Meet Annabel James

“Today, when I’m faced with helping an organisation in this situation I take myself back to the sofa and 1985 watching Bob Geldof shouting at the world.”


Watching Live Aid on tv in 1985 as a freshly minted university graduate was the start of it for me. The combination of months of graphic news reports depicting horror, famine and needless death, with charismatic and rock star glamour and a global event shared by billions of people. Unknowingly then I was witnessing the holy grail of what remains today the basis of effective fundraising – an undeniable case for support, a strong call to action delivered by a charismatic and passionate individual to a welcoming audience.

Bob Geldof’s impassioned plea to “Give us your BLEEP money” was emblematic of the cry of many a fundraiser before and since delivering our well researched and crafted campaigns in support of causes we are passionate about.

The evolution of fundraising since that sunny summer day in 1985 has been fascinating to watch, and in a small way, be part of: from the early days of cause-related marketing with companies and charities coming together for mutual benefit – only my vintage fundraisers will remember “Care for the rare” campaign between spirit brand J&B and WWF;  the feeling of excitement the first time Comic Relief used texting as a donation mechanism; the extraordinary impact on mass participation events of the London Marathon and Cancer Research UK’s Race for Life; platforms such as JustGiving which have revolutionised and democratised charitable giving;  the opportunities to raise money from the National Lottery to new streams of funding through social investment have enabled organisations small and large, popular and less popular causes to grow and thrive.  The list goes on.

I started my career in the voluntary sector after a decade in corporate communications initially as head of pr for youth development charity Raleigh International.  My next job was Head of Corporate fundraising for the NSPCC during the FULL STOP campaign, and then Director of Charities at the Capital Radio Group, responsible for amongst other things the iconic Help a London Child brand.  What I learned in each of those roles continues to guide my work as a consultant today:  clear, consistent communications internally and externally, a focus on the donor’s needs and a deep understanding of the cause.

The biggest change I have seen during my 20 years in the sector is the focus on outcomes and impacts; whilst present, albeit using different language, until relatively recently they were more likely the subject of internal planning than every day discussions with donors as they are now.  To be welcomed largely for sure.   But so much of my consulting work has been in trying to help organisations navigate between the requirement to evidence and communicate outcomes and impact for external purposes with their internal organisational and service delivery needs.  

In my experience, much of this need for navigation is down to interpretation and language.  Somehow the very words outcome and impact have little relationship to beneficiaries or service delivery and it becomes easy to go from a mission-driven organisation with passion and commitment at its heart to a clinical and even cold version of itself relying on charts, graphs and impenetrable language disassociated from its cause to make its case.   

Today, when I’m faced with helping an organisation in this situation I take myself back to the sofa and 1985 watching Bob Geldof shouting at the world.  A compelling and easily understood case for support, a charismatic call to action and an audience waiting to be asked.  It may not be quite that simple, but it’s a good place to start.