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Charity Careers: meet Andy Harris, director of income generation for Shelter UK

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More from the blog
How do you become a fundraising director? Why work for a charity and what's the toughest job in fundraising?

You'll find answers to these and much more in the latest Charity Careers, our series in which Nicola Greenbrook talks to key influencers in the charity sector, inviting them to share their career story and how they navigate the professional world. We discover what they've learned along the way, what motivates them to get up in the morning and even what their dream breakfast might look like when they do...

This month, Nicola was delighted to chat to Andy Harris, Director of Income Generation for Shelter UK and discover how his team contributes towards the charity’s invaluable work, why every donation bag tells a story and what to do when you’re stuck in cosy corner… 

 

 
Hi Andy: how would you describe Shelter's purpose and the work you do?

Shelter was founded 52 years ago, not by the wealthy or the powerful, but as a community organisation whose purpose was to change society. That means we’re needed now more than at any other time in our history: for millions of our fellow citizens, the fundamental human need for a safe home is ignored.  

Shelter exists to defend the right to a safe home. We’ve recently spent time as a charity looking at Shelter’s purpose, what were we founded to do and how we deliver against that. Shelter is changing and to help us we set ourselves five change mantras: Shelter will change the country, our enemy is social injustice, we say what we believe, we are all one Shelter, and we only do what meets our purpose. 

We're open 365 days a year so that no-one is left to fight bad housing or homelessness on their own. Every year, Shelter helps more than four million people providing expert advice and support through our free helpline, face-to-face and online services. For example, our legal advisors might represent someone in court facing eviction or negotiate with a council to find a homeless family somewhere to go.

What are you personally responsible for?

I’m responsible for income generation with an amazing team of around 350 spread right across the UK, comprising fundraisers and shop staff.

There are around 90 Shelter shops on high streets with great community shop managers, assistant managers, volunteers and van drivers and they’re doing really well. We’ve seen a boom recently, possibly spurred by Marie Kondo’s Netflix series, but we always need more stock! Thankfully 2018 was a record-breaking year for income generation at Shelter as we’ve raised more than ever before, recruited more regular givers and smashed our Christmas fundraising targets too.  

I’m also responsible for our incredible Direct Dialogue fundraising team; street and door-to-door fundraising, with around 150 people at its peak. 

Where did you start your career and any key roles along the way?

I began as Commercial Events Manager for a marketing company then saw a tiny advert in The Guardian (when you actually bought a newspaper to job search) for ‘Events Manager, London Charity’ and applied directly to the trustees. It was Mayhew Animal Home and I’ve never looked back.

From there I worked for Macmillan Cancer Support as a Capital Appeal Manager in Epsom. I was a bit of an idle fundraiser to be honest; appeal managers would be called to a monthly review meeting with the big-wigs and each month I’d proudly report that I had exceeded the monthly target required…with next month’s in the drawer already! That was good major donor fundraising.

A job at Sue Ryder for a Head of Regional Fundraising became vacant, supporting fundraising managers in all hospice and neurological centres, and I did that for seven years. I recruited a team of 100, knew everybody and had a great line manager (we love you Eric Grounds) but I realised in one of our management away days I was in ‘cosy corner’ so started seeing what was out there. A Director of Fundraising role came up at Action for Children, but I considered it a waste of time; that they’d never see me and that I didn’t have the experience. An agency persuaded me to allow them to send my CV in…and the rest is history. I stayed there for four years. 

When I saw the Director of Fundraising and Marketing role at Breast Cancer Care, I convinced myself they wouldn’t want me. As the closing date approached, I still wasn’t sure if I wanted to apply but the consultant was hounding me. So, I opened the job pack when the kids were up at 6.00 am watching Peppa Pig one Saturday. I thought I’d have a quick read and think of two or three things to say about why I wasn’t suitable; basically, talking myself out of it.

