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The 2014 Charity #SocialCEOs Awards are coming!

17 Sep
Last year's awards in full swing

Last year’s awards in full swing


Huge thanks to everyone who nominated CEOs earlier this summer. We’ve been spoilt for choice with 100 amazing entries. Here’s a quick update on next steps and sponsors.

What happens next?

This year’s top 30 will be announced at a special event on Thursday 6 November hosted by Girlguiding.

Who’s in this year’s top 30?

Our judges have been burning the midnight oil this summer deciding who is in this year’s top 30. As I said, we had 100 brilliant nominations and narrowing them down to 30 when the standard has been so high has been no easy task. We’d like to thank Simon Blake, CEO of Brook and Chair of our judging panel, Dalton Leong, CEO of The Children’s Trust, and Lucy Caldicott, Director of Fundraising at CLIC Sargent, for all their hard work.

Naturally, the names of those in this year’s top 30 are under lock and key until November. They will be announced officially in the press the morning after the awards i.e. Friday 7 November.

Who else is involved?

We are thrilled to announce that this year’s awards will be run in association with Grant Thornton (you may have seen their recent report Growing Communities on charity leadership and social media). We’ve got some other great sponsors on board including TPP and Access. If you’re a corporate who would like to get involved please contact me on

How can I help my CEO/ board/ leadership team use social media?

We’ll be producing some content to help you do just that which will be launched at the same time as the awards. In the meantime, check out the guide we produced last year.

I’ll also be running a workshop to help trustees use social media at the NCVO conference on 10 November, and am planning some workshops on how you or your leadership team can develop good personal online presences early in the new year. If you’d like to know more about these drop me a line on And for tip top digital campaigns advice and resources do check out Matt’s agency, Platypus Digital.

6 tips to beat the holiday email blues

19 Aug

This is a guest blog from Dr Monica Seeley, founder of Mesmo Consultancy and an international expert on best email practice.  Monica has written several books and many articles on email use. Her latest book is ‘Brilliant Email’.

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August time always sparks the age old debate about whether or not to stay connected whilst on leave.  Those firmly in the wellbeing camp say disconnect and give yourself time to recharge the batteries properly.  Others feel they must stay connected no matter what and that doing so makes no difference to the quality of their holiday.  In effect they are saying ‘I am indispensable and super human’.  Most of my clients when asked why they stay connected whilst on leave say it is because they feel it is expected of them.

Last week Daimler introduced an email programme which self-destructs employees’ emails whilst they are on leave. In effect they have levelled the playing field for all employees regardless of seniority.

However, the Daimler system is sophisticated and not everyone can afford such technology.

For many, dealing with the holiday email back-log is one of the most stressful aspects of taking a break .  More stressful, some say, than losing your luggage and having to look after aging parents.  If you are not in a position to implement a Daimler-type system what are the other options?  Take heart because technology alone will not cure email overload despite the claims of some software providers.

The real cure for email overload lies in changing our email behaviour.  It is about rethinking how we use email and curing what has become the hidden disease of 21st century working life – email addiction.

Whilst these are long terms action in the short term, for those either going on holiday or returning to work from vacation, there are some simple things you can do.

Before going on leave do some basic and simple email housekeeping to clean up the inbox. Here are my three top tips:

  1. Clear out all the old emails – either move them to folders or delete them and especially old newsletters.
  2. Set some rules (filters) to move automatically any new less important emails to folders, or maybe even the trash can (eg all user emails, newsletters, social media alerts etc). This way when you return you will see only the high priority emails in your inbox.
  3. Set an appropriate Out of Office message. Keep it short and simple giving the dates you are away from the office. Most email software allows you to set two different Out of Office messages. For internal emails, set a message similar to the Daimler one asking people to resend any important emails after your return. Many senior executives already practice this principle to reduce the level of holiday email overload. Done carefully you can even filter out the ones from the CEO and let them slip though. For external emails you may wish to craft a different less blunt message.

On your return from leave here are my three top tips to reduce the dreaded holiday email overload.

