Episode 30: Lucy Squance – Partnering with another charity

Episode Notes

Given the events of 2020, most charities are now thinking more radically about their strategies than ever before. And one option to consider for certain projects is partnering with another charity.

In this episode I share an interview I conducted in the summer of 2019 with Lucy Squance, Director of supporter-led fundraising at Alzheimer’s Research UK (ARUK). The subject of our discussion is Dementia Revolution, a collaboration between ARUK and the Alzheimer’s Society, and in particular the record-breaking partnership they achieved with Virgin Money for the London Marathon 2019.

Lucy explains that through this collaboration they were able to smash their targets (including, £3.6 million was raised) and achieve other goals they would not have been able to do on their own, so the hard work and risk in working together clearly paid off.

In case you are now considering a collaboration, or realise that sooner or later, joining forces with another charity might be the right strategic choice for you, I hope you find value in Lucy’s exploration of the journey and the key lessons she and her colleagues learned.

If you want to share your ideas about collaborations, or share this episode because you think it will help others – THANK YOU VERY MUCH! –  we are both on Linked In and on twitter, where Lucy is @lucysquance and I am @woods_rob. We’d love to hear from you.

Takeaways from Episode 30

  • ACKNOWLEDGE – Don’t underestimate how different the cultures of two different charities can be, even if they appear similar from the outside.
  • A CLEAR WHY – Joint working will not all be plain sailing, however hard-working and able the people and organisations involved. So a crucial thing to get you through the challenges is if early on (and throughout) you get really clear on why you are doing this. What are the outcomes this project needs to achieve, and why are they so important.
  • BUILD TRUST – For this reason, its crucial to invest time early on, taking steps to better get to know, understand and build relationships with the people you’ll be working with in the joint initiative. Lucy and her colleagues did away days with this objective, knowing that unless you build this foundation, the quality of practical communication and joint problem solving later will be impeded.
  • CONSIDER BOLD SOLUTIONS – Working in such a different way to normal sometimes brings you big, seemingly insoluble problems. Lucy explains there was no easy way forward in this project in terms of data and how to best manage the supporter journeys. With the stakes high, they kept getting stuck and so had to keep considering all options. In the end, the solution they went for was a brand new solution for these charities – having this important area of work managed by a third party. Lucy said the bold solution brought lots of advantages. What frustrating, seemingly impossible challenge are you wrestling with now? Is there a bolder, more radical solution that would provide a breakthrough and change the game?
  • BACK END DETAIL COUNTS – Lucy explained that often the most important things to solve are the backend processes, such as how practically money gets paid in. Its easy to get drawn to the more creative, public facing issues to do with messaging, but addressing these issues early and well is crucial.
  • RESOURCING – For a large project, before you win the business you probably won’t have resource in place to manage the work. But once you win it, be proactive and very prompt in finding a project manager / appropriate resources to handle it, otherwise you risk the project having a detrimental effect on your existing team’s work load.
  • GIVE AND TAKE – Understand that both parties will have relative strengths and weaknesses. Be honest and open so that as a unified team you can make use of these the strengths so that the team can take the steps needed to help the project succeed, (and so achieve the WHY which brought you all together.)


‘Pay lots of attention to the back-end stuff. Things like how the money will be paid in, and legal things like contracts. Solving the detail of these issues properly is critical.’

Rob Woods

‘Be agile and explore opportunities…When interesting opportunities come along, it’s important to explore them.’

Lucy Squance.

Further resources

If you’d like more powerful strategies to help you raise funds during the pandemic, then there are lots of different approaches in my new free E-book: Power Through The Pandemic – Seven ways to raise money with major donors, corporates and trusts, even now. You can download it for FREE here: brightspotfundraising.co.uk/power

FISH Philosophy by Stephen Lundin. Lucy’s recommends this excellent, small book on creating powerful teams and cultures, and has spoken eloquently about it at our Breakfast Club for Fundraising Leaders.