Then I really read the job pack, researched and realised it was the job for me. After the first interview I walked out thinking what an idiot I was, believing I’d messed up. I got through to the next round, spent time with the CEO, Samia al Qadhi, the Board and all the direct line reports and knew this was such a good job and would be annoyed if I didn’t get it. I spent five years there; I was clear from the outset I would stay for around two and a half but there was big stuff happening internally and externally - a new brand, an office move, changes with our corporate partners, so it kind of swept me in.   

Then the job here came along which was back working with the incredible and hugely talented Polly Neate who I had worked with at Action for Children. 

 

 
You appear to have been driven by a continuous hunger in your career: when you exceed your targets and reach cosy corner, you do more. Has that appetite waned at all?

I think that’s the job; if you’re stuck in cosy corner, or not striving to do more, it’s time to move over to let somebody else have a go. I could never work in a charity where I was simply required to raise £10 million for the next ten years. Where’s the drive in that? 

Essentially, I’m a salesman. I don’t have a pen or a car, but I’m selling a desire and a dream - the ability to defend the right to a safe home. Everyone has that fundamental right. There was a guy who worked in a pizza restaurant by day and slept on a park bench by night. He’d go to the local swimming baths for a shower, get dressed and work for 12 hours, then go back to sleeping on a park bench. That’s what drives me to do more.

How do you keep your skills fresh and build your knowledge?

I read books, blogs and trade press and always talk to people - I’m a great believer in recommendations.

I’m not a massive social media fan. I tried Twitter for a while; I recognise it makes you accessible, but it didn’t raise money so I didn’t bother!

What advice would you give to graduates considering a move into charity, or managers keen to become directors?

From entry level, the best way up would be to start on a voluntary basis. Looking at those I’ve interviewed, their first fundraising jobs were being active in their student union, or as a volunteer fundraiser in whatever activity they are passionate about. I've also worked with some awesome fundraisers who joined from direct dialogue fundraising too. 

From managers progressing to directors, ensure you find the right people for your team. People can often become lazy; but it’s not always what the organisation will do for you, but what you will do for the organisation. If you want to develop your career you’ve got to put the hard work in.

One thing the fundraising sector certainly needs is diversity; we simply won’t survive if every fundraiser went to university and reads The Guardian. 

 

 

What time does your alarm go off? Are you a snoozer or a spring-out-of-bedder?

I don’t have an alarm - haven’t for years…I’ve got kids and a dog! Monday and Tuesday I have to be up mega early to drop the kids at breakfast club and this morning I was up at 6.15am. On a Wednesday or Thursday, if I’ve not got an early meeting, it’s nice to lay in until 7.00am. If you said to me you’ve got to get the 6.50 am train every day for the next five years, that would fill me with dread. 

I like the variety of the commute. The 8.10am has different people and is slightly less frantic. Whereas the 7.10am is a different world altogether…

What's your dream breakfast and where would you eat it (and what’s the reality?)

A fresh and vibrant greasy spoon (where you don’t come out smelling of breakfast!) in Glasgow or on the Isle of Wight. Where I used to work they used to do tea for 20p: where in London can you get a cup of tea for 20p?!

My actual breakfast this morning was an apple and a coffee at my desk. I used to buy a big bag of pre-cut apple from Boots at Waterloo station to snack on during the day, but I was told off by my team! So, I bought 4 apples from M&S this morning and actually washed and cut them up myself. I’m trying to do my bit to reduce plastic.

Can you talk us through your typical day? 

I spend a lot of time with the team, meeting people and talking to our service users and beneficiaries; I’m naturally curious. What Shelter does is quite complex, so if I have to ‘sell’ it, I have to understand it.

There’s nothing better than spending the morning talking to volunteers and customers, hanging out in the shop and understanding people’s motivation. There’s always an interesting story and every bag of donations tells a different one. 

Our shops are all individual; because of the manager, volunteers and community the shop takes on a life of its own. The volunteer who works in the Brighton shop on a Tuesday and Friday controls the music and has a real distinct style; you can’t touch the music on these days! That’s great and it makes it memorable. To me, this encouragement to be an individual, reaffirms why I work for a charity and not for Mercedes Benz selling cars.

 

 
Where and how do you spend your lunch break?

