Nonprofit Hero Alan Clayton is Director at Alan Clayton Associates, a fundraising consultancy based in Scotland. Alan has 25 years experience as a creative director and consultant in fundraising. He has worked with over 350 clients around the world.
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.
First, a little about yourself. Who are you, and what do you do?
I aspire to be a fundraising evangelist. I like to preach to boards, CEOs, executive teams and non-fundraising departments so they understand what it takes to be a Great Fundraising Organisation. I try to unblock everything that gets in the way so that fundraisers can fly.
As a team, Alan Clayton Associates researches, teaches and helps partners create Great Fundraising programmes in about 20 countries. We also invest in the private sector supply to fundraisers when and where there is a need.
What was your first job?
My first job was a dishwasher. I did eventually become a junior chef, though.
My first proper job in this sector was effectively head of community fundraising at what was then the British Diabetic Association.
I discovered organisational politics there for the first time, which was an eye opener, but we did raise quite a lot of money despite this.
How did you get into fundraising, and why?
I got into fundraising deliberately. I studied to be a research scientist, but found it depressing.
My hobby as a student had been fundraising, so I retrained with the Open University and proactively sought this career.
Readers may know you for your inspirational public speaking at fundraising conferences. Public speaking fills most people with dread - how do you do it, and do you have any tips for the rest of us?
Every speech still fills me with dread and anxiety, and I do about 150 a year – many of them eight hours long!
I think if I ever lose the dread and anxiety, the game will be over. Focussing emotion, including the anxiety, is the key for me.
- Train the basics over and over again, then find out what is unique about you and emphasise that.
- Forget perfection, focus on the one thing that’s best about you and don’t worry too much about the rest.
- For the best evaluations, it’s interaction, interaction and interaction.
You've advised fundraisers in many parts of the world, and presumably have been inspired by some along the way. Are there any great examples of fundraising practice that you have seen on your travels that UK charities could learn from?
The UK absolutely leads the world in fundraising creativity. There are probably more fundraising agencies in London than in the rest of the world and the competition alongside some top class, innovative fundraisers has driven a high standard of excellence.
Fundraising is so professional and such a career in the UK, though, I have seen many fundraisers become somewhat disconnected from the mission.
In most other countries, they are still much more closely connected. This has many benefits – but chiefly that fundraisers (the good ones) tend to stay in post longer and see things through.
Do we know enough about why people give?
Yes – the research is there, it’s excellent and we know precisely why different types of people give.
Some fundraisers haven’t seen it and, critically, almost no CEOs or board members have. It’s life-changing when they do.
You and I have been in fundraising for quite a while now! Have you seen the profession change over the years, and if so how?
Overall, not as much as one would expect. It’s bigger and more competitive, but the core skills and knowledge required to be excellent have not really changed since donker’s day.
The external environment has changed (legislation more than media criticism) but that’s just going to force us to be really good if we want to compete.
What makes a good fundraiser in 2018?
Impossible question, but if you had to pick one charity whose work is close to your heart, which one would it be?
I can’t pick a charity, but I can pick a cause: youth mental health. I would love future generations not to have to go through a lot of the crap I have had to.
As a species we are getting richer but sadder and angrier. This is stupid and needs to be sorted.
Most of us can point to someone who has inspired us in our careers. Is there anyone that has inspired you?
Ken Burnett, who taught me what high standards really are, oozed creativity by the minute and never gave up.
Giles Pegram, who showed me what a determined, resilient, focussed, uncompromising genius looks like.
On a lighter note:
- How do you relax?
I can’t and don’t. Reference mental health point above!
I used to drink wine, but I haven’t for years now. For fun I like to play outdoors and have adventures with my wife and my wee boy.
- If you could save three records / cassettes / CDs / MP3s / streams to take to the desert island with you, what would they be (and why)?
1) Springsteen’s Thunder Road – the story it tells, and the emotional power of it.
2) The Corries’ Dark Lochnagar – it’s about a Scotsman coming home to roam in the mountains which is my favourite thing. On second thoughts, I must have lied above. I relax by roaming in mountains when I can.
3) Mussorgsky’s Great Gate of Kiev – because trumpets are awesome.
- PC or Mac user?
PC: it works everywhere and I wear them out so quickly Macs are too expensive. Ugly though.
- Is your smartphone an iPhone, Android or other?
iPhone. I tried Android. It was rubbish.
What’s your current favourite app?
FitBit. I am an addict (reference mental health bit above again…)
Scrabble or Monopoly?
You have time to play board games? My favourite game is using a row of chairs to make a bus for me wee boy to ‘drive’.
Thanks Alan for being our nonprofit hero!