Transcript of Episode 30

Hello, and welcome to episode 30 of the Fundraising Bright Spots Podcast. My name is Rob Woods and in case you’ve not tuned in before, this is a show for anyone who works in 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’ve ever thought of joining forces with another charity for a specific corporate partnership or for any other important project, but you felt daunted and not known what to expect, then I hope you’ll find today’s episode enlightening and valuable, because today I’m sharing an interview I recorded back in 2019 with Lucy Squance, who is director of supporter-led fundraising, Alzheimer’s Research UK. And we’re talking all about their record breaking partnership with Virgin Money for the London Marathon back in 2019.

This partnership was ground-breaking because whereas there is usually one charity partner for the event, this time, the partner was Dementia Revolution, which was a collaboration between two charities, Alzheimer’s Research UK and the Alzheimer’s Society. Lucy explains that preparations for the event were not always easy, but through a determination to solve problems and make good use of their combined strengths, they were able to smash their targets, which included raising a combined total of £3.6 million pounds. This and the other results they achieved would not have happened if either charity had tried to go it alone. So it’s clear to me that taking the risk and putting in the effort to work in collaboration massively paid off. Now I need to reiterate, we recorded this conversation in the summer of 2019, at a point when we’d never even heard of the coronavirus. Nevertheless, as all charities are having to weigh up their strategic choices at the moment, I believe that the option of joining forces with other organizations in various ways is as relevant as it ever has been, and I hope that Lucy’s insights are useful to you as you listen now.

Speaker 2:        This episode of the Fundraising Bright Spots Podcast is brought to you by Bright Spot Mastery Programs. So if you need to increase income in corporate partnerships or major donor and trust fundraising, these programs will help. As well as the advanced strategies you learn on the training days, you receive one to one coaching to help you put those powerful techniques into practice. To find out more about the Corporate Mastery and Major Gifts Mastery Programs, head over to brightspotfundraising.co.uk.

Rob:                 So hello and welcome to the podcast, Lucy Squance. Are you there?

Lucy:                I am, Rob. Hi.

Rob:                 Hi. So thank you for making time for this interview. I’ve enjoyed interviewing you in various formats several times over the last few years, but never before in a podcast. If someone hasn’t experienced your work before or they haven’t seen you speak at a conference, could you just kind of give us a sense? So you’re at Alzheimer’s Research UK and your role is director of supporter-led fundraising. Can you give us a brief snapshot of your career to date and how you come to be here now?

Lucy:                Yes, of course. So prior to working in the charity sector, I worked in the games software industry. I then moved to consumer technology, and that was on the PR and events side. And then back in 2003, sadly, my mum died of cancer aged 46. So very young age, it had a huge impact on my life. And for me, that was the catalyst to transition from the corporate world to the charity sector. So I began my career in 2004 at Cancer Research UK. I had nine very happy years there working in community and corporate fundraising. I then spent two, three years in a freelance capacity doing interim roles and consultancy just to broaden my skills and horizon. And then in 2016, I took on the role as head of supporter-led fundraising for Alzheimer’s Research UK, and within a year I was promoted to director and I have never looked back. I absolutely love my job, and… I’m going to say ARUK, rather than saying Alzheimer’s Research UK throughout this, are an incredible credible charity to work for, and with a huge mission. And that mission is a life changing treatment to slow or stop dementia.

Rob:                 Thank you. I know in the past, you’ve referred to your charity as a challenger brand and I’ve really loved, over the last three or four years, seeing all sorts of examples of that, how that has panned out in reality. And I guess today’s topic is just another extension of being willing to do things slightly differently to what many charities would normally do. So it’s to do with Dementia Revolution that I especially wanted to get some ideas from you, not because our listener is necessarily going to go and in partnership with another charity applied to the marathon, but because I think more and more, we are being advised to consider partnerships and collaborations with other organizations, other charities. And it’s not for the fainthearted. I think the challenges are huge if we do, but I think there’s all sorts of things that we can be aware of if we are actually going to follow through on that. And that’s why I really wanted to dive deep into your experience of Dementia Revolution. I’m getting ahead of myself. Just before we go into some learning, what was Dementia Revolution?

