Episode 26: Stevie Nicholson – Helping colleagues learn and stay inspired during lockdown

Episode Notes

There are many factors that make it hard for your team to keep positive and proactive at the moment. In many charities, being separated geographically from colleagues for such a long time is having a serious effect on morale, confidence and problem solving.

In this episode of the Fundraising Bright Spots podcast, I was delighted to talk to Stevie Nicholson, an Area Fundraising Manager at Diabetes UK. Stevie and her colleagues saw how crucial it was to regularly connect with and help colleagues across her fundraising department throughout the UK at the moment, and they’ve found a way to help them stay inspired by good ideas in spite of the lockdown.

In this interview Stevie explains how the initiative came about, why she feels it has picked up such momentum, and for anyone who is thinking of implementing something similar, tips to help you make it work in practice.

If you’d like more powerful strategies to help you raise funds during the pandemic, then do check out my new free E-book: Power Through The Pandemic – Seven ways to raise high value income, even now. You can download it for FREE here: brightspotfundraising.co.uk/power

If you found Episode 26 helpful, please do subscribe today, so you won’t miss out on all the other episodes we’ve got lined up; and also, I’d be really grateful if you could take a moment to leave a review or share it on with your colleagues or on social media. Thank you very much.

If you want to get in touch, Stevie and I would love to hear from you – we’re both on Linked In, and I’m on twitter at @woods_rob.


  • CASCADE – Stevie and her two colleagues also attending the Corporate Mastery Programme decided to schedule a one hour virtual session for fundraising colleagues to pass on a distilled version of a training module they had found especially helpful.
  • NOTICE – The feedback they received was so positive, and crucially, action was being taken by their colleagues who had attended (eg in creating an improved system for sharing inspiring stories across the whole department), that they realised it was worth repeating the virtual learning session the following week.
  • FIND AN EFFICIENT WAY TO ACHIEVE THE SAME OUTCOME – Because they did not have time to prepare a full in depth session every week, they looked for a way to share content they felt would be useful and inspiring, without themselves having to prepare the presentation. They decided to try sharing an episode of the Fundraising Bright Spots podcast.
  • SCHEDULE IT – They selected an episode they felt was relevant to the whole department, then invited everyone to listen at a particular time.
  • FACILITATE IDEAS SESSION – Directly after listening to the episode, everyone took part in a virtual discussion, exploring ways to make use of the ideas and examples from the episode.
  • FOLLOW UP – They took care to keep track of ideas that had been proposed and implemented, so they could keep track of, and encourage action following the sessions.
  • MORALE AS WELL AS MONEY – As well as clear examples of colleagues taking action and raising more money – Stevie cites the example of one colleague who felt emboldened to make more proactive phone calls to supporters, leading to at least one more partnership worth £5000 – the initiative has also helped colleagues stay connected and more positive while separated physically by the lockdown.
  • REPEAT WHAT WORKS – It was so successful for Stevie’s department, they’ve kept these learning sessions going each week.

Further Resources

The colleague who had felt more brave and confident to call her supporters – and secured a new gift of £5000 – had listened to Episode 19 – with Ben Swart – How to inspire supporters in spite of the pandemic.  If this is an area where you’d like a boost, why not give it a listen?

If you’d like more powerful strategies to help you raise funds during the pandemic, then do check out my new free E-book: Power Through The Pandemic – Seven ways to raise high value income, even now. You can download it for FREE here: brightspotfundraising.co.uk/power

Key Quotes

‘Now more than ever, people’s wellbeing is paramount to successful fundraising. And I think that’s the beauty of it. It means everyone comes together regularly to share their ideas.’

Stevie Nicholson

‘There is no commodity more important to a charity now than morale. Of course its crucial to take action to help beneficiaries and to generate funds – but when morale is low both these things will be severely hampered. Anything you can do to proactively help morale now is so important.’

Rob Woods

Transcript of Episode 26

Rob:                 Hey there folks. Welcome to Episode 26 of the Fundraising Bright Spots podcast. My name is Rob Woods, and this is the show for anyone who works in charity fundraising, and who wants ideas for how to raise more money, really enjoy their job and make a bigger difference, even during the pandemic.