  1. Talk, talk and talk again to colleagues before even touching your inbox. This will give you an overview of what really needs your attention. Then and only then tackle the inbox.
  2. Triage the inbox based on what your colleagues have told you and deal just with the really vital emails. If you have followed the three steps above then this should just be important emails from clients and the senior management team.
  3. Declare email bankruptcy. Once you have dealt with the really key emails, if your inbox is still full of unnecessary emails, delete the rest. If anything is that important you can be sure the sender will re-contact you.

The result? No more email holiday overload.  Longer term you can start to implement an email management change programme to better educate your colleagues about how to reduce email overload.


How to break the rules in charities -and make things happen

25 Jul

This is a guest blog from Sarah Sinnott of Catch22.  Sarah builds partnerships to create social impact at Catch22 – a social business that has been thinking differently about delivering services to vulnerable people for over 200 years.

Innovation is no longer a nice to have, as Lucy Gower says, it’s “urgent and important”.  At Catch22 we’re interested in innovation in all aspects of our work from frontline delivery, data capture, social finance / investment and models of sustainability.  So how do we make it happen?

  1. Take risks

Innovation and risk go hand in hand and therefore as a sector we need to be better at embracing it. Innovation needs investments of time, resource, support (to succeed and fail) and some structure for it to focus on. This kind of investment isn’t often available and hence the leadership from funders (like Nominet Trust, Google and Nesta) in terms of legitimising and embracing innovation is essential.  Be open and ready for opportunities where funders will let you take risks, they are increasingly there as long as you’re looking.

We did this with Nominet Trust who enabled us to embark on our first digital project, The Social Action App. With no track record of digital development, but a clear vision of improving chances for young people by digitalising social action, they offered us the freedom and the resources to try something risky and new…

  1. Try something new

Catch22 has just launched a Fellowship to scale good ideas, support social entrepreneurialism and embrace innovative approaches. It’s early days and the first of its kind in the sector but we hope it will demonstrate how bigger organisations can better embrace innovation.

  1. Don’t fail too fast

Ideas are easy, delivery is tough so despite the current zeitgeist of ‘fail fast’, remember that implementation is not always easy but that’s the point, and that’s why you’re doing it.  Get senior level buy in and make sure you hold your nerve for as long as possible.  The Social Action App has been quietly building momentum for 18 months now and just this week the recognition of Google  proves it’s been worth it. Catch22 is now a finalist in the 2014 Google Impact Challenge and in the running to win a £0.5million grant for the app.

catch22 app pic

Catch22’s The Social Action app


  1. Don’t bother about trying to be innovative

One sure way to kill innovation is to focus too much on it. The interesting things happen in your rear view mirror, in your peripheral vision. So don’t try to search for the next big innovative thing and then build the structures to tie it all down. Rather build your organisation and your staff’s abilities to spot opportunity and be flexible about introducing it into your existing work. You’ll need to be good at connecting ideas and networking people and eeking out scarce resource to do this rather than managing and counting and measuring.

Find out more about Catch22’s social action app.

5 questions every charity should ask about their future

2 Jul


Last week I ran a workshop for a small charity. They had bucked the trend during the last few years, growing despite the cuts. The mood in the room was confident, (but not complacent), ebullient and hungry.

They’re not unusual. The sector seems to be on the up. According to Third Sector this week  half of charities say that their income is rising and they reported a sharp increase in charity professionals’ morale in April, no doubt buoyed by the economic recovery.

Realistically, the sector is at something of a crossroads. We may be optimistic, but we’re still battling misconceptions about charities and their role. This week we had Mark Astarita calling for government minister Brandon Lewis to apologise for his ‘outrageous slur’ against fundraisers. Last month MPs professed themselves to be ‘shocked’ at Oxfam’s campaigning. And let’s not forget all the other negative press coverage the sector has had over the last year, from the Charity Commission  to CEO pay to Panorama. I can’t be the only one who’s thinking that charities, their role and transparency will feature in all of the party manifestos come the election next year.

I don’t want charities to be forced into the role of the victim, waxing and waning according to circumstances. I think we should be proud of the resilience, innovation and the impact the sector has shown amid the cuts. We cannot and should not rely on politicians to define us. As charities we need to decide what we want the sector to be, and we need to communicate it assertively and clearly.

