Vanessa Longley - if in doubt, collaborate
Vanessa Longley at YoungMinds urges 'be brave and show that you care, because that can change the world'
Welcome to Professionals with Purpose
If you are wondering how you can have a more positive impact while you run a business or earn a living, you’re in the right place. Read on for examples of people at businesses, charities, government organisations, or startups who have done it or are achieving it - and often doing so at pace.
In the latest of our series focusing on purpose champions we hear from Vanessa Longley, Director of Development at children and young people’s mental health charity, YoungMinds.
In addition we help you discover opportunities, tools and resources to help you in your aims to work with social impact or to find a social impact role or employer.
Vanessa Longley, YoungMinds. If in doubt, collaborate.
I’m one of the few fundraisers I’ve ever met who knew what they wanted to do. I come from a family who had used their working career to try and change the world for the better, in areas such as nursing, social work and teaching. As a result, I realised quite young that I wanted to do a purpose-led job where I could apply the values that meant something to me.
That doesn’t mean I automatically fell into fundraising – I had a few career experiences along the way that highlighted what I’m good at, and what doesn’t suit me. As an example, I worked in a care home for people with multiple and profound disabilities for a year before university. And, what it taught me, very quickly, was that I wasn’t very good at it. I could do the personal care side of things no problem, but actually working day in, day out, with people who would never get better was tough, especially working alongside families watching the decline of their children. Emotionally, I wasn’t ready for that.
What I did realise however, was that I had the ability to talk persuasively. After uni, I went into advertising and marketing at WWAV Rapp Collins, which was the largest direct marketing agency in Europe where I worked on both charity and commercial clients from Friends of the Earth, to the Prudential, before switching to the charity sector.
Fundraising has always been rooted in purpose, and I feel really proud of the successes I contributed to in a variety of fundraising and marketing roles. I started out at the Leprosy Relief Association and stayed until we’d cured leprosy as a public health problem in India. I moved to Mencap, and stayed until we’d managed to effectively lobby and change a very significant law around consent. I moved to the hospice sector, and would urge as many charity-focused people as possible to do some work in this sector – there’s a purity there because you are so close to your local community and so close to patients, that it positions purpose front and centre. I’ve found there’s a lot of learning to be had from small local charities.
Making a difference
Fast-forward to today, and I’ve been with YoungMinds for around four years.
We need to change the world for our young people, and we, as adults, have absolute responsibility for that. We can’t let this generation of young people get lost whilst we’re sorting out the big issues that take time, like the education system, and making sure there’s mental health support in local communities.
YoungMinds has a lot of practical, actionable support that parents, carers and young people can access for tips they can use to support their own, and each other’s, mental health. And that’s absolutely crucial – the difference one adult, trained or untrained, can make to a young person is huge.
My role was to come into YoungMinds to ensure its sustainable growth and establish how to maximise impact. It wasn’t just a case of growing as fast as we could, it was also about creating a profile of income that would allow us to support long-term thinking. As a result, we’ve grown income by 250% in just over three years.
Collaborative working has also been essential – it’s where true transformation happens. I work closely with other mental health charities to deliver substantial amounts of money into the sector because If we can help someone else raise the money, it’s still helping young people’s mental health, which is what the charity was set up to do.
If in doubt, collaborate
We often put being competitive and being collaborative as the two extremes on a spectrum.
We see competitiveness as being very driven, and collaboration as being much more a slow movement. But in the charity sector, when you get a group of people together with a shared purpose and a shared sense of direction, you gain something huge that moves fast and has its own momentum.
So, that is one of my career learnings. If in doubt, collaborate, and if you don’t know who to collaborate with, start by picking up the phone and just keep going.
Going bravely forward
One of the challenges we have as a sector, is that, understandably, charities tend to be risk adverse. The negative consequence of that can be that we forget to be brave, yet the charity sector was set up to tackle things that society struggles to manage on its own. So, if you are a charity inching around the edge of a societal issue, then perhaps it’s time to take a step back and say, ‘hang on a minute, what should we do as a charity? What’s the difference that we’re making in this societal space?’
