Nonprofit Hero Beth Upton is the founder and CEO of Money Tree Fundraising.
Nonprofit Heroes is our series of interviews with industry experts, successfully proven fundraisers, and nonprofit heroes with stories and tips to inspire your charity to use technology to your advantage and do good, better.
Let’s start with some background information – who are you, and what do you do?
I am Beth Upton, founder and CEO of Money Tree Fundraising. We are on a mission to embed sustainable high-value fundraising within charities of all size, through our expert advice and delivery.
What was your first job?
I had a paper round in my early teens – the free paper that arrived mid-week. My first “proper” job was during my gap year between school and university: I worked in the office of a global lighting manufacturer. To begin with, most of my work was handling the fax machine. I am an expert at the multi-page fax with no double-page-feed errors! As the year progressed, I was let loose on customers and I learned a huge amount about customer service and how to handle yourself over the phone. It was hard to be taken seriously as a young woman talking about wiring and electrics by an audience that was mainly male.
How did you get into the charity sector?
I was doing a law degree at university and became really disillusioned with my choice. I had wanted to get into the law to change the system and right injustice from the inside out. I quickly realised that only the top 1% of law students get the cool jobs like that, and I wasn’t clever enough to be that 1% - I was more likely to end up with the majority of law graduates, working for a company, writing contracts for mergers and acquisitions… the opposite of my ambitions. So I quit!
My godfather was a fundraiser for Age Concern Scotland at the time and I remember asking him what fundraising meant, on one of our long conversations about how my life was now ruined because I didn’t have a degree. He told me it was boring, just a lot of writing… (he still is a great grant writer). I became more intrigued the more he pushed me away… so I applied for a lot of administration jobs inside charities and landed the most brilliant of starts: PA to the Head of Corporate Fundraising at Macmillan. I could not have asked for a better start in terms of grounding, skills, support, teaching, setting, friends.
Tell us about Money Tree Fundraising and your journey so far
I got my first freelance fundraising job in late 2010, which lasted 3 months or so, through a friend. At the end of that first assignment, I put out feelers for a second assignment and was overwhelmed by the response from smaller charities really interested in the idea of having access to a grant writer for a small percentage of the time. The company was born from that insight and I quickly grew a team of brilliant trust fundraisers to match to those charities in need of a small input or a short-term input.
Today we deliver a broad range of high-value fundraising – we work with charities to set up their major donor programmes, to assess their chances of success with their capital ambitions, to evaluate their fundraising programmes. We consult, we train, we deliver across the country and sometimes internationally too.
"We work with charities to set up their major donor programmes, to assess their chances of success with their capital ambitions, to evaluate their fundraising programmes."
We have just launched a series of free health checks covering trusts, major donors and capital appeals. Anyone can fill these in on our website and receive a free, no obligation, consultation with one of the team. The questionnaires aim to support fundraisers to consider all of the planning and input required internally when working with a consultant or freelance fundraiser and help us to assess each charity and its needs so we can offer the best advice for the future.
You were named Best Strategic Fundraising Consultancy by the Institute of Fundraising. What's the approach you take to fundraising?
We are all passionate about relationships at Money Tree Fundraising. This stems from our fundraising successes being boosted by forging strong relationships with donors – be they major donors, trusts or companies.
And what that means is that we are also naturals at building relationships with our clients. The case study we submitted for the Best Strategic/Fundraising Consultancy award was a great example of that: over 40 weeks we held weekly mentoring sessions with small charities in Barnet and taught them how to write their own applications for grants large and small. We only had a maximum of six sessions per charity so had to work fast to win trust and build rapport in order to get the results.
If you could change one thing to improve anything in fundraising, what (or who) would you change, and how?
I wish there was more money invested in fundraising and fundraisers, by donors as well as by organisations.
I occasionally play the “what would you do if you won the Euro Millions” game with my brother. Whilst he is dreaming of an Aston Martin and a swimming pool, I am dreaming of having my own foundation. The Upton Foundation (working title) would support the development of fundraisers and investment in fundraising practice for long-term success within organisations.
"I wish there was more money invested in fundraising and fundraisers, by donors as well as by organisations"
How do you think fundraising will change in the years to come?
Relationships. In high-value fundraising, we have always started with a personal relationship and built a partnership with a person, a trust, a company. It might be an in-depth relationship or a superficial one but nonetheless, the approach has always been tailored and targeted. And so when I look at volume-based gifts programmes, be they for single or repeat gifts, I am always astonished by how little relationship has been considered. There are brilliant exceptions and I always enjoy hearing from those fundraisers who are delivering amazing work for their organisations. But looking at fundraising practice is the widest sense there is still a resistance to relationships. I see that resistance is borne out of fear, out of a sense of wasting time, out of ignorance. This will surely change in the next few years for the many as it already has for the few.
"When I look at volume-based gifts programmes, be they for single or repeat gifts, I am always astonished by how little relationship has been considered."
Do any tech innovations come to mind that has made your life easier and saved you time or money?
So many! Recently I have discovered ACR, which is a call-recording app for Android phones. I do a lot of telephone advice sessions and I want to be present on the call, not always taking notes… and I’d like the same to be true on the other side of the call too.
I send the recording to the person who has received the advice so that they have a record of everything I’ve said, plus I review all of the recordings periodically to search for trends in the needs of the charities we advise. A very useful tool!
A few quickfire questions:
- Your Desert Island disc, if you had to choose one?
Echo Beach by Martha and the Muffins. It is my partner’s favourite song and if I was stranded it would remind me of him whilst also being a great tune to sing along to, plus I’m a firm believer in singing for mental wellbeing and I could sing along to this for ages!
- PC or a Mac?
- The most used app on your smartphone?
The FitBit app – I am obsessed with making sure I hit my daily walking goals and I enjoy monitoring my heart rate, too.
Finally - do you have a nonprofit hero or heroine? If so, who and why?
My nonprofit hero is Tony Elischer, who was a great mentor to me. He invited me for a coffee one day, out of the blue. I didn't know him, except by name and reputation, and had no reason to think that he knew who I was.
I will never forget it: I had that dread feeling reminiscent of being called to see the Head Teacher back at school. Tony laughed a lot when I told him! That coffee was the start of a relationship that has helped me beyond measure: I credit Tony with keeping me on track to build Money Tree Fundraising.
With me, Tony was generous with his time, expertise and enthusiasm with me and that is how he was with the whole of our sector. Tony gave so very much enthusiasm, positivity and sheer knowledge to our sector, across the world, that a lot of us have reason to be grateful for his generosity of wisdom.
Thanks Beth for being our nonprofit hero!