Aiming high to change the world - an interview with Gemma Peters

Photo: Executive Director, Gemma Peters

King’s College London's World questions | King’s answers fundraising campaign closed in spring 2016, having raised more than £600 million, and won a platinum CASE Award for its unique approach to tackling world issues and answering global questions.   CASE is one of the world's largest non-profit educational associations, including more than 3,670 member organisations in more than 82 countries.   Here Gemma Peters, Executive Director of Fundraising and Supporter Development at King’s, shares her experiences of running the campaign.

"Although I hoped it would be successful, I certainly didn’t know that our campaign would reach these heights. When we were thinking about the goal of World questions | King’s answers, £500m felt like a huge, huge stretch because we had never done anything on this scale before.

I certainly was enthusiastic about our ability to get to £500m. However, I don’t think even I would have thought we could get to it 18 months early, extend the target again to £600m and to beat that too in such a short time frame!  Winning the platinum CASE award really is the icing on the cake.

Showing supporters the impact of their work

I believe that one reasons for the success of this campaign is that, at a time when philanthropists were thinking about their giving in terms of tangible impact, we were reflecting upon and describing the impact of our major projects in terms of the lives that have been changed.   

Before World questions│King’s answers, higher education fundraising campaigns were very much driven by the belief that great institutions were worthy of support to allow them to grow and improve. What we did with World questions | King’s answers was say: We are a great institution but that’s not why you should give to us; you should give to us because we are working on some really important world problems that you care about too, and we’re the best place to partner with to make a difference. 

An inspirational campaign leader

One turning point was when we appointed Sir John Major as Chair of the Campaign Board. He provided a strong point of leadership for the campaign and very quickly became a very important advocate for us.

He wasn’t a King’s alumnus and hadn’t previously had a relationship with King’s, but he chose to support this campaign. This provided external validation of the whole proposition of the project, highlighting to donors that you didn’t have to be involved with King’s to care about the work that we’re doing or to invest and partner in us.

If you start with the money, you’re starting in the wrong place.

The story of the campaign is essential. As we celebrate reaching our goal, it would be easy to get distracted by the total and to use that as shorthand for impact. 

But of course the impact is not the money, it’s the stories of the millions and millions of people whose lives have been transformed.  It’s these diverse stories of impact that we’ve really tried to keep front and centre from start to finish. It’s those stories that keep us motivated.

Lessons learned 

One lesson that I would really want to think about going forward is the partnerships required to tackle the most difficult and important challenges facing the world. In World questions | King’s answers we sought partners to help find answers. In the future I think we need to take an even broader view. We need partners at the beginning to define the questions, we need partners along the way to help identify the problems, we need partners along the way to help road test solutions, and then, once we have workable solutions, we need partners to help scale up the impact. There are many, many ways that people and organisations can work with an institution like King’s. We need to work differently to allow for that at all stages of the process. 

Celebrating success

I think it is really important to celebrate. An awful lot of people – donors, staff, and volunteers— have gone that extra mile in order for us to get to where we are now and we must thank people.  

We started to say thank you on our recent trip to Asia where we held several events, each of which were hosted by a key donor. These events - and there will be more to come - provide an opportunity to thank our supporters, not just from the institution, but from the people whose lives have been changed by the campaign. 

And, of course, our team will have our own celebration, whatever that may be, but it’s important that we mark it. I want to acknowledge when we are doing something amazing. If ever there was an illustration of amazing work, World questions | King’s answers is it. 

So will we be celebrating? Of course."



Article posted: June, 2016