Daniel Barker, patrons officer

 8 March 2013

Daniel Barker works on the 'giving team' at Kew Foundation, fundraising and supporting the Donors. He shares his 5 tips on how to enter this career.

Having patience and taking an interest in other people are key skills that Daniel uses when working in the Individual Giving Team. Image: Da
Having patience and taking an interest in other people are key skills that Daniel uses when working in the Individual Giving Team. Image: Da

What is your home town?

I live in London.

What qualifications do you have?

I have an English degree at Selwyn College, in Cambridge University.

How did you get started in heritage?

One of my first experiences working with people was through volunteering. I worked for a young people's charity, Get Connected, which was a helpline service that offered resources. I would speak to people on the phone and listen to them, offering information and making their situations better.

This turned into a paid interim position as Shift Supervisor. It was more operational and included managing people and being responsible in different complex situations.

"You need to be able to hear people's concerns."

The volunteering was useful as I grew confidence in speaking and it led to my career in fundraising. It’s about showing you can be presentable and talk to people, and you’re happy to get involved.

I wanted to join Kew as it was a big and interesting institution, so I thought it could give me a lot of experience. I got a job at Kew in customer services, answering queries from members, and then I was promoted to Patrons Officer.

What job do you do?

I am the Patrons Officer of Kew Foundation, which is the charity that does the fundraising for Kew Gardens.

Kew Gardens, or the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew, is a global plant organisation. It is a big visitor attraction with its various historic buildings and 'living collections' of plants. Arguably, Kew is a museum, but with living things in its collections.

Kew works in partner countries across the world, looking for plant-based solutions to issues such as climate change, famine and disappearing farming practices. In our plant collection, some plants are rare and endangered, and some are important in scientific research.

"I’m not a street fundraiser – I am working with donors who want to donate"

We have several listed buildings on site. There are Grade I listed landscapes and plantings, which we're not allowed to change. This is because they were planted in a certain way in the 18th century and we need to preserve the heritage landscape as it was.

Within the grounds we also have Kew Palace and our Georgian Kitchens, which are maintained by Historic Royal Palaces. They often run heritage events and recreations of banquets there.

What do you do at work?

My job is helps Kew function as a charity. I work on the Individual Giving Team. There are two aspects to my work:

  • Stewarding existing members

Being a patron is a high-level form of membership. Donors give a donation to Kew, and in return become 'Patrons of Kew' – they are invited to special events, receive recognition and get special access to Kew's experts.

I work very closely with the events team and take care of the delivery of special patron events. Recently, we’ve done tours of the Palm House glasshouse and a Charles Dickens’ archive exhibition.

  • Recruiting and renewing people’s membership to the donation programme

This can happen in different ways. I invite people to events and talk to them, and listen to them. I get to be there to respond and engage with them, encouraging them to get involved.

People who give a big gift sometimes start off as patrons, and then become major donors once they understand more about our work.

There are lots of different types of fundraising. I’m not a street fundraiser – I am working with donors who want to donate and like the organisation. I don’t sell or trick people. I give willing people the opportunity to give for the sake of giving. People like to donate – I provide the opportunity to do it.

It is important to fundraise, as it brings in money and raises the profile of the organisation. I write lots of letters inviting people to events, seeing if attendees want to donate and – importantly – thanking donors for giving money. It's about maintaining great relationships with our patrons as they're the ones that help make us succeed in our goals.

What's the best thing about your job?

It is putting on exciting events and being part of them. I like talking to people about what they're enthusiastic about and care about. Some donors have been coming to Kew for 60 years and have experiences that I bear in mind when I plan future events.

The gardens are also really beautiful. I feel privileged to be working around such interesting plants and cultural scenery.

What’s the worst thing about your job?

The challenges I have are administrating databases and complex financial processes. There are so many factors to consider and you can only work with the information you have- if some information is missing, working on the databases can be slow.

How do I get into heritage?

There are five key things that you should do to get you started:

1. Do what you find interesting

If an opportunity comes along, you need to have the confidence to go for it. If you're passionately interested in something, you will always perform at things better. You find you’re more motivated to succeed at something you love.

2. Build your people skills

Do anything you can which involves talking to people, meeting people and dealing with the public. It’s important to get people engaged and enthusiastic about what you’re saying.

This means you need to have a comfortable relationship and this starts from the first time you speak with them on the phone. If you understand how to approach them, you’re able to be strategically persistent.

3. Demonstrate your passion

Find ways to show how interested in the sector you are. Volunteering is a good way to work out whether something's for you.

The first time I volunteered, I had good training and support so that helped me understand how to work with people. Find voluntary experience that has a good support system set-up so that you get the most out of it.

4. Keep information up-to-date

If you want to work in fundraising, you need to be able to talk intelligently about what's happening in fundraising. You also need to know enough about the Heritage sector to show you're interested in joining this sector.

At interview stage, you’ll need to understand the company’s core values, what they do and what other companies are doing to match them.

5. Be a good listener.

You need to be able to hear people's concerns. Ask intelligent questions, and be engaged with people and what they think is interesting. As you are accepting their donations, it’s nice if you can give them your gratitude and be genuinely interested in them.

Everybody has a unique perspective so you have to be able to put your own concerns to one side and focus on someone else’s perspective for a while.

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