Meet Derek Smith

“Fundraising is often demanding and you need to be tenacious.”


Management consultancy is an art and a science but mainly it’s a challenge

Even with 40 years experience as a director in charities and local authorities, a commissioner and a fundraiser, I am always excited by a new assignment. I help charities with fundraising and tendering bids, governance and strategy and internal training and development.

In a bid, I am always trying to work out the ‘edge’ that will enable my client to win. Sometimes it’s an area I know nothing about, such as a contract to entertain troops stationed overseas. The other bidder was also using consultants. It couldn’t have been closer – we won with a 97.8% to 96% score, with the quality assurance programme I designed giving us the edge.

Recently I helped a charity bid successfully for an expanded role, taking over all of the mental health services in its area. I helped them reposition the service using local partners as the initial contact so that they could substantially increase the numbers of young people. The challenge was to convince the local mental health trust to become a sub-contractor when they saw themselves as the lead partner.

Increasingly I find that clients are happy to write the bid but might want a little help at the beginning to think about the contract/work. Sometimes they just want a ‘light touch’ feedback on a draft or to use their bid as a basis for advanced bid writing training.  

Fundraising is often demanding and you need to be tenacious. A care agency I have worked with over 30 years wanted to bid for an NHS ‘qualified provider’ contract. The organisation provides an excellent service but isn’t too good at demonstrating this. Having set out the information I required, their response was to send me the bid I completed four years ago with the instruction, “Work from this!”

I did and was a bit deflated when they were unsuccessful, so I drafted a letter asking for an explanation. Two weeks later the response came back, “We made a mistake and you have been awarded the contract.” I will never know if that was the case or they decided that they couldn’t defend their decision.

I enjoy training and development as it creates real change in organisations. In governance reviews, I use separate but similar questionnaires to staff and trustees to draw out the issues and then follow up with interviews. This can reveal big differences in views, issues that undermine trust, underlying tensions and weaknesses. Once the ‘nuts and bolts’ are sorted the organisation can move forwards to take advantage of opportunities.

With one client it led to a strategic review. It was really exciting to help them think of the organisation from a service marketing perspective and to work out how they could differentiate themselves, decide their marketing segments and improve the likelihood of funding.

They had defined themselves as an organisation that supports volunteering worldwide but became entangled in trying to deal with their weaknesses. Now they are focussed on their strengths: outcomes for refugees and the organisations that help them in Europe. Volunteering is the delivery mechanism, not the main output.

Two tips from the work:

One - Focus on the strategy first, where you are and where you want to be. Avoid trying to write a strategic plan immediately. The plan is where ‘strategy hits reality’.​​​​​​​

Two – Remember strategy is always followed by tactics and structural changes. Start with whether you should do or stop something; not with how you can do something better or how you can change your staffing/trustee structure.

COVID-19 permitting, I am looking forward to a two-day leadership and management course I have designed for a hospice. They have ‘booked’ their 30% discount through Action Planning’s Pearls of Wisdom offer (book by the end of July!).

I always face such assignments with a little trepidation as I will only be happy if it goes really well and they gain new insights, rather than new tools they can use. It’s an exciting programme; surveying staff at different levels of the organisation to assess the levels of ‘organisational’ trust and then to improve it. We will also be exploring ‘management by intent’ and ‘social governance.’

The aim is for managers to be better leaders and facilitators, focusing on how they can add value rather than day-to-day management – so no pressure there!