages it gives you