Episode 6 of the Charity Leaders Podcast finds us talking to actor turned charity leader, Mike Ward. His passion has always been about helping young people, so the move into charity and not-for-profit work was an obvious one.
Mike is the CEO of KM Charity Team, which delivers literacy, road safety and walk to school initiatives to support schools, families and children. Over 17,000 children have benefited from the road safety initiatives and more than 30 million minutes of reading have been recorded with their literacy efforts.
Mike talks about how lockdown forced them to reflect and put in place a strategy for the future and convert the charity to be digital-first - he also claims it is his mission in life to make himself redundant!
A Passion For Helping Children
It might seem like an obvious thing that everyone wants to see Children do well, but Mike has made it his life’s goal to ensure he does as much as possible towards supporting them. He has worked across education, charity and not-for-profit for years and it's nearly always been focused on children.
It’s a similar theme to a lot of our charity leaders, where it is not about being in ‘charity’ but having a passion for the charity that matters to you, the cause you are working hard for. This is a great tip for any aspiring charity leader - you must find your cause.
Mike’s focus and that of KM Charity Team is on primary school-age children, as so much evidence shows that once they hit secondary school it is so hard to help them if things have gone badly for them in the early years.
For Mike, fixing literacy and getting kids into reading is about giving them something to read that interests them. Don’t force-feed them stories they will not care about.
“If they like chickens, let them read a book about chickens”
Using Lockdown For Good
Mike also hit on another common theme from our conversations with all the charity leaders - how to make the most of the difficult times we all had during the height of the pandemic.
Having the time to reflect made them realise they sometimes lose perspective on what matters and get lost in the detail.
"Sometimes it’s hard because you get bogged down in money and trying to grow, then you lose the focus of what you've been doing”
I think the above quote is so accurate for many charity leaders and so many took the time in the lockdown to reassess and focus on the strategy. What really mattered? Was everything geared towards the people we support? Are we future-proofed?
Like a lot of charities (and commercial businesses), the lockdown has made KM Charity Team focus on a digital-first approach, which was the only way to go for 18 months but will also be great for the long term future of the charity.
Before the pandemic, everything they did, from fundraising to supporting people, was in person. With the changes, they will still be able to return to that, but have added a new way of working, increasing revenues and saving money.
Even some of the more common changes that most people made, like working from home, are a significant plus from the lockdown. It was an approach they had wanted to make for a long time but had now been able to implement - now it’s a natural part of the working life.
Tough Choices Have To Be Made
Mike was very clear that being a charity is not easy and running a charity is not all fluffy and nice, you have to make tough decisions because you are responsible for both your team AND your beneficiaries, as well as spending the money people donate in the appropriate way.
Mike does put a big emphasis on his staff, they all share a passion for the mission and his focus is making sure they all still have jobs, particularly through some of the darker days of lockdown when it was a struggle day to day, like it was for a lot of the smaller charities.
He has a great take on commercial vs. charity when it comes to money. In commercial businesses they talk profit, charities talk about the surplus. The bigger the surplus, the safer you are and the more people you can help.
“Focus on paying the bills and doing the stuff we want to do, anything extra is a bonus”
It might be a buzzword in a lot of marketing, but authenticity really matters in charity marketing. You cannot fake anything with a charity, marketing is about telling a story and with a charity it has to be truthful.
Tell stories about how you are making a difference. Donors respond best to seeing how their money is being spent, so always put a massive focus on this in your marketing.
And the most authentic thing I can say about Mike is a comment he made during the interview that he genuinely believes
"It’s the only sector where you are building towards making yourself redundant"