And if you’re the leader of a fundraising team and you’re looking for ideas to help your colleagues keep learning during these difficult times, then I hope you’re going to find today’s episode interesting. Because today I’m sharing an interview that I did with a very smart, proactive fundraising manager named Stevie Nicholson, who’s an Area Fundraising Manager at Diabetes UK. And we’re going to focus on a particular strategy that she and her colleagues have implemented to boost morale and improve learning across the fundraising department. In this session, Stevie explains how her strategy came about, the difference it’s made for her colleagues, how she made it less time consuming to prepare, and four practical steps she recommends to anyone who wants to try something similar. I found Stevie’s proactive, hands on approach, really inspiring, and I hope you find it helpful too.

This episode of the Fundraising Bright Spots podcast is brought to you by the Bright Spot Members Club. As a practical alternative to one off conferences and courses whose impact can fade all too quickly, the member’s club is an online resource that gives you ongoing access to a whole library of video training courses, monthly coaching webinars, and live training events. It’s all designed to help you learn, enjoy your job, and raise more money. To join the 300 fundraisers already in the club, or just to find out more, go to brightspotfundraising.co.uk.

Rob:                 Stevie Nicholson, how are you?

Stevie:              I’m good thank you, Rob. How are you?

Rob:                 Very well, thank you. I’ve had a good day in a relatively good week. So I’m feeling fortunate during these difficult times. How is it for you juggling homeschooling, childcare, all your professional responsibilities?

Stevie:              Interesting. Biggest challenge yet. Being teacher and full-time worker is definitely a new challenge, but one we are desperately trying to overcome.

Rob:                 Well done. As long as we’re just hanging in there, I think a lot of the time that’s just good enough to do well enough on both fronts. So Stevie, I’ve known you for a few months and had the pleasure of working with you for three or four months through the corporate mastery program. Let me get your title right. You are area fundraising manager for community fundraising for Diabetes UK. And so I’ve met you via the corporate mastery program you’re on and the Bright Spot Members Club that you access as part of that. And you mentioned to me recently how you’ve been using some of the things I teach through that program and through the podcast and the Member’s Club. You’ve been very proactive in realizing there’s an opportunity to help your colleagues at Diabetes UK keep learning. And that, that’s really been working out for you and your colleagues have been loving it too.

So I wanted to record a short podcast to find out a little bit more about what you’ve been doing, how it’s been working out. Just in case people who listen to this podcast could see a version of that, that they could do for themselves in their own charity. Especially while everyone is in lockdown. So just to start the story, do you want to tell me what you said to me yesterday as to how this idea started and what you did?

Stevie:              Absolutely. So I think it’s just came off the back of attending your course and feeling so engaged and inspired to move forward that I wanted to share that knowledge with my own team, but equally with the rest of the fundraising team within Diabetes UK. So on the back of that, I got together with a couple of other colleagues that were attending your course and we put together a presentation to deliver some of the content from your course. And we knew that we had to do that virtually, so we did. And we put together a great, quite short presentation of around an hour, just going through some of the content. For instance, idea generation sessions. So batting around different ideas of how we can engage our supporters in this time, where fundraising wasn’t the key of everyone’s mind. And equally, where people were struggling to find an alternative to their fundraising. So they wanted to keep engaged with the charity, but not quite sure how to support us. So we wanted to do a session on that.

And equally just really encourage speaking to one another, sharing wow moments, creating a folder for our stories. So regional stories about how we’re engaging with our supporters, what the outcome was. And sharing that within a central drive so that everyone has access to it because we realize in the back of this session that we didn’t have anything that was easy to grab hold off, that was very relevant to each of our regions. So we wanted to put that together.

Rob:                 Okay. So, well done. So in particular, one of the bits of content from my course you saw was valuable was the story content and how useful it is for all fundraisers to have more real examples at their fingertips. So, as I understand it, you put together a mini presentation, a highlights session from that content. And you taught it virtually to your teams, your colleagues at Diabetes UK. And how was the response?

