Beeston’s Blog: Emma Beeston interviews Annemarie Shillito, Chair of Sunrise Diversity, Northern Devon

Philanthropy Advisor and author Emma Beeston of the Emma Beeston Consultancy has been carrying out a series of interviews with inspirational individuals in the South West region who have been delivering frontline services in the charitable sector for many years. 

Following her interviews with Fiona Mahoney, Chief Executive of dementia care charity Reminiscence Learning, and Rosemary Stephenson, who leads the Crediton Heart Project, Emma has provided the following interview with Annemarie Shillito.  

Charity leader interview series #3:

Annemarie Shillito – on the challenges and joys of leading small charities

Annemarie Shillito worked in communications, corporate responsibility and social innovation until she “stepped off my big corporate ladder” and moved back to North Devon. Annemarie is a changemaker involved in fundraising and campaigning for a number of community projects. She is Chair of Sunrise Diversity, which provides support for the LGBTQ+ community and Deputy Chair of charity SS Freshspring. In this interview, Annemarie shares her frustrations, good experience and advice.

Q. You have worked on both sides of funding, which do you prefer?

Annemarie: In my corporate career I managed a social innovation and investment programme and assessed funding bids. From a comfort perspective it is easier being on that side of the fence. You feel more in control of your destiny. But the other side of the fence, seeking funds, is more rewarding, I love it when a good plan and the right fund come together, it’s so satisfying. Funders however do assume that fundraisers don’t have any experience of grant-making so I suppose it’s my secret weapon that I can see both points of view.

Q. What frustrates you about funding?

Annemarie: In my leadership roles with two charities, I am trying to make sure things are stable financially. There are so many things we want to deliver and if you are not careful all you end up talking about is whether you’ve got enough money. It’s always a balancing act but I think at the moment the environment for all charitable organisations is tough so we’re having to work harder at generating income while still keeping an eye on our vision for the future.  

Funders don’t always seem to understand how much voluntary effort is put in behind the scenes, especially with tiny charities that rely on Trustees to be delivering as well as steering. The practice that annoys me most is when you are filling in application and reporting forms online and you can’t see upfront what data you need to provide. It’s a blessing when a funder writes ‘We want to keep it easy, so we provide one application format for all our funds and these are the questions we’ll be asking’.

Q. What other good funding practice do you want to see more of?

Annemarie: Having the opportunity to talk to funders about your organisation and your work or plans. These conversations help you discover if you fit with their priorities and also help the funder to better understand the needs of organisations and make better decisions. Making someone in the organisation available to talk to applicants is so useful.

I may be a bit nerdy but I love all the advice and support documentation provided by some funders. The National Lottery Heritage Fund has loads on their website which really helps if you put the time in to read it. And of course, case studies are always fascinating, reading how other organisations have dealt with a problem or bridged a gap with funding.

I also love funders that are tough at the outset, with face-to-face interviews and even visits, but then give good grants over an extended period and trust you to get on with your plans.

Q. What advice do you want to share?

Annemarie: These three things come to mind:

1. If funders say we need you to be more resilient, don’t take this lightly, think how you can be stronger in the longer term and then ask for the funds you need to help you get there. For example a governance review or help with developing a business plan or developing fundraising expertise in house.

2. Do whatever you can to understand the world of those who benefit from the work of your organisation. You have to understand where people are coming from and what they want. It’s great to see the developing trend for co-creation, working with people to create solutions.

3. Burn out is an issue. Within a charity you are passionate about, if things could fail you just keep on because you care so much. It is really hard to draw a line and protect your personal life. You have to develop a good team who understand each other and where anyone can say “I can’t manage this at the moment”. Build capacity in the team to support each other with a bit to spare for emergencies.

4. What keeps you going?

Annemarie: Knowing what I do has an impact. Both the charities I’m involved with are so inspiring and very worthwhile. They’ve both got wonderful teams of people – both Trustees and staff – which makes all things seem possible.

Image: Annemarie Shillito.