Steve Hawe, charity fundraising and comms director

Steve Hawe, charity fundraising and comms director

Steve Hawe is a leader in the voluntary sector with years of senior-level fundraising, marketing, comms and development experience. He is a former client who over the years has become a valued friend and contact of Louise’s.


All change, even before lockdown


Louise: We most recently worked together a couple of years ago when you were at Beanstalk, the children’s reading charity. Since then, Beanstalk has become a part of the Coram group (and is now Coram Beanstalk) and earlier this year your role (as Director of Sales, Marketing and Impact) was made redundant. You left just before lockdown began. At the time did that feel like a blessing or a curse?


Steve: Everything escalated so quickly I didn’t have a lot of time to think about it. Obviously finishing up without a role to go to just as a global pandemic and economic downturn starts is not the ideal time to leave an organisation! However, I had been at Coram Beanstalk for a long time in a number of different roles and had achieved a lot so it seemed like the right time to move onto new opportunities – I needed a change. So, all in all I still feel really positive about leaving when I did. I really admire people who’ve had to work through the crisis though, I can only imagine how stressful that must have been.


What has life been like for you since then? I imagine, after almost nine years in various senior roles at Beanstalk, it must have been nice to chill and have some proper time out? Or perhaps not, since we were all confined to our houses?!


I definitely needed some time out. I had been due to go to Sri Lanka a few days after leaving my job for a much-needed holiday but that obviously fell through. This turned out to be a blessing in disguise though as sadly my stepmother died a week later just as lockdown happened. I was relieved that I was around to be with her and to look after my father afterwards rather than being on the other side of the world as originally planned. With all that going on, I decided I just needed to rest up for a bit and look after my dad and myself, so I spent a couple of months doing just that. As well as applying for jobs when I saw any that were suitable, I had lots of Zooms with friends, watched lots of great boxsets, did online exercise classes as often as I could (thank you Central YMCA!) and generally tried not to worry too much. Easier said than done but the break definitely did me good. I realise I was in a fortunate position to be able to do this though, not everyone would have that luxury. It’s heart-breaking seeing how many people are out of work and struggling at the moment.


I know you’ve been doing lots of online courses and events recently. Any recommendations?


After my bit of a break I wanted to reconnect with the world of work and make sure I was keeping up to date while I continued searching for a new role.


“Luckily, there is a lot of great content available, so it’s been easy to keep busy.”


LinkedIn Learning has some interesting courses (I did one on diversity and inclusion and am planning a few digital marketing ones next), as well as Google Digital Garage. Webinar-wise, Ashby Jenkins Recruitment has been running lots of great webinars about the fundraising landscape and NCVO have had some really interesting ones on the impact on the charity sector and leading organisational change. I’m always keeping an eye out for things that might be interesting!

On the job hunt


You’re now actively looking for your next role. What is the job market like at the moment, for the sort of roles you are interested in?


Unsurprisingly it was pretty slow over the last few months but it does seem to be picking up a bit recently. Of course, the more senior you are the fewer roles there are generally anyway and there are lots of people looking for new roles now, but I remain positive. Charities really need people who can generate income and communicate effectively right now. One of the best things about fundraisers is that we’re generally quite tenacious and resilient!


You started out in publishing and in tech marketing and then had roles in different charities dealing with homelessness, disability and literacy. What are you drawn to next?


I definitely want to stay in the charity sector, I love feeling like what I do makes a difference to people’s lives. I love being a part of senior management teams helping to drive organisations forward and make them have a bigger impact. I’ve worked in communications throughout my career and I enjoy building relationships with people and organisations and inspiring them to support your charity, so I’m drawn mostly to fundraising and communications leadership roles. I do think it’s important to be passionate about the cause you’re raising funds for – I’m mainly drawn to causes that allow people to make the most of their opportunities, help them to succeed in life, overcome challenges, that sort of thing.


I think it’s quite hard at the moment for anyone recruiting. I sat on an interview panel recently and we have taken part in several virtual pitch interviews, and I find the technology makes certain aspects of the process much more challenging. It is particularly difficult for people who have a less than ideal working-from-home set-up. Do you have any horror stories to share – or tips for those recruiting?


I’ve had a couple of Zoom interviews recently and in both cases the charities were very understanding of how strange it might feel being interviewed that way, not being able to read the room so easily etc. They handled it well. I did have a minor panic before one of them as the Zoom link they’d sent me didn’t work, but I managed to get in touch with them and they quickly sent me the correct link so it was all OK in the end.