Because we can afford to be, not risky, but brave. And sometimes that means moving in a different direction, or taking a significant step. I think that’s something that I would love to see more widely in the sector, more bravery and courage. And alongside that, innovation, because playing it safe means doing it like we’ve always done it, whereas making a huge impact often doesn’t cost more. Sometimes it’s just about doing it differently, and innovation is key to this.
Power of the people
To every person that I meet who is interested in supporting young people’s mental health, one of the questions I ask is, ‘is there anyone you know that I should know?’ It’s about building that network, which is particularly important when tackling challenges.
One of the learnings that I teach to my staff is to group around a challenge. So, rather than trying to solve the problem yourself, always try and bring people together who have a shared desire to resolve the issue. That’s how you get diversity of thought and avoid ‘groupthink.’ At YoungMinds, we involve young people in helping to resolve the issues that they’re experiencing themselves so it becomes authentic and genuine. But you also get some wonderful ideas from outside the sector that can make a real difference.
I am always looking for people that I can learn from and talk to because there is always more to learn. I have also carried on my formal academic education, because it stimulates me in a different way and allows me to bring an alternative focus into my work. New ideas are the only way that we can tackle some of these massive issues, and if we think we can do it on our own, that’s where we fail.
Success in action
One recent initiative at YoungMinds is the Out in the Open Facebook campaign. We created the campaign to not only raise money, but to improve our supporters’ mental health whilst they’re doing it. It’s essentially a campaign where supporters take a certain number of steps every day for a month, with the idea to get outside with, and for, young people. It’s often easier to have those deeper conversations when you’re doing things side by side.
The campaign is already at over 300% against income expectations, so it’s done well but, more than that, something happened that we weren’t expecting, which was the chat forum.
For everyone participating, the forum became an informal peer-to-peer support group with parents and carers sharing support and being really encouraging to each other.
This highlights that within cause-led fundraising, people have purpose, they’re looking for their tribe, and, if you create the space for them, they will do their own recruitment, they will do their own fundraising and they will become part of who you are.
Find what makes your heart sing and then show that – be brave and show that you care, because that can change the world."
A team-led approach
I’m so lucky to work with an incredible team but what can hold them back is often their own confidence in their abilities and what they have to offer. And so, to anyone reading this what I’d say is, find what makes your heart sing and then show that – be brave and show that you care, because that can change the world.
One of my proudest moments isn’t really my moment at all! A while ago, I took on a new fundraiser who hadn’t had much sector experience. When my time managing them came to an end, I was able to nominate them for a Fundraiser of the Year Award, which they went on to win. It’s not my victory as they did the hard work, but if I’m a great manager, or I try to be, I can create an orchestra’s worth of great fundraisers who can help us change the world. So, I’ve put a lot of work into being a half-decent conductor, so that I can get my orchestra out there and playing long after I am gone.
Looking to move into the social impact sector, to set up or grow your own purpose-driven company, or want to gain skills and knowledge in this area? Here are some events and opportunities that might help.
Learn storytelling for change
RSPB Phoenix group on reserve walk, RSPB Saltholme Reserve, Teeside. © Kaleel Zibe, RSPB
WWF, the RSPB and the National Trust have launched Young Voices for Nature’ a creative programme for young people aged 13-25 across the UK, led by young volunteers at the three charities.
The series of online and in-person workshops and seminars in England, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales will be available 300 young people, at least half of whom will be from typically low-income areas.
Group taking part in bioblitz at Camp Cameron in partnership with Black to Nature and The Cameron Bespolka Trust, RSPB Franchises Lodge Nature Reserve. © Anneka Schofield, RSPB
The programme will help them to develop their skills in change-making, storytelling and film production, “empowering them to showcase the impact they are making by protecting UK nature”.
Applications to Young Voices for Nature are open until 10 July 2023.
Social entrepreneurship as a reintegrative solution for young people of Black and Minoritised communities
The first recipients of The Jane Hatfield Award have published their reports on the experiences, barriers and opportunities of social action and social entrepreneurship for young people of Black and Minoritised communities.
Two teams received funding.