Stevie:              Yes. So that’s exactly what we did, Rob. The response was fantastic. So people really got on board with the storytelling and getting excited behind the stories that they had to share. And equally, really wanted to share them and loved the idea of putting it together so that we all could use them when speaking to our supporters. And they were very real to us because they were coming from our peers and from each other. So that’s what we did that. And fundraisers were so excited for doing that and equally shared that they would find that really helpful in their day-to-day jobs, especially in this current climate. To share those stories, to keep our supporters engaged.

Rob:                 Great. Well done for taking action and realizing now more than ever under pressure, we need to find a way to keep learning, keep adapting, keeping improving our technique as fundraisers. But then secondly, I understand you got such a positive response that you felt that you couldn’t just do a one off and you needed to do more. So what was your next step?

Stevie:              Yes, so it was a snowball effect. It went so well and the feedback was so well received that people wanted more of the content from the course and wanted some more ideas. And wanted to come together to discuss some thing different to the current pandemic and various different other things that are going on. So, yeah. It seemed a shame to stop there. So then what we decided to do is come together and think of new ways of keeping up the momentum of the training and some of the concept of your course in particular.

So then what we decided to do was what would be a really simple way of keeping the momentum going, and what we came up with is by using your podcasts. So we had a look at the podcasts episodes that were available and looking at the content and then set up an invite virtually to listen to those podcasts. So a podcast, once a week. Listen to it, or everyone set that time aside, it’s in everybody’s diaries. And then straight after we all reconvened in a virtual room to discuss the highlights and the topics that were discussed in that, and how we could as a charity move forward with that content.

Rob:                 Fantastic. I think one thing that’s smart about this is when learning doesn’t work very well, it’s when we’re a bit rushed and we read a book or we go on a course. So we hear a new idea or a new example or a new way of working, but so often we don’t pause and in a deliberate structured way, reflect on it and decide how to implement.

As I understand this a simple thing you’re making easier for your colleagues is A, you’re getting them some content that you believe was helpful. And then crucially B, you’re then putting in that virtual meeting directly after it, in which anyone could just think through, out loud, the two or three ideas they’ve got based on that, that they could implement. So they’re more likely to get a good idea for how it could apply in their world, but also to then make a decision for something to actually take action on. I think that’s the step of the learning loop that often gets missed. If we just rush from listening to something, read something, read a blog, and then go straight back to work. We never actually make a decision and adapt a new idea to how it could help us do our fundraising.

Stevie:              Yes. And I think that’s the beauty of getting everyone together to listen to it and then equally put in that separate session in straight up afterwards to speak about it, and make a clear action of how you can move forward. And equally get excited about how you can move forward after listening to it, because now more than ever, people were encouraged to listen to podcasts and to do training. But how are we doing that? And how successful is it? And how are we measuring the results of doing that to make it feel worthwhile our time? And I think there’s something special in all listening to the same thing and going along with the same action at the end. So, yeah. I think it’s been fantastic to do that and equally we’ve had some great successes of it.

Rob:                 Oh, right. And so I was gathering it’s picked up a kind of a momentum there and it wouldn’t have done that if it was just a nice to have. Do you want to tell me a couple of examples of how you know it’s making a difference?

Stevie:              Yeah. So we’ve had some really great examples. So we’ve had a few sessions now and we’re going to continue putting those in there. But for us to share a couple of examples with you, one of which was one of the fundraisers, on the back of listening to the podcast between you and Ben. Decided that actually they were going to be braver, they were going to be bolder and they were going to pick up the phone and they were going to reengage with a supporter, a corporate supporter that they’d had in the past. And on the back of that, they’ve agreed to work with us with a partnership that’s worth £5,000. Which she believes she wouldn’t have got hadn’t she had it in the back of her mind to be braver and just take that step and action it now, rather than later.

Rob:                 Fantastic. Congratulations, Stevie. No wonder your directors are so positive about the fact that you’ve taken this initiative, and it’s actually a thing that’s proactively your organization is doing to help your whole organization step-up and keep being bold during quite a difficult time if you’re getting results like that. I wanted this to be a relatively short podcast, but do you want to share just one more example that gives you a sense that it’s having an impact?

