Constant revolution: personal reflections on experiencing change as a fundraiser

Constant revolution: personal reflections on experiencing change as a fundraiser

Charlotte Morgan is Blue Plaques Development Manager at Historic England. She is a 2023/24 Professional Fellow.


 

During my time as an Arts Fundraising & Philanthropy Fellow, the world has continued its accelerated pace of change. Two international conflicts, local authority bankruptcies, and the cost-of-living and energy crises only adding to the pressure felt by society through the Covid-19 pandemic, and all this on top of over a decade of austerity. 

The cultural sector has been in a state of constant change, facing continued pressure to revolutionise, innovate and adapt. The word of the moment for years has been resilience. This topic is a recurring theme in our fellowship conversations, as organisations face increased pressure which inevitably increases the expectations of strained fundraisers - my exceptional colleagues on the Fellowship being just a small group of this sector feeling the pinch. 

Personally, it’s also been a period of change; within weeks of being offered a Fellowship place, I discovered I was pregnant, and I was then made redundant in the autumn of 2023 as the organisation I worked for announced its closure. Last month I started a new role. 

 

So what has it really meant for me to be resilient during this period of professional, societal and personal upheaval?

 

Find perspective

I wouldn’t choose to be pregnant, made redundant and job hunting at the same time, but this really helped me gain a sense of perspective on the circumstances and the opportunities it presented to me. Working with an expert coach, and using my personal values, I was able to embrace the opportunity of change and identify my priorities in looking for a new role, acknowledging what was in my control, and what wasn’t. 

The pressures faced in our sectors are not insignificant, but by understanding what we can change, and where our individual and organisational priorities are, we can streamline our response. 

 

Embrace the reality

I’ve worked with the FailSpace team for a few years now. An Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) project led by the University of Leeds and Queen Margaret University, Edinburgh, the project is based on the principle that learning from failure should be integral to the process of the cultural and creative sectors. But their research has shown it is an often-avoided topic. Organisations much prefer to focus on celebrations and achievements. 

Using the FailSpace resources, I’ve learnt to name my failures, resisting my instinct to discuss ‘challenges’, ‘hurdles’, and ‘lessons’. Speaking plainly has removed some of the shame around failures and made it easier to acknowledge what didn’t go to plan. This, in turn, has helped me speak with increased clarity about my achievements. 

The resources can be very useful in the fundraising process, helping teams to identify everything in a project’s potential outcomes, from a roaring success to abject failure, and everything in between. It can also help us understand risk and communicate better with our funders and donors when work doesn’t go to plan, which is almost always. 

 

Ride the change curve 

My coach and I regularly returned to the Kubler-Ross Change Curve (sometimes known as the Grief Cycle), often because I had assumed in previous sessions I was in acceptance, but regularly returned to anger and depression. She was committed to reminding me that experiencing the curve wasn’t a linear process, and that it’s very normal to flit between stages. 

The curve can be applied to any period of change, no matter the context or the scale, and can help us adopt a coaching approach at work, asking questions and embracing reflective, agile practice. In teams, using a shared model to discuss our responses to change can be helpful, aiding our understanding of how each other moves through change and enabling clear and effective communication. 

Source: University of Exeter


This toolbox, combined with the exceptional support of friends, family and colleagues, has helped me immensely in navigating this period of change. I know my professional self better and understand my responses to change. I’ve leant into my authenticity as a values-led fundraiser and now clearly understand my personal and professional drivers, and how organisations can get the best out of me. I started a new role in January 2024 and am continuing to use my toolbox as I look ahead to my next big change: parenthood. 

Managing change is a skill often cited by fundraisers, it’s something I’ve referenced many times myself. It’s less a skill and more a set of processes and tools that need to grow, adapt, and change. Key to successfully navigating change are our networks, perspective from the world outside work, and observing the journey. Change is not linear and neither are people – there is no one way to be resilient in the face of uncertainty.