Ammaarah Felix, Naomi Robinson and Sharon Tamale investigated social entrepreneurship as a reintegrative solution for young Black men who are ex-prison residents.
Ayisatu Emore (of Idaraya Life CIC) and Nikhwat Marawat (of The Delicate Mind) interviewed racially marginalised individuals already involved in social action to better understand the challenges in terms of access and support.
Together, the reports highlight the stories of their participants and recommend solutions such as equitable funding, specialised training programmes, and peer support or mentor schemes to help tackle barriers in the social action space for under-represented communities.
The Award is named in memory and celebration of Jane Hatfield, trustee and then Chair of IVAR from 2006 to 2021.
The Jane Hatfield Award provides an annual grant of £5,000 to support the next generation of researchers and activists to explore issues in social action and/or social justice. A project of the Institute for Voluntary Action Research (IVAR) it works in partnership with The Ubele Initiative CIC (‘Ubele’) who, in its inaugural year, provided match funding to allow for two teams within their network of young researchers to be supported in the inaugural year of the Award.
50 years of the Templeton Prize
This year marks the 50th anniversary of the Templeton Prize. Each year one outstanding person who has “responded to the deep challenges of our times with inspiring humility and curiosity” is recognised by the prize.
Originally, it was established to “recognise discoveries that yielded new insights about religion”. In 2020 its function was updated to one that focuses “on research, discovery, public engagement, and religious leadership that advance our understanding of, and appreciation for, the insights that science brings to the deepest questions of the universe and humankind’s purpose and place within it”.
In 1973, the first Templeton Prize was given to Mother Teresa. Since then its list of laureates has expanded to include humanitarians, theoretical physicists, philosophers and one king.
If you are looking for inspiration for your purpose and how to achieve it, exploring the list of laureates might well be a good place to start.
This anniversary year the Templeton Prize is profiling its laureates in groups of 10, having started with an initial group of 14.
Spotify and UNICEF - a partnership that sounds good
Spotify is making more of its content and reach in a three-year partnership with UNICEF. Because they are “dedicated to using the power of our platform to bring resources to people directly where they are”, Spotify’s partnership will “help ensure that young people, including refugees, displaced people, and migrants, can access trusted and engaging mental health audio content.”
Spotify and UNICEF partner to support mental health by bringing the power of audio to millions
— John Thompson - corporate fundraising consultant (@JTCHANGINGBIZ)
Jun 28, 2023
Elizabeth Nieto, VP, Global Head of Equity and Impact at Spotify, said: “Our collaboration will particularly focus on harnessing the power of music, audio, and other innovative digital content to deliver trusted and engaging mental health content for young people, their caregivers, and communities.”
The partnership will initially focus on the mental health needs of young people directly affected by the war in Ukraine.
Corporate fundraising consultant John Thompson commented on the partnership:
Beehiiv - the newsletter platform built for growth
Entries to the 2024 BOLD Awards are now open. The awards celebrate companies, projects, and individuals in the digital economy “that are leading the way for positive impact”.
The awards are open to individuals, companies and organisations who can demonstrate their involvement in the project that fits any of the 33 BOLD Awards categories. All entries must have passed the idea stage and must have been conducted within the immediate past two years.
BOLD V is HERE... #beBOLD#BOLDv#BOLD5#BOLDAwards
— BOLD Awards (@Bold_Awards)
May 17, 2023
The early bird submission fee is €87 for entries before 31 July. Final entries, submitted before 31 December, cost €187.
Sian White is to take over as Director of The UK Humanitarian Innovation Hub (UKHIH). She succeeds Ben Ramalingam, and joins from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, where she has been Assistant Professor for the past nine years.
The Hub is hosted by Elrha and funded by the UK’s Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO).
Are you moving to a for-purpose role? At another org (business, charity, government) or setting up your own? We’ll start listing some of these moves soon. Do flag up any previous experience of growing income and social impact at pace. Let us know.
What readers say
"I can’t believe I’ve not come across this before now – it’s a great read."
UK Humanitarian Innovation Hub
27 June 2023
If you have a story to tell about how you’ve grown a business’ income and social impact at pace, do get in touch with us.
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