With that in mind, here are two upcoming events to kickstart the conversation about the future of the sector. Turning the Corner 2014 on 12 September at Anglia Ruskin University in Cambridge will ask what the best way forward is for charities and social enterprises, including what the election may hold in store and how to deal with the pressure on organisations to merge. More details here. I’ll be running a social media workshop, so hope to see you there. Meanwhile, if you’re looking for fundraising inspiration, the lovely people at Open Fundraising are involved in championing young fundraisers by asking them to pitch the idea which they wish they’d thought of at this year’s ‘I Wish I’d Thought of That.’ You can find out how to enter here (the deadline is 7 July). We should be very proud of some of the amazing young people coming into the sector.

So here are the 5 key questions that I think every charity leadership team should ask about its future:

  1. What inspires you? What do you admire- whether it’s a project or an idea, and what could you learn from it that is useful for your organisation?
  2. Are you making the most of all the current fundraising opportunities, including digital and mobile?
  3. How is your organisation positioned for the election? What are the opportunities and threats for the different scenarios?
  4. Should you merge? What could you gain from it?
  5. How can you attract the right people, whether it’s for your leadership team or young talent?

What questions do you think charities should be asking at the moment?

Why social media success is a marathon not a sprint

25 Jun


2014 has surely been a record year so far for social media. From #nomakeupselfie to #stephensstory to #bringbackourgirls these campaigns have been reported as if they were shooting stars, seemingly appearing out of nowhere, burning brightly for a short time and then disappearing as suddenly as they came. In their wake I have heard of some boards demanding that comms teams plan ‘the next #nomakeupselfie campaign’ (as if that were possible).

As a marketing and digital consultant I know that great campaigns rarely appear out of nowhere. Many wildly successful campaigns are the result of months of planning, hard graft and testing content behind the scenes. I’m actually starting to get a little concerned that boards who are new to digital may think that social media is an ‘easy win,’ underestimating the amount of work that makes such campaigns possible.

So how can we manage boards and leadership teams’ expectations around social media? Firstly, by telling them that social media is a marathon, not a sprint. Yes, the platforms mean that you can talk to your stakeholders immediately but long lasting success can still take a while, as with all marketing. I recently worked with a charity who have a small but cracking digital team. They have spent years painstakingly building a rock solid social media presence. It takes a confident Head of Digital to explain to their CEO that the relationships brokered through social media, particularly with decision makers, may not yield instant results, but it’s been well worth it as they have now seen huge return on investment from their social media strategy.

How can you lay the right foundations for solid social media success? I’d recommend the following:

  • Put a good social media strategy in place. Read my blog on the 7 things you need to do to get your strategy off to a flying start
  • Listen to your stakeholders. Yes, #nomakeupselfie had amazing results (over £8 million raised for Cancer Research UK), but it would never have happened unless they were listening to their audience on social media. They were ‘match fit’ and able to respond swiftly as soon as they spotted an opportunity. You can find out more about how they did this in their case study in the Charity Innovation Report (free to download).
  • Let your audience tell your charity’s story. When Stephen Sutton was fundraising for Teenage Cancer Trust, the charity supported him but gave him the space to share his experience in his own words. Ultimately, social media is about people connecting to people. For inspiration, check out the amazing stories on the Humans of New York Facebook page.
  • Get a good hashtag. #bringbackour girls is short, simple, has a built in call to action and is above all easy to relate to. I’m a mum and the hashtag made me think, ‘That could be my daughter.’
  • Never underestimate the importance of momentum. We often think that campaigns of all kinds- not just in social media- need to made a big splash immediately. Yet a slow burn can be just as powerful. A good example of this is NCVO’s #giveitbackgeorge campaign from a couple of years ago, which gradually took off over a few weeks and ultimately led to the government performing a U-turn on their charity tax proposal. If your audience feel like they have discovered the campaign for themselves then that can motivate them to champion it even more.

What do you think? Can you get great results with social media overnight, or have you found that it takes a little longer? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Charity Innovation Report 2014

10 Jun

You might remember that earlier this year Lucy Gower and I launched the Charity Innovation Survey, which aimed to measure where charities are currently at with innovation.