Lucy:                Just to give you some background, in April 2017 the Alzheimer’s Society and Alzheimer’s Research UK pitched and won Virgin Money corporate partnership, the 2019 London Marathon. And I think that’s important to note, it is the corporate partnership for Virgin Money. That’s who you’re pitching to. You’re not pitching to the London Marathon. You’re pitching to Virgin Money. And our bid to Virgin Money was to support the UK Dementia Research Institute. Now this is a new initiative to find better treatments and ultimately a cure, revolutionizing dementia research. And earlier that year, both charities had made a 50 million pound commitment to this. So this wasn’t some campaign or partnerships cobbled together to win the London marathon. This was happening. This was real. This is what we were doing. And we made that very clear in the pitch. We are coming together anyway, and we want Virgin Money to be part of that, to be the first corporate partner who’s part of that. And that was exciting, and that’s new. And also the funding need was very, very clear. So Dementia Revolution was born and the campaign had three objectives.

Rob:                 Great. So there’s a bit of the background. And then in terms of toplining those objectives and in particular, my sense is this was a massive success in terms of people noticing it, and the brand reaching us, and also financially compared to what you might’ve achieved had you been on your own. In a moment I’d love to go into the hard work that was required, but in terms of the results, what were the outcomes?

Lucy:                If I just say about the objectives, I think that’s so important because that’s what we have to totally focus on. So objectives were to raise 3.5 million, the Dementia Research Institute, to engage Virgin Money staff and attract the partnership and engage their colleagues to run and to attract attention to dementia and ultimately break down misconceptions and stigma. So that was a communication. So there are three very clear objectives. I’m delighted to be able to share some of the results with you. So we recruited over 2000 runners, 960 volunteers registered, and we think we had an estimated 600 on the day. We had 10, very vibrant and active cheer points, and a whopping £3.6 million raised today. So we’re delighted to have smashed up target. Also, in terms of the Virgin Money partnership, it has been officially the most successful Virgin Money corporate partnership to date, raising £330,000 with 127 colleagues who ran the marathon. Our post-campaign survey revealed that one third of UK adults were aware of the Dementia Revolution campaign. So we managed to reach a huge amount of people about the campaign and about our mission and about what we were trying to do.

Rob:                 Wow. So Lucy, it’s hard enough winning a partnership as a charity on your own, and then delivering it, but it seems to me there just are going to have been extra complications working with another organization with a different culture, different size, different brand, different processes, and so on. Can you unpack for us a little about what was hard and some ways that you and your opposite numbers at the Alzheimer’s Society overcame those challenges in working together and creating this new entity that was effective?

Lucy:                Yeah, absolutely, Rob. You’re right, we are two very different organizations in size, ways of working, culture. Even the way we write, the way we talk, our tone. We wrote the application back in January, 2017 and the amount of rounds that have to go through just to be able to all agree on the language and how we talk about dementia, how we talk about research. But this was all part of getting to know each other. So the getting to know each other parts is very important and similar to what I talked about in another podcast about relationships. There’s no way we could go straight into, “Yeah, these are the results. This is what we can deliver.” It just wouldn’t happen. We had to invest in those relationships, as you would any other partnership or project group.

So we had team away days where we did a getting to know you. We all had to bring a personal object and put it on the floor in the middle of the group. There was some random things and we had to get up and talk about what we brought in, how it represents us and why. And that was really great. We really got to know each other. We went for drinks. We talked about why we’re together. We had the project sponsors, so the exec directors of both charities come in and speak to us. Joe Barnett from Virgin Money. And I think that was a key thing, involving Virgin Money to say, “This is why you are all in this room. This is why you’re all important. And this is what we’re here to do.” The sponsors to do the same. We even add had Hugh Brasher from London Marathon come and speak to us as well.

He talked to us about the background of the marathon, his father, why it was important to him and what his hopes and dreams of the marathon. So it was lovely to create and paint that picture of why we’re all here and what we need to do. Obviously building relationships is important, getting to know each other, but very clear project groups and structures. So we had the sponsors, the exec directors at the top. We had a steering group that could make decisions. And then we had different project teams and they were based on event delivery, the partnership, and the communications. So we all knew our chains of reporting, who was doing what. We had really detailed project plans. This all seems very obvious and it is obvious, it’s the normal stuff anyone would be doing in a partnership.

