• Emma Malcolm, Director of Fundraising and Marketing, Macular Society

The journey to becoming a Great Fundraising Organisation

Emma Malcolm started in her role as the Director of Fundraising and Marketing at Macular Society three years ago.


When I got the call from Gatenby Sanderson asking if I was interested in a Director role at a smallish sight loss charity in Andover I said no.


I was happy in my job and I thought Andover was miles away.


But when they mentioned that the charity was working with Alan Clayton at Philanthropy & Fundraising International and had prioritised investment in fundraising growth. I had to find out more…


Fundraising will help find a cure to the most common cause of blindness


In 2016 the Macular Society raised around £3 million per year.


There had been some growth in the preceding years, but income had started to plateau. And whilst the charity was helping around 25,000 people with macular disease, this was a drop in the ocean compared to the 1.5million people living with sight loss caused by macular disease.


They knew if they were going to help everyone who might need them then something needed to change.


In February 2017 the leadership team went to the Great Fundraising Masterclass at the Inch. To say that Cathy Yelf, the CEO, came back having had a lightbulb moment would be a massive understatement. The idea of raising money and in doing so awareness of macular disease, clicked.


Cathy then persuaded the board that this was the way forward. If they wanted to stop macular disease they had to become a Great Fundraising Organisation.


It was at this point that Gatenby Sanderson recruited me into a job that has been the hardest, most rewarding and most challenging of my life so far.


Things had to change


Three months before I even started at Macular Society, I headed to a seminar with 21 about-to-be-new colleagues and board members to develop our New Ambition.


And it was incredible. Everything made so much sense.


To see people I didn’t even know, but who would be part of the team driving this change, getting more and more excited was amazing.


Then, in February 2018, I finally joined at the Director of Fundraising and the fun began….


The Macular Society is an organisation that has grown a lot in 33 years.


But it was still operating like a small, local charity. Many of the staff had been there for ages. And whilst they’re all good at their jobs, they’d also got used to the way things worked, even when they found them frustrating.


Now, I’m not the sort to change things for the sake of changing them. Life is after all far too short for that. But when I dug under the surface, I saw that pretty much everything they did needed to change.


Despite having 15,000 members no-one was responsible for them.


  • The cash appeals raised money but talked about ‘us’ too much.

  • If a story was used at all it was only a tiny part of the appeal.

  • There was no separate regular giving income stream. Any money given was lumped into the cash appeals.

  • There was no system to calculate the cost per donor.


And these were only a few of the issues.


Things didn’t work: not for fundraising, and definitely not for Great Fundraising.


To ensure that we had the foundations to achieve Great Fundraising we went through the building blocks and changed pretty much everything, from team structure to database coding.


Some days it felt like the only thing that stayed the same was the address.


We are not the same organisation

It has been three years now. And whilst there are still some systems we haven’t quite fixed, we are in a completely different organisation to the one that I joined in 2018.


So, what have I learnt?


1. Well, change is hard, and you don’t always get it right.


A year in and something hadn’t clicked for us and we were compromising. The organisation lost momentum waiting for me to start three months after our New Ambition. And the step-change needed was so huge that we became nervous about going for it.


We needed to go back to our Why?


So, we went back to The Inch to remind ourselves of what Great Fundraising is and more specifically how we can talk emotionally about our cause.


It wasn’t a popular decision with everyone but it was the right thing to do.


We came back and things clicked.


We stopped asking about what our hook was and remembered that all we need to do is Beat Macular Disease. It is so simple that it took us a while to trust it.





2. Every single person has played their part in getting us to where we are now.


I may have lead this process, but I’m not the one making all of the changes and doing it so well. I work with an incredible bunch of people. So, the credit goes out to every single person involved.


It hasn’t been easy.


We got our structure wrong to start with. We thought that having separate Fundraising and Communications teams separated under one Director would work. And it didn’t.


We don’t have a Communications team now. We have an Engagement team that looks after all of our audiences – including Individual Giving.


We also don’t have a Brand person, because for us it’s not about the brand, it’s about all the people we need to be there for – our beneficiaries and donors. And of course, curing macular disease.


It’s that simple!


3. All this change is exhausting.


And three years of it feels like a long time. Trying to maintain energy through some very tough times has been one of the hardest things I have ever done. But it is worth it.


When I speak to some of our members, donors or people who attend our groups. They have faith in us that we will cure macular disease. It might not be for them, but it will be for their children and grandchildren. And that gives me so much faith too!


4. If I were to do this again, I would remember to trust my instinct.


The things we got wrong were those things we weren’t 100% sure about. And so now if we aren’t 100% convinced then we don’t do it.


That’s not to say that we won’t get anything wrong again, of course we will. But as long as we are learning from it, then that’s ok!


We care about all the people we interact with and they know we will look after them.


We use their money wisely and that is all I need to keep leading the fundraising at this amazing, Great Fundraising Organisation.


Because here we are. We are a Great Fundraising organisation.


Over the last three years Macular Society has increased its Individual Giving income by 61%. But more importantly has increased investment in research to Beat Macular Disease by 50% as well as spending more on other services to support people with macular disease.



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