Amy Lancaster - Special Events Team Leader - NSPCC
As she transitions from her role as Special Events Team Leader at the NSPCC to Head of Corporate Fundraising and Events at Global Radio’s charity arm, Amy Lancaster-Smith talks about the importance of pushing your own boundaries by going for jobs where you don’t tick all the boxes. Read on to hear how the career quiz she took at 16 turned out to be spot on…
ICE Being Special Events Team Leader for the NSPCC sounds like it must lend itself to planning some pretty amazing events, tell me more about your role.
AL-S I have a team of eight people who together deliver fundraising events ranging from gala dinners to concerts and receptions. We are part of the fundraising department and each of our events has a target to raise at least £100k. Our flagship event is the Childline Ball which has an attendance of 600 people and most recently raised £825k for the NSPCC. There are a lot of media companies who attend so each year it’s themed on a tv programme.
In 2016 we based the event on the Great British Bake-off where we recreated the tv set starting with a drinks reception in the garden followed by dinner in the marquee. We served Mary Berry cocktails and each dinner table had a centrepiece of ‘naked’ cupcakes together with materials for a decorating competition between tables. Our judges were contestants from the show. After dinner everyone moved back into the garden, but we had changed it from a daytime setting to a night garden. It’s definitely one of my favourite achievements.
ICE What do you enjoy most?
AL-S I love everything about the job, but perhaps the most fulfilling aspect is seeing my team develop. I take my responsibility as team leader seriously and I want to help people realise their own ambitions. For that reason I rarely get involved in the hands-on planning of events as I want to give the team a chance to grow. The other element of my role that I feel fortunate to experience is working with some of the amazing people on our event committees. These are people who volunteer for the NSPCC and really help us to attract the right people to our fundraising activities.
ICE How did you start out?
AL-S If you can believe it, I did a career test when I was 16 and it told me to be an event organiser! You would think it was straightforward after that, but actually I went on to do a degree in geography because my parents are both teachers and they didn’t really believe that planning events could be a career. However, I found myself still interested in events so I pursued an Event Marketing Management MA. A business placement with Cancer Research UK during my studies led to me helping run their Race for Life events. I quickly realised I had found my calling and from there I’ve followed my passion.
ICE What is the best career advice you’ve been offered?
AL-S I heard the best advice on Radio Four’s Women’s Hour. They were talking about how a man sees a job description and as long as he can do some of the points then he decides to go for it. Women only tend to apply if they can tick every box on the list of requirements. As a result women aren’t stretching themselves as much. The advice they gave is to go for jobs where you can’t already do everything in the job spec if you want to be challenged. Women need to push the boundaries more because I still see mostly men at the senior levels of our industry.
ICE Has there been a defining moment in your career?
AL-S Right now, I think, is my defining moment. I’ve just accepted a role as Head of Corporate Fundraising and Events for Global Radio’s charity arm. Global’s Make Some Noise is for those who don’t get heard and it supports a wide range of small charities across the UK. This is exactly where I want to be. I’m going into a company that isn’t charity specific so there is an element of persuading others to do things for good causes which really appeals to me. It also will enable me to further develop my relationship management skills, above and beyond managing a team.
ICE In your view, what makes a good leader?
AL-S Not everyone would agree with this, but for me a good leader genuinely cares and puts their team’s needs ahead of their own. Perhaps I single that out because I benefited early on in my career from a boss who helped me to advance despite the fact that it meant moving me out of her team, leaving her with a gap. Being a good leader is also about providing inspiration and positive energy to your team. It isn’t necessary to know all the answers, it is about how you encourage your people to find the answers on their own. I totally believe that a happy workforce is a productive one.
ICE How do you continue to develop yourself and your skills?
AL-S For self-development it is important to look outside your organisation. By mixing with others in the industry I have the opportunity to learn from people who live and breathe events every day. That is one reason I have joined the steering committees for both the Event Marketing Association (EMA) and the ICE Awards. There is no publication, conference or training that I religiously follow, but there is plenty of interesting stuff out there. To me, the best ones are based on personal experience.
ICE What do you see as the biggest challenge for the industry at the moment?
AL-S Event fatigue is something that affects everyone, although it is probably an even more critical challenge for those of us working in fundraising. So many events follow the same format: drinks, speaker, dinner and auction are common in our industry. How do you continue to attract people to your event and keep engagement levels high? It is important to build an event to suit the audience and not just the organisational objectives. That’s one reason why we choose to theme our Childline Ball events to popular tv shows – it provides a point of difference and captures the imagination.
ICE Any words of wisdom for those wanting to get ahead in the industry?
AL-S My top tip would be to look for every possible opportunity to create exposure for yourself. Public relations is not just for companies, the principles apply to managing your own image as well. Put yourself forward whenever you have the opportunity, so you get noticed. It’s pretty competitive to get into events – you need to create as many experiences as possible so you give yourself more to talk about. Turn what you’ve done into a good story. If you are always seeking out challenges and share your learning in an engaging way then people will definitely remember you the next time they have a role to fill.