So there isn’t anything radical, but what there is, is a huge amount of resilience and relentlessness, because it is tough and communications take longer. You’re going through different organizations, different rounds of people. Sign off is longer. Double the length of everything that you need to get sign off for. Have a huge amount of patience. Have a good heart, that what people are saying is with good intent. And ultimately have very clear objectives. So I come back to my point earlier around the three objectives. So when things would go down rabbit holes, they do. It’s not a linear process in any partnership. You can always rein it back. It’s like a good race horse, [inaudible] bring it back by focusing on end goals, which we did.

Rob:                 Yeah. Well done. And was there anything else that you found that was obvious in a way, and yet just was a particular challenge that you needed to solve? There must been dozens, but could you give us a picture of certain area that needed a solution or needed extra work to make it effective in practice?

Lucy:                Yeah. I would say our supporter journeys and thinking about our supporters and the data and CRM and stewardship. This was, again, a huge area where we have different options. Does one charity own it? The other charity own it? Is it a cloud based solution? Is it an agency? And I remember this going back and forward for months, and different views, different opinions. But a key lesson here was, I guess, leading beyond your authority for me, most definitely, but asking why and questioning and what does the future look like? And is everyone around the table going to be here in two years time? Are you truly going to take accountability for all these supporters and data? And what are the other options? What haven’t we explored? What else? What else? What else? And actually a brilliant outcome from that problem, and it was a problem, it was a big headache for us all, both charities. We just couldn’t come up with the best solution, was a third party. So NTT took responsibility for our CRM, our data, and supporter stewardship.

And it just worked incredibly, because the accountability lay with them, so it was outside of both charities. It freed up, I think this is really important, time for both charities’ events teams, and their experts, fundraisers within those events teams, to focus on the value and all the other stuff, the events that were going on around it. So NTT could deal with the mass comms, and stewardship, and supporter care. Because obviously marathon runners, they want to ring up, they want someone to get back to them quickly on, “When does this happen? When does that happen? How do I pay this? How do I do that?” So NTT did the bulk of all of that.

What they enabled is this incredible CRM that they built for us, that both teams, both charities could go into at any one time and view the data. They could also the BI reporting, they could see a progress in terms of how many runners had signed up, how many paid, what their fundraising targets, how close we were to achieving our overall target, volunteer recruitment. So we had this awesome reporting system that both charities could use. So it worked out brilliantly, but the process to getting that decision through was tough, to say the least.

Rob:                 I’m sure. But I think that’s a really good example of something… If it had been easier initially, I think you wouldn’t have been forced to take a more bold and radical solution. It was the very fact that it was such a headache and was so frustrating and there was no easy answer, forced both charities to have to do something bold. And the outcome seems to be much better than you would have had otherwise, and that’s a really good metaphor for whatever is extremely frustrating to the listener in their fundraising project right now. Even if the solution isn’t obvious to you right now, the blessing that comes from your frustration might be that sooner or later it’s going to force you to make something different and better compared to the system you’re currently… And another thing I love about it is it freed up your colleagues to do what they do best, which is that traditional event organizing and relationship building in the other ways so they could absolutely deliver out outstandingly well in that thing that was their initial strength, safe in the knowledge that this other bit was delegated.

Lucy:                Absolutely. I don’t want my fundraisers spending time on basic admin. That’s not what they’re there to do. That’s not where their strengths lie.

Rob:                 And again, it may not always be easy, but the more as leaders we can help people in our team do the things that are their core strength and that are really important for a great supporter experience, the more we can make decisions and put in processes that enable that to be more likely to happen, the more ways we really liked to have that wonderful experience for supporters, and in due course, therefore wonderful results for the charity as well. So for the listener who may not be, like I say, looking at pitching to a marathon or a trek or a run, but they might be considering a collaboration of some kind, are there any other lessons you learned or challenges that you think they should be aware they may need to overcome?

