James Beeby is Director of Income Generation for Terrence Higgins Trust. After starting out as a volunteer for the London Lesbian and Gay Switchboard, he moved into the charity sector professionally, working in corporate partnerships. He became Associate Director of Fundraising for Prostate Cancer UK, where he worked for seven years, during which they experienced exponential growth in fundraising.
I wasn’t looking to change jobs. I was approached about this role at Terrence Higgins Trust a couple of years ago. I was incredibly happy where I was, but as a gay man who came out in the early 90s, during some of the darkest days of the HIV epidemic, it is a cause that means a lot to me personally. It felt like two parts of my life coming together.
We have been heavily hit by Covid. We have been quite upfront about the fact that we are expecting unrestricted voluntary income to drop by up to a third. So obviously, that has a massive knock-on impact on the charity and we have been talking to our supporters about that. What we have seen is that there has been a real kind of galvanising factor – we have actually seen our digitally-delivered appeals get better response rates than our previous postal appeals.
I thought we would have grown quicker. I joined a year and a half ago and I expected we would have grown quicker than we have by now (six months in a pandemic obviously has not helped either). What I belatedly realised was that we had to get our own house in order first – sort out the big internal things, such as insight, structures, messaging, processes. I now think that we have got there: we have got the building blocks in place now to be able to grow.
I run on optimism. I am generally quite optimistic and think that things can be overcome. So, I always try and look for a solution and I tend not to get mired in a problem. My work in my leadership with the team tends to be about helping them to find ways to get through things. I really enjoy that, and I really enjoy seeing people in my team grow and push themselves forward.
I wish I had reached out to people more. When I was in my previous role, there were a couple of years when we were struggling for income. I took it very personally. I thought it was all my fault and my responsibility. I had stepped up, I was the Acting Director of Fundraising then and our growth slowed down. I really struggled to communicate that – it started to drag me down a bit and did keep me awake at night. It was only when I started to let people in and share some of that, that things changed.
I cannot control all the moving parts. I have had a couple of instances, some of them with people management, where I could have helped move it forward quicker if I had taken other people into my confidence and shared that I was finding things hard, or needed to look at them another way – not seeing that as a sign of weakness; actually seeing it more as a sign of strength. It can still be my default and I have to challenge myself on it. But I know that I need to do it.
Ending HIV is possible. I firmly believe that the goal of ending HIV transmission is one that we need to meet, and can. We are so close. Of course, the last ten percent is always the hardest, as with anything. But I joined the charity because I firmly believe it can be done and I believe that generating more income is at the root of doing it. When I get to retirement, I would like to be able to look back and see that we have been able to stop HIV transmission, and be able to say, I was a small part of that.
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.