Stevie:              Yes. So this is nonfinancial success, but equally as important – one of our fundraisers had just decided that they were just going to, again, rather than send an email that lands in an inbox that’s never ending. Just pick up the phone and speak to a supporter. And that particular supporter said that it made their day as it was the first person spoken to at all that week. And it just, yeah. Just brightened up her day, brightened up the supporters day. And equally made us all smile. So, yeah. I think that was a really good success off the back.

Rob:                 That’s absolutely brilliant. And it is exactly what Ben and I were talking about in episode 19 of this podcast. Is that lots of these calls are not going to lead to money, they shouldn’t even be about money. They are about reaching out and caring with people who have been good to our organization and cared about our cause.

And if that’s the reason you call A, you’ll find it so much easier to congruently and confidently pick up the phone. And B, so importantly, you’ll be able to tell people are pleased to hear from you. You genuinely are caring about them. And in that connection, in that moment that you did a good thing that day. I think it’s really hard to put the phone down and not be more boyd up than before you made that call. And I think right now, there is no resource more important to people who work for charities right now than our morale.

Obviously money is important. Obviously delivering services on the front line is important. But step one is if we’re feeling really down for understandable reasons, it’s so hard to raise money or deliver frontline services. So anything that a charity is doing proactively deliberately in terms of an organized process like you’re doing. That increases the morale of its teams, I think has to be good. Not only for ourselves, but also for the beneficiaries that we serve.

And I think that was the other thing I really liked about your strategy, which is that right now, understandably many people are having some difficult days. One’s mojo might not be as strong with all this pressure and these worries that many of us have. One of the things that can help a person feel more hopeful, more optimistic. Feel better about themselves and about life, is if they feel they’re learning. If they feel like they’re making some kind of progress, they’re not completely stuck and powerless. And I think a reason your initiative week-on-week has really picked up for Diabetes UK, is you’re creating that one hour where as many of your colleagues as possible are being given help to do some learning. So A, that’s going to help their fundraising. But B, if nothing else, it’s going to help their sense of morale for the rest of the day.

And secondly, sooner or later this lockdown and the other difficulties are going to fade away. Let’s hope. We have to presume. Whether that’s weeks or months, we need to, as well as solve the short term problems, we need to be proactively preparing ourselves so that we’re learning and our skills are sharp. And our confidence is in a position so that when it’s easier to do more face to face fundraising and other proactive things. My view is if we’re finding time in each week to do some learning, we’re more likely to be ready to really do that and do it well. Whereas if we succumb and just try and only firefight, I think it’s going to be harder than ever when life gets back to normal for us to be at our best. I don’t know if that’s part of your view of why this is really working for your charity?

Stevie:              Absolutely. Yeah. I mean more than ever people’s wellbeing are paramount to successful fundraising and continuing to work. And I think that’s the beauty of it. Everyone coming together to share their ideas and to be engaged and to go out there and speak to their supporters, and feel like they’re part of making a difference. Especially in this current climate to the charity is so important. And it’s definitely the feedback we’ve received and just feeling like part of one team, it’s brought our teams closer together. So rather than working in silo, in different regions, we’ve come together better than ever to come up with these great ideas. And learn, and learn together in unity, which is great. And, yeah.

And equally we’ve never had as much sharing in terms of sharing successes and sharing all the great things that we’re doing and great stories we’ve got that most of the time in our normal day to day jobs, in the normal world, shall we say. We might not have shared and probably wouldn’t have done. But now those stories, they mean so much and they pick you up where we’re looking for stories to pick us up. They are doing that. And it’s just brilliant.

Rob:                 Fantastic. I guess that’s the closing of the learning loop whereby you need not only a new idea that inspires you to want to think differently, you have time to reflect on it and work out if you’re going to apply it. And if so, how? Then someone needs to take action and then crucially, they need to reflect again and reflect for themselves and what they learned and/or share it back into the system. So that as a team, as an organization, you get smarter.

