The NSPCC and me: one fundrais­er, one char­i­ty, 17 years of life-chang­ing service

In an inspi­ra­tional new addi­tion to our My first weeks as a fundrais­er’ show­case, SOFII proud­ly shares Ben Swart’s 17-year jour­ney as a fundrais­er at the NSPCC. Fundrais­ing can be a reward­ing career, and Ben’s expe­ri­ence is tes­ta­ment to that. So, sit back and enjoy as Ben reflects on his long ser­vice and explains why this char­i­ty will always hold a spe­cial place in his heart. We think Ben’s sto­ry is a must-read for any fundrais­er who is start­ing out and find­ing their feet in our sector.

Written by
Ben Swart
April 01, 2023
© All images courtesy of Ben Swart

At the time of writing, I’m preparing for my last ever day at the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (NSPCC). Yes, after 17 years, six roles and five different teams – I am leaving the building and the charity that I effectively grew up in. 

It all started in January 2006, when I walked through the doors of the NSPCC. I was 22 years old and about to start a one-week contract in the donation processing team. Barely an adult. I could never have predicted that in 2023 I’d walk out those doors with stories that would stay with me forever. I fell in love there. I became a husband and a father. I made friends for life.

How do you stay at one charity for 17 years?

Well, there are lots of reasons, but here are five:

1. The Need. At 22, I was a volunteer counsellor on a children’s helpline for another charity (The Mix Charity). Once a week I’d speak to children who needed help, but often had no one else to turn to. 

These were children who were funnier, smarter and more motivated than me – but yet they were totally stuck. Stuck with their own fears, stuck in homes with abusers, stuck because no one else believed them, stuck because they didn’t realise how wrong the situation was. 

The scale of the problem petrified and inspired me. That’s never changed. I’ve loved dedicating my life to helping children and young people – and that will never change either.

2. The Work. My original one-week contract with the NSPCC happened to be the same week we heard that Childline and the NSPCC were merging. To announce the merger, all staff were called to the conference room. I’ll never forget that moment.

A month earlier, I had sat in Barclay’s annual reviews focused on sales targets. And yet that day, I heard Esther Rantzen say this wasn’t two organisations coming together, this wasn’t just a merger – it was us making sure every child, wherever they were, whoever they were, would always know they had somewhere to turn.

From then on, I was desperate to turn that week’s contract into a career. The more I learnt about the NSPCC, the more I fell in love.

One colleague once said: ‘I’ve spent 25 years in child protection, seeing the same problems re-occur time and time again. Since I joined the NSPCC I finally feel like I’m doing something to stop them.’

In every area of the NSPCC’s work there is proof of the unsolvable being solved. Hearing those examples today, gets me just as much as it did during that cold January in 2006.

3. The People. The energy, fun, and care that I felt my first days set the trend for the teams, departments, and projects I’d work on. I was ‘just’ a temp working in a donation processing team but all of the people I worked with were heroes. There was the person making sure the Gift Aid was added, the supervisor who helped a Childline volunteer with their first call, the midwife who gave a new parent care and support for the first time in their life, and (of course) the fundraiser who handed out high fives on marathon day.

Everyone from my first boss, teammates, managers, directors to my last job share partner, boss and team- they were all the reason I stayed for so long. I will miss walking past Brenda and Joan, glancing at the Childline rooms, chatting in the lift, seeing so many friendly faces on the floors. 

4. The Opportunity. At every level, my managers have been instrumental in keeping me at the NSPCC. In my first ten years, I worked in five teams across six roles. I was moving across and up. I was constantly able to learn. I rarely got a straight promotion – often seeking out secondments and projects to try new things. I was always able to be open and honest with my manager and eventually the directors, as we looked to see another way in which both NSPCC and I could benefit and grow. I will forever be grateful to those people and how they helped me grow, thrive and develop at the organisation.

5. The Donors. The majority of the NSPCC’s income comes from the public – people like you and me. Community groups, companies, philanthropists. People across the UK who believe children deserve more. People who are angry at the same news stories and are desperate to be part of solving the problem. 

It’s been a privilege to be able to talk to them, listen to them, inspire them and ultimately turn that anger into lifesaving projects across the UK. Whether it’s two pounds or £20 million, it’s meant that the NSSPCC could be there when no one else could. Thank you!

If you’ve got this far and you’re wondering why I wrote this. It’s because I hope that sharing why I spent 17 years at the NSPCC will have an impact on you too. I hope that it will help you think about your future as a fundraiser (especially if you are new to the sector!)

So how can you make the most of your time in fundraising?

Here’s five things you can try this month:

1. Do something to hear more about the need for your organisation. Learn the why. Find out the stories of the calls that never got through, the families you didn’t reach. It will ignite a fire. It won't be comfortable, but comfortable people don’t move – and your cause needs you to move mountains for them. 

2. Spend time learning about the frontline of your projects and see the impact of your work. You don’t need to visit it, you could have a chat with someone, read a case study, go to an event and hear a speech about how your organisation helped. Either way it will shift your state – which in turn will shift your results, trust me.

3. Understand your colleagues. Care about them, help them. By all means get puzzled at why they don’t seem to instantly help or even hinder you, but reflect why, and how you can seek to understand their point of view. These jobs are impossible on our own, bring your organisation with you.

4. Have a squiggly career. If you think progress is just a linear set of promotions, then you may be waiting a while for your career in fundraising to thrive. Try other teams, projects, experiences, secondments. Learn and grow into the best fundraiser you can be.

5. Talk to your donors. Whoever they are, whenever you can. Ask them why they give and ask them why they don’t give. Find out who else they support and find out what they love about your organisation. You’ll often be amazed at just how far they’ll go for your organisation. 

What’s next for me? I’m excited for what the future holds. I’m going to launch a new part of Bright Spot, our consultancy and in house work. But for now, I’m going to go into Weston House (NSPCC HQ) for one last time to reflect on the proudest 17 years of my life

So, thank you to the NSPCC, thank you to every single person I’ve worked with, and good luck to you, our sector’s newest fundraisers! 

About the author: Ben Swart

Ben Swart (he/him) is passionate about helping people and companies give their time, money and influence to things they care about.

He spends most of his time understanding what makes world class fundraising, then tries to help as many people as possible display those principles. Ben has worked in major giving, training and corporate fundraising – alongside some of the best fundraisers in the sector.

Having worked at the NSPCC for 17 years, he is currently an associate at Bright Spot Fundraising and is about to launch Bright Spot’s Consultancy.

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