Earlier this year CCI Executive Search were delighted to work with the Dublin Rape Crisis Centre to recruit their new Head of Fundraising, Kirsty Cawthron. Kirsty joined the DRCC in June of this year, and we recently caught up with her to find out more about her current role and her career in the Not for Profit sector.
How did you get to where you are today and what influenced your decision to work in your chosen field?
I have worked in the charity sector for 14 years, predominantly in the UK. I was fortunate to meet a number of not for profits through my MA studies in Global Citizenship, Identities and Human Rights, which inspired me to seek a career in the sector. It has always been important to me that the work I do does more than generate money and the charity sector has been a perfect – and rewarding – fit.
I began my career at a large, established UK charity, The Prince’s Trust, where I worked as Executive Assistant to the CEO and Senior Management Team. This role was the perfect introduction to the charity sector; I got a great insight to every department of the charity as well as how differing priorities both compliment and contradict each other. It also gave me the opportunity to experience how different departments function, which showed me that fundraising was the path for me. I moved into Major Donor fundraising in 2010 and have broadened my fundraising experience across roles in several charities since to also include statutory, trusts, grants and foundations, corporate partnerships and capital projects. I have worked independently to launch new income streams and led teams to manage income targets of £14m+.
My move to DRCC was inspired by my relocation to Dublin – and I was very lucky that a perfect role was available with a charity that spoke very clearly to me as being increasingly relevant and important.
What do you love most about your job?
The wins in fundraising are very rewarding! Nothing beats the feeling of a new partner confirming that they want to fund your work. But for me, there are 2 things I love most about my job. One is knowing that you can directly create change for people that need help – in my current role, the more I raise, the more DRCC can do to prevent the harm and heal the trauma of sexual violence. Secondly, it is the relationships I am able to build with funders/prospects – amazing individuals from very different walks of life who see the value in the charity I represent and choose (financially or otherwise) to make a difference.
What’s something you’re working on that you’re excited about?
My relocation to Dublin and joining DRCC coincided with a global pandemic and local lockdowns – it hasn’t been easy! DRCC’s existing fundraising is largely statutory and events based and the latter has demanded boundless creativity and innovation this year. As a result, we are launching DRCC’s first large scale digital fundraising campaign from 25th November to 10th December. This is a first for me! But I am really excited by what the campaign could deliver for DRCC and it has been exciting to work with the team and adapt our fundraising skills.
DRCC’s campaign is called Sexual Violence: #16stats in 16 days and will raise awareness about the reality of sexual violence across Ireland, as well as replace lost funds elsewhere. Every day for 16 days, DRCC will post a different statistic about sexual violence across our social channels. Everyone can help by sharing these, using the hashtag #16stats, to spread our messages far and wide and help DRCC’s first digital fundraising campaign succeed!
What are the most challenging parts of your job?
Covid-19 is has definitely presented the biggest challenge in my career to date! While many funders and the public have continued to be very generous, the pace of new business (bringing on board new corporate and philanthropic partners) has definitely slowed down. Before covid, I would say the biggest challenge is keeping yourself and the team motivated when you have a run of declines or “no’s” from potential funders. Sometimes they come thick and fast – so celebrating the wins is hugely important.
How do you relax?
I work at a fast pace and I like a busy environment, so it is important that I find a way to unwind! I love running and have completed a few marathons in the past. I ran Achill half in 2018 and I have a place booked for Connemara half when it is reinstated post Covid!
What skills and personality traits do you think are essential for a job like yours?
In my opinion, the best traits of a successful fundraiser are tenacity (to continue pursuing funding leads relentlessly until they say either yes or no) and adaptability. You need to listen to your prospects and funders so that you can firstly draw on your knowledge of the charity to present the elements that they would be interested in, and then to build a relationship that delivers what they are looking for.
What’s your advice to anyone who wants to pursue a career in the same field?
My early experience in an admin role really helped me to succeed in the sector – I can’t emphasise enough how helpful that broad understanding of a charity has been in every subsequent role. I would also encourage people to hold out for a cause that they believe in – in fundraising you are selling that charity every day so it is important that you are sincere and genuinely care about the cause.
What’s the best advice you’ve ever been given?
A former colleague, and a good friend, shared the OAR / BED model with me several years ago. It is a great way to quickly consider the behaviours you want to enact or see in others (“above the line”) and those that you don’t (“below the line”). The idea is that under the line, we find other reasons for what has happened, but above the line we look to what we did/could have done. I try to live above the line and encourage my teams to do the same!
What has been the best moment of your career so far?
My proudest fundraising moment was establishing a new major donor income stream at Young Enterprise where I worked for 6 years – the day it reached £1m was a big achievement – and when it sustained £1m for another 2 years, it felt even better! Although the stand out highlights for me are the people I have met during my career. In the UK I predominantly worked for youth charities and there are 2 young people that I will never forget. One who became homeless as a single parent but went on to start their own successful business with the support of the charity. Another who moved through several foster homes before moving into independent living while caring for their siblings; they got involved with numerous youth groups despite the huge personal responsibilities they had at a young age. Seeing the difference that charities I worked for made to 2 amazing people like these remind me why I go to work every day.
What are you looking forward to in the year ahead career wise?
My role at DRCC is a new position. In one year’s time, I hope to look back at a number of new funding partners that have joined DRCC and feel proud of the improved diversity of our funding. Equally, DRCC is launching several new projects to support victims of sexual violence and it will be very exciting to raise money for these projects as they improve access to therapy and counselling.
If you’re a professional who works in the not-for-profit sector and you’re interested in taking part in the ‘My Charity Career’ interview series, please get in touch by emailing Laura, our Head of Recruitment at [email protected] We’d love to hear from you!