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Veteran fundraiser sets sights high in his cancer charity role

When Glasgow's much-loved Beatson Cancer Centre decided last year that it was time to punch its weight as a fundraising charity, it turned to an obvious candidate as the first chief executive of the new Beatson Cancer Charity.

ambitious TARGETS: Chief executive David Welch wants the new Beatson Cancer Charity to be as successful as charities for the Royal Marsden and Christie cancer centres are.
ambitious TARGETS: Chief executive David Welch wants the new Beatson Cancer Charity to be as successful as charities for the Royal Marsden and Christie cancer centres are.

David Welch, who had led fundraising at the city's equally-treasured Yorkhill children's hospital since 2010, moved last August and began planning this month's high-profile launch under a new board chaired by respected financier Jamie Matheson.

The new charity is a merger of the two previous entirely voluntary charities at the hospital but will have a staff of 10 and a target of raising £20m over the next five years.

Mr Welch is quick to praise the "hugely successful" efforts of past volunteers in raising around £1.5m a year, but explains: "When you look at similar cancer centres like the Royal Marsden (in London) or the Christie in Manchester, their charities are raising between £10m and £15m a year and on top of that do some really significant projects, but the Beatson is the busiest in the UK." It can also claim to be a centre of excellence not only in the UK but globally in its treatments and technologies.

"Because we are West of Scotland we are not necessarily the best at shouting about our successes," Mr Welch says. "We want to make sure the world knows the Beatson is very much on an equal footing with the Christie and the Marsden and some other cancer centres around the world."

His opening splash included a Westminster launch for MPs and celebrities, events at Holyrood and the City Chambers, and the billboard campaign on Glasgow's transport.

"I am very proud of what we have achieved already," the chief executive says. "In many ways it is just the first sentence of hopefully a very successful story."

Mr Welch, 49, graduated from Glasgow University and went to work in retail management with Boots and then M & S. "It was a fantastic grounding in business," he says, "but I always wanted to work in a philanthropic role. It was something I felt as I grew up, and at that time my passion was to go and work overseas."

He landed the role of Scottish fundraiser for Concern, the charity founded 45 years ago to help war-torn Biafra and now working with the world's poorest in 20 countries, and found himself on the ground in Angola, Rwanda and Bangladesh. "That was life-changing for me," Mr Welch recalls. "I got the opportunity to work with incredible people and fund some major projects."

The first one, in association with other charities and backed by a campaign in The Herald, set up 14 feeding programmes for the displaced in Angola. He had the satisfaction of returning to the zone when war ended and finding that the work had spawned long-term education and income generation programmes. "What amazed me in all the places I went to was the resilience of people, their determination to overcome and survive."

He adds: "It is challenging and difficult to adjust when you are travelling in and out, coming back to Scotland where relatively speaking we all have a comfortable lifestyle - you have to understand that your role is to make a difference."

Mr Welch's next role was director of fundraising and communications at the Highland Hospice in Inverness, during which time he lost his father to cancer a few months after a brain tumour was diagnosed. He says: "The more we can do to support cancer treatment and care the better. Technology moves so quickly that four years ago in my dad's situation where treatment wasn't an option, it now might be an option. It might not have saved his life but might have given him a better quality of life."

Mr Welch goes on: "Beatson is at the forefront of many of these technological developments and there is a massive groundswell of support for it."

During his five years in Inverness he helped draw up plans to revamp the hospice and more than doubled its income, whilst enduring the pain of seeing part of the charity's £700,000 deposit with collapsed Icelandic bank KSF disappear in a regulation-free zone.

At Yorkhill Mr Welch upped the fundraising game with initiatives to build individual donations and business support.

"One of the things that worked really well was a series of letters coming from a family whose child had been successfully treated and was undergoing continuing treatment," he says.

Another success was corporate relationships like the one with Morgan Stanley, which led to a project focused on child obesity.

"The key to success in charity fundraising is engaging in partnership," Mr Welch says. "A letter to a company is not going to be very effective."

New ideas are brewing for the Beatson Cancer Charity, which will soon mount a telephone campaign to sign up people for direct debit donation (whilst giving people notice that they will be called). The Beatson will not send out "chuggers" (charity muggers) on to the high street, but it is exploring the idea of stalls inside big supermarkets, where people can make a choice to engage. It hopes to fire the imagination of companies to support specific projects and offer expert but pro bono help in areas such as IT, legal, HR or marketing.

Mr Welch says: "It is about investing. A charity is no different from any business, you have to invest in the growth of the business and ensure you get a return." He goes on: "The important thing for a charity is your ability to demonstrate the impact of that investment, and the ratio of support that is going back into the causes."

He sets a three to five-year budget and hopes to be able to show that 70% to 80% of funds raised go straight to treatment and care.

On public perceptions of charities, their chief executives' salaries and people's attitude to giving in more austere times, Mr Welch says: "As long as people feel they trust the charity, and they know it is spending money wisely and effectively, they also trust the charity to pay members of staff accordingly. Transpar-ency is important."

He concludes: "People are becoming more selective, growth in giving has slowed down, but there is undoubtedly a massive amount of goodwill out there. People acknowledge the role the charity sector now plays in society as extremely important."

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