Lucy:                I think one final challenge is about, the backend stuff I’m going to call it, that has to be done from the finances. How will the money be paid? Where does the money sit? Is it a joint account? Is it online pages? There are so many decisions and things to think about from… We had nine different legal contracts that needed signing. So what the finances look like? What are the legal requirements? What processes need to be put in place? What needs to be built. So even building the website, and then where does the data, what are the data permissions? All of these things have to be really carefully thought about and somebody needs to own it and do that work. So resource, I’d say, you need the resource in place. The comms side was really… A lot of work was really heavy for the team in terms of communications with PR or social and ensuring that we had that resource because this was on top of people’s day job. So we did have to look at getting additional resources, especially around some of the data side and around some of the comms work.

Rob:                 Yes, I guess it’s tricky, isn’t it? Because if you’re considering a partnership with another organization, you haven’t already got an extra project manager to manage the new work that the successful partnership would require. But I guess what you’re saying is, if it’s the right thing to do, do go for the partnership, but if and when it’s run, do not hang about, and then let everyone work themselves into the ground. Be really proactive in clear thinking about what resource is now needed to manage this thing.

Lucy:                100%. Because if your partnership’s worth a million pounds or 500… What are you going to invest in that? You cannot expect to just continue with the same resource. You have to think in a business-like manner. And this was a £3.5 million pound partnership. You’re not just going to deliver that with the same team. So the project manager was fundamental, and looking at the pinch points for additional resource was key. But the one thing I forgot to mention is before launch, what I personally did was I went and spoke to all the previous charities. So I met with Teenage Cancer Trust. I met with CRUK, I just met with the different charities and project managers to say, “Where are your pinch points? What did you learn? Where are your challenges?” And I wrote all of that up, so when the project manager was recruited and started, she could have those notes, and then I took her to some of those meetings again to gain more insight.

You have to really throw yourself in to learn. And again, any partnership, what do you know about that company? That corporate? So for us, it’s what do we know about London Marathon? What do we know about Virgin Money? What are they telling us? It’s listening and learning from those stakeholders.

Rob:                 Yeah. And any project that you’re doing for the first time, there just are going to be some things that come along which you just couldn’t possibly have expected. That’s why experience is so valuable. But I think if one of the messages to the listener I have, is to be so thorough and bold in picking up the phone and getting those extra cups of coffee early with another charity that’s done this before, rather than trusting, “Oh yeah. We’ll just follow the brief, and I’m sure all the… I’ll just do as the corporate is telling me.” Goodness me, there’s so many other not obvious things that others have learned through experience. Let’s go and do a whole load of learning.

Lucy:                Absolutely. Truly immerse yourself in it. Totally immerse yourself in it as soon as you know. As soon as you’ve won that partnership, not later down the line, because then often it’s too late. But there are some really great lessons that we’ve learned that I’d love to share some of those with you.

Rob:                 Some key things, Lucy, then. What did you learn from this whole process?

Lucy:                So some key things is around having clear goals and a mission. Focus on your why. Our campaign was current exciting to Virgin Money employees, runners, and volunteers. It was really, really clear, and like I said, when people start to go off on tangents, you can just rein them in and say, “No, this is the goal. And this is why we’re doing this.” In the wise words of the wonderful [inaudible] London Marathon, she told us, and again, we listened, keep it simple, do it really well. And that was our ethos or motto throughout the whole campaign. We did not interfere with the marathon course or on the day. We focused on our runners and the PR. London Marathon don’t need the charity partner. It’s a very successful event without the chatting. They want the charity to make the most of the opportunity. And that’s what we did.

Another thing is, don’t sweat the small stuff. Problems will happen every single day, multiple times a day. And what I saw is people can get stuck or consumed by the problems and a be eaten up by them, like, “Oh well, this is happening and…” You just need to ensure you’ve got the right people around you to quickly cut through the fog and make sensible pragmatic solutions and just pull those people out when things are getting a bit sticky. As we touched on before with the NTT example, think differently. We have to be really open to working differently. I mean, this campaign has really challenged me in wonderful way to work in collaboration and think differently. In over 2000 runners, as I said, across two different organization, we were never going to do that the same. Never. And it would be very naive of us to think we were. So NTT was a good solution for us.

