Corinne Pluchino has recently left SSAFA, the Armed Forces Charity, after 4 years, where she was Executive Director, Marketing Communications & Fundraising. Her previous role was at Marie Curie Cancer Care, preceded by a career as a researcher in the House of Commons and in public affairs and communications in industry and as a consultant. She is now taking up a Masters in Environmental Policy and is a trustee of the Campaign to Protect Rural England.
Older charities need to refresh their offer. I think a real challenge for charities that have a long history, not just in the military sector but across the board, is that often their name and their original intention is quite complex. They often use language and sentiments from a different time, which really need to be modernised to make them impactful now. At SSAFA, which was originally the Soldiers’, Sailors’ and Airmen’s Families Association, we simply made it SSAFA – The Armed Forces Charity.
You have to be clear about what you do. If you’re not clear about what the organisation is there to do, it makes it much harder to do all those other things that support it such as communications and fundraising. I think we’ve got a lot better at that at SSAFA and our strategic review will help even more. It’s a really, really important and worthwhile exercise: it can give clarity to trustees and to employees and volunteers about what you’re all about and what impact you’re trying to make.
Affinity with causes is changing between the generations. Of course, there are various different theories on this but some themes that are now emerging are, the business of people feeling a sense of common values, people feeling an emotional connection – people feeling perhaps that they’re even part of a movement.
You have to be resourceful if you’re in the shadow of a super charity. We have some very, very big charities now which, by virtue of their size, tend to be the charities that the public has front of mind. That can be very difficult for people with causes that perhaps do not have the same mass appeal. So you need to be skilled at getting cut-through and being able to articulate your case in a way which resonates with people, and which encourages them to have an emotional connection or feel part of a cause, or a movement. Working together with other organisations is also key.
People have a greater appetite for change than you think. I can think of a number of instances where we have almost been too frightened at the centre to suggest change, while our volunteers have been ahead of us in terms of what needs to be done, and we’ve just had to catch up with them rather than the other way around.
Doing the job isn’t enough. It is often the case with charities, it certainly has been at SSAFA, that they are very focused on doing the job. We roll up our sleeves, we get on with it. I think in today’s world, that is not enough. You have to keep telling the story. This can be a difficult but vital step because it often requires additional resources I have been lucky to work with some very supportive trustees and very capable people at SSAFA, helping us take significant steps forward in terms of our ability to tell the story, and to generate interest in what we do.
Be imaginative, be creative. There is real value in trying new things, in looking at things from a different angle. You can get wonderful results from that. I think where we have tried new things at SSAFA over the last 3 to 4 years, we’ve been really pleased with the results. And one almost feels, why didn’t we do that sooner?
Be brave. I have learnt the importance of being courageous. I have been very lucky that SSAFA has given me the support to do this, and hope that in turn I create a climate in which others can do the same. I have also learnt to trust my instincts. I am by nature someone who likes to analyse facts on a piece of paper – but I now understand that my instinctive reaction to an issue is also one of the facts I need to take into account.
Cause & Effect is a series from Hope, in which leading figures who have been involved in building and promoting good causes tell us what they’ve learned from their experiences. Interview by Michael Isaacs.