We’ve pulled together the resulting stats along with case studies of some amazing innovative charities  in a special report which will help  the sector make the case for innovation, share best practice and boost every charity’s innovation, whatever their size, shape or cause. Read my blog  about the Charity Innovation Report on today’s Guardian Voluntary Sector Network.

Download the report at (it’s free)

Do let me know what you think of it by tweeting me @zoeamar and using the hashtag #charityinnovate2014

We’ll be launching the report tonight at a special event with Charity Leaders’ Exchange, where we’ll hear from some innovative charities including Cancer Research UK (talking about #nomakeupselfie) and The Children’s Society.

How social media sharing helped buy an ambulance in Zimbabwe

4 Jun

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This is a guest blog by Joe Farina of advertising agency Concentric.

At Concentric, as at every other ad agency, our energy is focused primarily on making our clients and their products look better. And when it comes to agency self-promotion, we look for ways to differentiate ourselves from a sea of other agencies that have similar capabilities. To open up this process, Concentric gave all our employees an opportunity to contribute ideas that not only helped promote the agency, but also helped someone in need.

As a company devoted to creating positive health experiences, and with a wide range of employee skills, we set out to determine how we could best make a difference. The only mandate from management was that it helped fix a problem in the complicated world of global healthcare. The project had to accomplish many things at once: assist a charity without seeming too self-promotional; demonstrate our skill in identifying problems within the overall health experience; and show how a minor repair to a healthcare system can create exponential gains.

Our first effort was simply to substitute our usual holiday videos, cards, and gifts for clients with a financial donation in their name to The Water Project. The positive response and overall good feeling we received from clients drove us to find out what else we could do. We used the power of Google to find a charity that was working to repair a broken cog in the global healthcare machine. After researching several worthy charities, we decided on the purchase of an ambulance for the village of Rimbi in Zimbabwe that was being sponsored through the Tekeshe Foundation.

The ambulance, which had served a population of 10,000 over a wide area, had been in a serious accident. We felt that a new ambulance would have a much greater impact than a donation of medicine or supplies would have. By repairing this break in the supply chain, we could directly improve the health experience of thousands.

Now we needed to get the word out.

The major hurdle in using social media for charity is exposure. Without a celebrity endorsement, how do you get the exposure you need? Without exposure, how do you get the funds you need?

Funding, in turn, presents its own challenges. How do you collect donations without forcing people to sign up for anything or offer their credit card information online? How do you prevent your audience from thinking your charity is not just another spam email or hidden corporate promotion?

How did Concentric meet these challenges?

The solution came from within. So great was our commitment to the campaign idea that we at Concentric decided to fund the program ourselves using our promotional budget. Members of the team promised to deliver print ads, a micro-site, and a strong social media presence that would promote both the charity and our involvement with it. If the company was committed to improving health experiences, it would buy the ambulance in exchange for a level of public exposure previous media outlets hadn’t provided. Concentric also agreed to fund future charities if the program was a success.

The attention span of audiences has dwindled as they have been bombarded with visual stimulation. Concentric needed our audience to absorb the story and participate in under a minute. Simplicity is therefore the key to the program’s success: a site with a bold, straightforward design and print ads that don’t force the audience to do any extra work. For every tweet or Facebook share the site received, Concentric would donate one dollar toward the cause.

So our worthy recipients don’t have to wait for their health fix, we donate the full amount upfront. Then, once we get the corresponding number of shares, likes, etc, we move onto another health experience that needs fixing… and so on. The more engagement we generate, the more experiences we can fix.

With Concentric funding the initial program, there was no need to have people sign up for anything or enter credit card information. One click kept the story spreading. Personalized tweets and posts helped our employees spread the word virally. We contacted friends, family, and any blog, newspaper, or individual we thought could help (thanks, Zoe!). To date, the site has had 1655 visits from 45 countries and 40 U.S. states, with 50 percent of the traffic coming from mobile devices and the other 50 percent from social media resources. The success of the program has inspired us to keep searching for health complications that we can fix using this model.

You can help us create a positive health experience. Share our story at




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