Also leverage the PR opportunities. Scott Mitchell was incredible. The way he talked about his wife, Barbara Windsor and her dementia experience. He was very open and very willing to talk about her story because he wanted to raise the profile of our campaign and educate people around dementia and that it is a disease. Also, do you remember Lucas, the Big Ben guy that can get past finish line in the costume on the gantry? We leveraged that. Piers Morgan was talking about it. Do you remember, his costume got stolen, so it was a plea to find Big Ben. I’m pleased to say, we now have that costume in our office, and it’s massive. But all of these PR opportunities are there for the taking. We don’t necessarily need some big PR company to do this. Runners will share their stories so beautifully. So our Facebook group became a self-fulfilling community, a tribe or pack of dedicated people, that, when they were feeling low, they would say, “I’m really struggling with my run.” Everyone, the amount of responses saying, “Come on.” They would be uplifted, that people would celebrate their achievements. Scott Mitchell himself would often comment and share stories about his training, his progress. It was so humbling to see such a movement and community and what this meant to them was brilliant.

The other thing is about, I said before, about being agile and exploring opportunities. So yes, we don’t want to go down a million rabbit holes, but when opportunities come along, it’s important to explore them. So we worked really closely with New Balance. So I was managing that partnership and all our kit was New Balance. We worked with them on some of their fundraising initiatives. They provided kit for our dementia revolutionaries. Again, that was having a clear program of asks. Some asks, they said no, but we would still ask. We were happy for them to say no. We’d rather have a no than not ask. But it was really clear, the things that we’re working on, who was responsible, when we were doing it, we had a brilliant partnership with them. Audible, another sponsor of the London Marathon, we worked with them on a comedy marathon that raised over 21,000 pounds. They came to us say saying they wanted to do something. Just be open to what are the other opportunities that aren’t going to require a huge amount of resource? They’re not going to go off on a different objective or mission. They’re in line with your objectives and they’ll add value to your campaign.

I think the final thing is about relationships. Some authentic trusting relationships and effective communications enable a high performance team, and they create that culture. So as much as with marathon, all of these things were happened, so much tactical and process and legal. We had to remember about the people and the project teams. I remember my counterparts at Alzheimer’s Society, her team was under resourced at one point, so my team really stepped up to help. We played to each other’s strengths. So Alzheimer’s Society had an amazing legal team. We used them so much. They were brilliant in advising us on the contracts. We pride ourselves on a great comms team. So it’s just really playing to strengths, whether it’s an individual, a project group, or charity wide. What are those strengths? And yeah, those relationships.

Rob:                 Fabulous. And I guess all of those things only work because right at the start you worked so hard on getting to know each other, trust each other, and agree to the North star of why we are doing this. That, then helped all of these other tactical things to be followed through on and actually done and done well. Fabulous. Thank you, Lucy. And if people wanted to connect with you, are you on LinkedIn, or what’s your Twitter name?

Lucy:                Yeah, both. So LinkedIn Lucy Squance, and Twitter @LucySquance, and with a surname like Squance, I’m very easy to find. I can’t really hide.

Rob:                 Good. So thank you so much for making the time to share all these ideas and stories with us. I really appreciate it. Until the next time, Lucy, thank you and goodbye.

Lucy:                Thank you, Rob. Thank you everyone for listening. Bye.

Rob:                 Well, I hope you enjoyed this interview with Lucy Squance about the Dementia Revolution partnership. Just to reiterate in case you missed my introduction and you’re wondering why this conversation sounded like it came from a different age, we recorded this interview nearly a year ago in the summer of 2019, so that’s why we make no reference to the pandemic or lockdown. If you’d like a short summary of the key ideas we cover in the interview, do check out the episode notes on the blog and podcast section of our Bright Spot website. 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.

If you enjoyed today’s episode, please remember to subscribe today. And if you’d like to get in touch or share the episode, thank you, and you can find either of us on LinkedIn or through Twitter, where Lucy is @LucySquance, and her surname is spelled S-Q-U-A-N-C-E. And I’m on Twitter at @Woods_Rob. Finally, thank you so much for listening today. I hope you enjoyed it, and I look forward to sharing more Bright Spot stories and ideas with you next week. Goodbye.