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Nonprofit Heroes: Sally Gunnell, OBE

Welcome to our Nonprofit Heroes series, where the Donorfy team interviews industry experts, successful fundraisers, and nonprofit heroes with stories and tips to inspire your charity to use technology to your advantage and do good, better.

Today we're featuring Sally Gunnell OBE. Sally is one of Britain’s greatest and most popular sportswomen. She is the only woman in history to simultaneously hold Olympic, World, European and Commonwealth titles, plus the 400 metres hurdles world record. We were lucky enough to catch up with her and ask her questions about what she’s doing now, her charity work, and how charities can effectively engage with celebrities.


Was athletics your first job?


No it wasn’t. I first started worked as a nanny as it allowed me to balance my training and competing schedule alongside earning money.

What do you do now?

Now I split my time between motivational and inspirational speaking, media work, working with organisations to become ‘Fit/fitter for Business’, charity work and of course my family!  My children are all very active, and now I experience what my parents did with me: running them all over the place for various activities.  My eldest son has a passion for running and now travels overseas and the length and breadth of UK training and competing.

Judging by the number of runners, cyclists and skydivers advertising their fundraising pages on social media it seems that being active is more popular than ever. Why do you think that is?

I think people today have an even better understanding of the benefits of being more active.  It's also a great motivator and being able to support a great cause is the icing on the cake, so to speak!

How do you stay active now?

I enjoy pilates and cycling - with a little bit of running. This is why you often see me doing something for charity.  Having a goal is important part of maintaining motivation to stay active, I think.

You’re a supporter of St Barnabas House and their children’s hospice Chestnut Tree House. Why them?

There are two main reasons. First, they provide a fantastic service. Second, they’re local to me.

We often see you taking part in their events. Can you tell us how you and the charity have decided to work together and what your involvement looks like?

There is no great science behind how we work together.  They put on lots of fantastic events throughout the year and, diary permitting, I go to as many as I can. Other than that, I still put in the training so I can be prepared.  I’m unfortunately not as young as I used to be,  so making sure I’m doing preparation helps to avoids silly injuries!.  

I imagine you are asked to lend your name to numerous good causes. What are your criteria for getting involved and putting your name to one?

It is very difficult, as I am asked a lot! I hate saying no, but you do have to be realistic.  I also have to consider the other charities I support as well.  I don’t have a criteria per se, I just try and rotate my time as much as I can.

What advice would you give to a charity wanting to engage with a celebrity? (Or, if you prefer - tips on how NOT to engage with a celebrity!)

I only really have a few simple pieces of advice to offer.  Find a connection between the charity and the celebrity you are asking (i.e why do you think this particular cause will matter to them?). Make it really easy for them to be involved.  Use their time for maximum impact.  That might mean looking at the events planned and picking out key dates when you’ll be able to reach the most people and have the best opportunity to attract new supporters.

Last time I looked the UK charity sector employed around a million people, and benefit from a huge number of volunteers doing anything from office work to helping out at events. What do you think charities, their staff and volunteers can gain from an increased focus on corporate/office wellbeing?

Corporate wellbeing is just about adopting a more rounded approach to wellbeing.  Health affects work and work impacts on health - it’s all connected.  Wellbeing isn’t just about running 5 miles a day.  We look at helping individuals make small well-executed changes to key areas of their life (activity, nutrition, mental resilience and sleep) that will enable them to make a sustainable positive difference to their lifestyle.  If everyone links together small positive changes in those key areas of their life, they’ll be even more effective in the valuable work that they do!

What fitness tech do you use?

I have an apple watch.  I use various activity apps: ‘Aaptiv’ which has good exercise programmes and has a personal trainer. I go out on my bike a lot and I enjoy using the cycling app called ‘strava’.  I also use a corporate app called KIN, which allows me to connect with a larger number of people in supporting the wellbeing programmes I put together for businesses and organisations.

And our readers are always keen to know:

  • PC or Mac?


  • Is your smartphone an iPhone, Android, or other?


  • What’s your favourite app?

Strava for my cycling.

Thanks Sally for being our nonprofit hero!

If you’d like to nominate an industry expert or nonprofit hero, contact us or tweet us @Donorfy. Follow us on LinkedIn and Twitter so you don’t miss the next interview.