The fact that you’re including that extra bit of the loop, where they can share those victories back within your hourly session. I think that’s a really smart thing that you’re doing because it’s those extra new examples that if someone hears that example, you told me of someone whose day was made because they made a call. Or someone who got a £5,000 partnership, because they found a way to pick up the phone. The re-sharing of those, what I would call Bright Spots examples, has a magical impact on our own belief that it’s worth keeping going, even when times are hard. So I love the fact that you’ve included that bit in your system.

Stevie:              Yes. And I think that’s the thing, everyone is really feeling that at the moment. And now why wouldn’t we take that time to share, to work together, to learn new things and prepare ourselves for the future. For different challenges we’re going to have ahead. And if we can come together to learn and to think of new ways to work together, then why wouldn’t we do that?

Rob:                 And I said, I was going to try and keep this call relatively short. So let’s not go into detail. But I loved what you were telling me yesterday about how one of these sessions helped you and your colleagues to think medium-term, longterm. To start working out ideas for the autumn and ideas for what you’re going to do this Christmas. In a way that probably just wouldn’t have happened had you not had the stimulus of the initial stuff you were listening to or you were learning from.

If someone’s listening to this and they’ve already enjoyed a couple of podcast episodes or they’re a loyal subscriber. And they’re thinking, “Okay, well maybe I could do a version of what Stevie has done for my little team or large department.” Even if they’re now relatively obvious to you, could you just make clear two or three of the tips that you’ve learned from making this work, so that we can make it that bit more likely that a listener can follow your example?

Stevie:              I think the first step is just be brave and go for it and do it. So first point of call is just go, right. Okay. I’m going to put this together for, like you say, my team or my wider team. I’m going to put the time in the diary. I’m just going to put it in there. I’m not going to worry too much about who can do what and timings. I would just put it in there for a reasonable time that people could join. I would then make sure that the content is relevant. So the podcast that yourself do Rob. Look at that, look at the descriptions, make sure it fits within your organization or within your teams. That’s really going to resonate with the team, so they’re going to get something from it. Put that time in there and definitely, definitely put the additional time in there to reconvene. To discuss the content and any highlights and equally put in some actions.

So if, for instance, you do an idea generation session, what does that look like? Are you going to create a folder? Are you going to come back the next week and discuss? How are you going to move those things forward? So I’ve always had a measure at the end of how you’re going to measure the success of the calls. And equally keep getting feedback from your team, if they like it or what they need to change and let it adapt as you grow and you keep learning.

Rob:                 Fantastic. Thank you so much for making time at short notice to record this. It’s really re inspired me, that these ideas are kind of spreading more and more because people like you are proactively doing this kind of thing. And best of luck with whatever fundraising challenges you’re facing for the rest of the week. Stay safe. But for now, thank you ever so much for joining us for this quick episode of the podcast.

Stevie:              Oh no. Thank you very much, Rob. And thank you for everything you and Bright Spot are doing.

Rob:                 Thank you so much, Stevie. Stay safe. Take care. Bye.

Stevie:              Bye.

Rob:                 So there you go. I hope you found Stevie’s story interesting. And perhaps it even got you thinking about ways you could help your colleagues to keep learning by trying something similar with fundraising content that you find useful.

If you like the episode and want to make sure you don’t miss future ones, please remember to subscribe to the podcast today. If you’d like more ideas to help you succeed during the pandemic, then I’d love for you to make use of my new ebook, Power Through the Pandemic. Which gives seven key strategies to help you raise money, even now through major donors, corporates, and trusts. You can download it for free from brightspotfundraising.co.uk/power. And if you found our discussion helpful, I’d be really grateful if you could take a moment to share it on with your colleagues or on social media.

Stevie and I are both on LinkedIn. And I’m on Twitter at @woods_rob. Finally, thank you so much for listening today. I know it’s not easy to find time and space to keep learning and indeed helping others learn when you’re under pressure. And I hope you found it useful. Until the next time, stay safe and good luck with all your efforts to make a positive difference.