Monthly career interview with professionals in the not-for-profit sector
What is your current role and how long have you been working in it?
Director of Public Affairs, Concern Worldwide. I’ve had the title for a decade, but the job is constantly changing. At the moment, I’m accountable for an incredible team of people who are responsible for Concern’s fundraising and active citizenship programme in Ireland. Concern’s South Korea operation (fundraising, communications and government funding) is also part of the remit. I also chair Concern’s digital transformation steering group. I’ve lucky to work for an organisation willing to facilitate staff involvement in the wider sector, so I’ve served terms as the chair of ICTR and Charities Institute Ireland, as well we chairing the judging panel of the Fundraising Ireland awards.
How did you get to where you are today and what influenced your decision to work in your chosen field?
I graduated from UCD with a degree in economics in the 80s. Jobs were scarce in Ireland, and I ended in the Saudi Arabia working for an Irish dairy company. When I came back, I began working in community development in West Dublin, and felt much more at home in that space. I saw a job advertising a role with a charity – unnamed – applied, got it and have been with Concern since. I was in university in the mid-80s, so Live Aid, Band Aid were prominent campaigns and that gave me a particular interest in international development. When I found out the job was with Concern, I knew it was the right move.
What do you love/enjoy most about your job?
I love the variety. You never quite know what each day can bring. It might be strategic planning, it might be recruiting new staff, it might be reviewing campaign performance. I also get to travel: I’ll be in both South Korea and Liberia before the end of the year, and that’s enjoyable too.
And what are the most challenging parts of your job?
Challenging, but critical, is the need to have strong prioritisation skills. I’ve no issue saying ‘no’, but decisions have to be credible and easily understood.
On a personal level, the commute is back to Celtic Tiger proportions: regardless of the mode – bus, Luas or private car, it’s now a 45-60 minute journey to do the 14 km from office to home. But I enjoy the office environment, and need the office dynamic to perform well, so the commute it is!
How do you relax?
Lots of walking (and a family group of seven of us just completed Hell And Back earlier this month which was brilliant fun); I help out with my children’s GAA club; podcasts and audio books for when I’m on my own. I’m a bedraggled supporter of Clare hurling and Spurs. We’ve had high – and low – moments recently.
What skills and personality traits do you think are essential for a job like yours?
Resilience for the low points; balance for the high ones – you’ll experience disproportionate levels of both. Increasingly, a grá for data and an appreciation that data driven insights are critical for improving performance.
In terms of personal skills, it really is important to just being able to get on with people – be they colleagues, or supporters. And grab every possible opportunity to engage with those people who make your work possible: so attend events and chat – you’ll have a deeper understanding of motivations than any piece of research will ever give you.
What’s your advice to anyone who wants to pursue a career in the same field?
I’ve been lucky enough to work for a cause which is hugely important to me, and the importance of that shared connection – of values, and belief in the mission – can’t be underestimated. So advice #1 is find something you love. Not all days will be good ones, and you have to have motivation beyond needing to pay the bills.
Advice #2 is to volunteer: when interviewing, it’s remarkable the number of people who seem to be missing the joy of ‘giving’ – be it time, or money, or expertise. Experience that joy – and employers will see you as a more rounded individual.
What’s the best advice you’ve ever been given?
Learn from your mistakes. Don’t be paralysed by them.
What has been the best moment of your career so far?
I’m a fundraiser at heart. The best moment is always the next one!
What are your career aspirations?
I’ve (hopefully – you’d need to check with colleagues and family) been trying to get better at balancing work and life. I’m in a job which does involve evening and weekend work, which is fine. The critical thing is ‘how quickly do you get to switch off?’ My career aspiration is to get better at that!
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 to [email protected]. We’d love to hear from you!