Kath Abrahams is Director of Engagement and Fundraising at Diabetes UK. After starting her career managing the Bloomsbury Theatre, she moved to NSPCC, and was part of the team that worked on the famous Full Stop campaign, moving over to ChildLine as it merged with NSPCC. She then had roles at Breakthrough Breast Cancer and at King’s College London and King’s Health Partners, before moving to Diabetes UK in 2016.
People get moved about cancer, but less so about diabetes. Recent research shows that 34% of people said they would consider giving to Cancer Research UK, 3% of people said they would consider giving to Diabetes UK.
But I hate the idea of a competition of diseases. It’s an awful thought, which is why we don’t get ourselves into a competitive space, but there are 460 early deaths a week as a result of diabetes. People don’t talk about that. The first challenge is getting over that first hurdle, that people think it’s a cause that’s worth supporting.
Donors don’t always get a brilliant experience when they support a charity. I think the reality is that we would like to think we live in a world where donors always get an absolutely brilliant experience, but I don’t think they do. Actually, a lot of the time it’s just through lack of thought about the way processes inside the charity impact on donors.
We have to move beyond transactional relationships. Transactional relationships are less helpful than relationships where we develop a conversation with a supporter. It’s not simply about people giving us money, and us saying thank you. We are focused on engaging with the huge number of people who have diabetes and are potentially affected by it. We’re putting a lot of attention on how we build a relationship with people that might not start with them giving us money, but with us offering them advice and support.
I see the glass as half full with GDPR. I think that we have to accept that we live in an environment where we can’t contact people in the same way as we might have done a couple of years ago, but we are where we are. I think the really important thing for me is that we are thoughtful about what we do and we really do consider properly what the right approach is for us.
We’re going to be able to directly contact fewer people. The nature of GDPR and the regulatory environment generally means that we need to adjust to a world in which we can only contact people who’ve positively said they want to be engaged with us. And that creates all sorts of challenges for the traditional voluntary income model. So we have to be creative and think about other ways of generating vital income. It also makes it all the more important that we grow awareness of our cause through our brand.
Fundraising can’t sit in a silo anymore. I think we will see, we have to see, more charities focusing on broader engagement with their supporters and beneficiaries, particularly for charities that offer services and are trying to raise awareness. We also have to focus on what people want from us rather than how we’ve chosen to set ourselves up internally. And we hope that will lead to people thinking about fundraising as part of the engagement journey.
You have to give the people who work for you the space to grow and develop. And give them a framework to do that. But absolutely not to stand there and tell people exactly what to do. For me it’s about coaching rather than directing, giving people clarity about where we’re trying to get to and then the space to do things in their own way. As leaders, we have a huge responsibility to create the culture that allows for that.
You have to get everybody on the bus. We’ve had a major change programme at Diabetes UK, a revolution, really. And I’m now realising that we didn’t allow enough time to get the level of buy-in that we needed. I now realise how hard you have to work to get the momentum around a major change programme. The internal engagement that you do as part of that is one of the most critical building blocks.
We don’t sell widgets. I’m not in a job where I wake up in the morning wondering why we bother. It’s very clear why we bother. I think we’re really needed. And it’s fun. It’s really good fun, actually, despite everything.
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.