What can a volunteering charity like TimeBank learn from football?

Helen Walker

A couple of weeks ago much to my surprise, as a lifelong Liverpool fan, I found myself retweeting a blog about fundraising and what we could learn from outgoing Arsenal boss, Arsene Wenger! It set me thinking about the broader issue of leadership and how it crosses boundaries of every area of our lives and spectrum of professions.

A few years ago I went on the Windsor leadership course. Its power was less in what we learnt from those speaking, as from one another and the fact that all of us came from different backgrounds and very different professions and sectors, but all of us had the same basic leadership challenges.

It struck me as we come to the end of the football season but march almost seamlessly into the World Cup that we should, wherever our loyalties lie, be able to respect the fact that a legend of the game has retired and ask what we can glean from the many column inches written about what a trail blazer he was.  What can football management teach us about our teams, creating team spirit across the variety of roles, togetherness, managing (as football managers do) young people who are inexperienced in life and in challenging jobs.  

I watched one of the tributes and saw Thierry Henry admit that looking back he was a total pain as a player and only finally realised that when he started into management. How many of us have had that epiphany as we struggle up the greasy pole? The sudden realisation that when the buck stops with you it’s not always that easy or black and white.  “No one ever asks the boss, (the manager, the CEO) – how are you?” he said.

It’s here that I think that football, perhaps old school football before money won over everything else, has something to teach us. How can we best build a successful team, how do we motivate a team week in week out to succeed, to be unselfish and work together, to ensure everyone gets their chance to input into moving forward and that the unsung defenders whose mistakes are pilloried (Loris Karius – exhibit A!) – get the same rewards and plaudits as the golden booted striker when the team wins.

Back in my day the fundraisers, of whom I was one, were a necessary evil sitting in their dark corner – having to beg the service directors for case studies and support to ply their terribly un-British trade of asking for money. I rather like the analogy that fundraisers are the football defenders of charities, constantly defending their role, constantly being rejected by funders, and just occasionally able to make it up front for a set piece corner which results in the winning goal (let’s call it a successful lottery bid!).

In these days where charities are on the front page for all the wrong reasons we should ask ourselves whether we celebrate success enough? How many open top bus tours do we do in the sector – what indeed is the equivalent? As leaders we should be leading those celebrations; we should be championing the fundraisers who do a difficult job in an extraordinary climate and are no less important than those at the coalface delivering the ‘real’ work of the charity – as I always used to say without funding we can’t deliver our objectives so we must value the team as a whole not only the famous faces up front.

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