One of the things that has always really impressed me about your work is your focus on evidence and analysis – and using that to inform plans. Often, charities can’t or don’t find budget for research and evaluation. Or comms teams (or SMTs or, in some instances, Boards) come up with ideas they themselves like, rather than ones that are likely to work for target audiences. Do you work in the way you do because at heart you are a scientist (Chemistry Degree from Oxford)? Or is it because you started out in the private sector? Or because your charity career began in fundraising?


I think my college friends would probably laugh hearing me called a scientist now as it was such a long time ago that I barely remember any chemistry. But yes, I’ve always been quite analytical, numerate and detail oriented. I like to make decisions based on evidence and have as much information as possible when planning things. It’s not always possible and sometimes you just have to go for it, but it helps to give you confidence that you’re making the right decisions. One thing I’ve learned during my career though is that not everyone needs as much information as I do, particularly CEOs and Boards who often just want the high-level big picture. I’ve learned to manage how I present information to people, making it much more concise and visual – but I make sure I have all the detail behind it for my own sake and in case I’m ever asked for it!


What has been the highlight of your career so far?


The most exciting thing by far was getting the opportunity to move to New York back in my mid-twenties when I worked in scientific publishing. I’d always dreamt of going there from an early age, having seen it so many times on TV and film and read about it in my superhero comics (everyone knows that the Fantastic Four and Spider-Man were set there, I’m sure!). I even wrote to Marvel Comics when I was a teenager asking how to get a job there. But for a youngster growing up in a council house in north London it felt like a million miles away. Fast-forward ten to fifteen years and I’m living there (sadly, not working at Marvel Comics) and can see the Empire State Building every time I pop out for lunch – amazing what you can achieve when you set your mind to it!


“In terms of within my charity career though, for me personally it was probably the first Beanstalk Ball that I led on back in 2014 – a long time ago but one of the best nights of my career.”


This was Beanstalk’s first ever black-tie fundraising dinner, which featured then Mayor of London Boris Johnson as keynote speaker. I had a fantastic committee of well-connected volunteers helping us to organise the event and a great team of fundraisers working on it. We’d been under huge pressure that year, having not hit our overall fundraising target the year before for the first time. However, I knew we had all the ingredients we needed to deliver an amazing result – and we did, smashing our target and raising over £170,000 in one night – a huge amount for us at the time and well exceeding everyone’s expectations. I can still remember the excitement of that night and how proud I was of my team for delivering such a brilliant event.


Beanstalk went on to even bigger and better things after that and I got to work with some brilliant people on all sorts of fun projects, but I think that was one of the most satisfying nights of my career.

Pride and joy


What about non-work lockdown successes? I am very proud of having finally replaced the handles on my bathroom cupboard, found time to fix a squeaky door, sorted out the junk in the cupboard under the stairs and made a very small pond (we’re talking washing up bowl). How about you?


My biggest success has been running 5k! This may not sound like much, but it meant a great deal to me. I had started running a few years ago and fell in love with it. Within a couple of years I had moved from running an initial 10k to running the London Marathon two years in a row. Unfortunately, last year I had a really bad knee injury, was hobbling everywhere and honestly thought I’d never run again. It was a really difficult year for me. But I had been seeing a physio for about a year and had just started a ‘back to running’ programme a few weeks before lockdown. I persevered with the programme (on and off) over the last few months and a couple of weeks ago I finally managed to run 5k without stopping for the first time in eighteen months. I was so happy!


I’ll probably never be the runner I was again, as I need to be careful of my knee, but to have achieved that goal was a fantastic feeling!


And I have two unexpected lockdown joys. I have given up drinking – unplanned, surprisingly easy and very beneficial physically and mentally. Secondly, I have regularly taken pleasure in listening to Britney Spears – something I never thought I would say…! Do you have any surprising lockdown joys you’re prepared to share?!


Well done on the alcohol-free lockdown! And you can’t beat a bit of Britney – although I’m more a Madonna and Kylie fan myself.


My biggest lockdown joy has been nostalgic TV. So far, I’ve binged on The Golden Girls, Charlie’s Angels and now Buffy the Vampire Slayer. I think it must be something about going back to simpler times! They just need to start showing the Bionic Woman, Wonder Woman and Cagney and Lacey again and I’ll be happy!


“My other lockdown joy has been to pick up my sketchbook whenever I’ve felt a bit stressed and take my mind off things by drawing, mainly portraits of people. (I may be quite analytical but I have a creative side too!)”


You can see a sketch I did of Buffy in the photo and can see more on Instagram at @horeyart.


Interview originally published in July 2020.