I don’t really have one and I eat at my desk - that’s bad isn’t it? I prefer to do an hour ’s work then leave on time as it makes me more productive. Whitecross Street Food Market, just around the corner from Shelter’s offices, is great but very busy at lunchtime. It’s lovely in the morning when they’re cooking onions and there’s a Turkish family making flatbreads. I could stand there and watch them for ages. 

What’s been your best career ‘up’ and worst ‘down’ to date - why, and what did you learn from them?

My ‘up’ would be doing the unexpected, like when Action for Children partnered with an elephant conservation charity the Elephant Family to create The Fabergé Big Egg Hunt. Or when a breast cancer charity (Breast Cancer Care) wins a partnership with The Football Association to create the Pass it On campaign rather than, for example, a prostate cancer charity. 

As for my ‘down’? Repeating the same thing and not getting the same result. We ran an event that was really successful; then re-did it the second year and it wasn’t. When the expectation of £2 million becomes £300,000 it’s a big disappointment.

Who do you look up to within the sector?

Our direct dialogue fundraisers. I spent a few days knocking on doors and standing on the street with them and realised they get knocked back hundreds of times every day. On one occasion it was pouring with rain and I felt like the ‘wally with the brolly’! It was the hardest day's work that I’ve ever done as a fundraiser and I felt emotionally and physically destroyed. Although people were really pleasant, it was soul destroying…nobody signed up and I gave in too easily! The team are amazing.
 
Those in the sector who do more than me to improve the profession; being active in the speaking circuit, on boards or giving their advice freely. I know fundraisers that do masses for the sector and I always feel guilty.

What gets you out of bed in the morning, even when it’s cold and rainy?

The need to do a good job. You’ve got to get on, it’s easy to get stuck moaning!

Some of my colleagues at Shelter who are active Tweeters are subject to some horrible trolling and abuse, and that would destroy me. I try to keep everything compartmentalised; I keep my work and home life separate and switch off between the two. It helps me focus. I am a doer but it annoys me that I can’t flick easily between the two. 

What are you reading, watching or listening to at the moment?

Although I read quite a bit, I dip in and out as I don’t have a great attention span, and the idea of reading an academic book from front to back bores me to tears!

I’m currently reading The Coaching Bible and a book called The Culture Code. I’m listening to Michelle Obama’s autobiography on my walk from Shelter (Old Street) to Waterloo. She has a lovely voice, and the 40 minutes with no disruptions flies by.

I’m currently loving The Crown and a programme called Secrets of Her Majesty’s Secret Service about the creation of MI6. If It told you the music I’m listening to, people would take the mickey out of me…it’s quite cheesy! I need to get better at finding work-related podcasts (suggestions please) but I’m currently enjoying That Peter Crouch Podcast; if you’re a big football fan, you have to listen!

 

 
What can’t you get through the day without?

It sounds bad, but my phone (I never turn it off) and people. I get lonely working at home and prefer to be surrounded by people. I thrive on talking to my team and service users; you can’t do this job without that. I really love the fact that within a typical fundraising team you have such diverse roles. Often people with data, digital or analytical skills think they can’t work in fundraising. 

As a director, I try not to shut myself away. On joining Shelter, I moved out of my own office into the open plan, then encouraged all of the other directors in Old Street into doing the same and this neatly aligns with our ‘One Shelter’ mantra. 

What do you do in your spare time?

What spare time?! I spend time with my family and walking the dog. Weekends are good for chilling, recovering, socialising and getting stuff done. My three boys are all into football so Sunday mornings mean different games at different times…so that keeps me busy!

 


A very special thanks to Andy for his time and fascinating insight into his career to date and Shelter’s invaluable work, which you can find out more about here.

Nicola Greenbrook - HR Specialist & Freelance Writer 

Contact Nicola


Check out more Charity Careers:

► Sara Rees, Head of Fundraising, Rays of Sunshine Children's Charity

► Hannah Sanders, Consumer Brand Partnerships Lead, Save the Children

► Back to the blog homepage

 

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