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Getting to know you: Dr Clare Mills

CFG’s new Director of Policy & Communications, Dr Clare Mills, meets her new team and shares what led her to CFG, what excites her about the role and how CFG can help smooth the path for members in 2022…

 

Hi Clare! To get started, please tell us how your career in the charity sector began...

After nearly 12 years working for an MP, I worked on public affairs campaigns as a freelance before taking up a new role in public affairs with Headway – the brain injury association. This was a brilliant chance to put my political knowledge and connections to work for a cause I care about, as my Dad has an acquired brain injury following a road collision many years ago.

It was really good to work with a network of groups and branches across the UK which provide the day-to-day support people with acquired brain injury and their families need, finding out more about their work and how public policy was helping or hindering their efforts. It also gave me the opportunity to develop public affairs practice in Wales and Scotland, building more knowledge of the devolved administrations.

At the start of 2020, I moved on to another newly created role at NAVCA, heading up the communications function and working closely with colleagues in membership. The pandemic put local infrastructure charities under massive pressure, but also created new opportunities to demonstrate the impact and need for charity infrastructure more widely and to work collaboratively with sector colleagues, including CFG.

Clare speaks about carbon monoxide and brain injury at an IGEM conference in November 2018.


What other experiences led you to the sector and CFG?

I’ve been an active volunteer most of my adult life and have taken on a number of board level volunteer roles. For several years, I was a school governor and an NHS governor, and also a local councillor and a member of the strategic advisory group to the police. I really enjoy using my skills at board level and hope to do so again.

I spent more than a decade on the board of my local youth project, including five years as chair, where I led a strategic review and restructure. That experience has been invaluable in understanding some of the financial challenges charities face.

But I’m also not afraid to get my hands dirty – literally! A few years ago, I helped plant Alnwick’s first community orchard, which was VERY muddy. And one of my first experiences of volunteering was as a reindeer herder in the Cairngorm mountains in Scotland – what a privilege to be out in the hills, calling my herd or bottle-feeding a new calf!

Over the past few years, voluntary work has taken a bit of a back seat as I dealt with some of the challenges life throws at us, but I plan to change that this year and be more involved again.

Clare gets to grips with herding reindeer in the Cairngorms, c. 1992.

 

What have been the greatest lessons?

Where to start? I think my professional experience over the past six years has confirmed something I realised when I was chairing the youth project: charities are not businesses, in the pure commercial sense, but we do need to be business-like.

Part of that is about leadership; knowing and understanding your values as an organisation, understanding the change you are trying to achieve, thinking strategically, creating and developing a positive culture and trust across the team.

And part of it is operational; making sure that the processes and policies you have contribute to good governance, legal compliance and clarity for everyone. It’s also about being efficient in the day-to-day jobs, maximising the mental and emotional energy – and time – available for the ‘change the world’ stuff.


Clare meets Nicola Sturgeon in Scottish Parliament, December 2019.

What are the opportunities for CFG, our members and supporters?

When we talk about our members, we’re often talking about organisations, but really it’s the individual people within those organisations that we have relationships with.

One of the innovations I steered at NAVCA was to set up and embed digital networks to connect people within the member organisations – the majority of engagement was with member organisations’ CEOs, but we wanted to widen and deepen that engagement.

At CFG I’d like to build something similar, working with the membership team, to connect with charity finance people at every stage of their careers and at every level within our member organisations. This supports our strategic aim of being the ‘go-to’ body.

It works both ways, too. Having more engagement across the sector with people in many different roles improves our understanding of the sector and strengthens our voice.

When CFG speaks to Government, Parliament and other sectors, we want to be valued and respected as knowledgeable and credible. As part of that, we will need to ensure we are capturing the right stories and data and using them effectively – always a challenge!

I’m really looking forward to getting to know and understand our members’ needs and aspirations – whatever their size or sector – as well as finding out where we can strengthen our policy work to influence and communicate effectively.

 

And finally, what really excites you about your new role?

I love the diversity that membership organisations like NAVCA and CFG have – whether you group charities by their core focus, their number of staff and volunteers, their turnover or their geography (or loads of other factors!).

I’m looking forward to getting to know and support members through the communications and policy functions. The pandemic accelerated the general shift towards digital communications and so I want to understand what our members want and need, and to ensure that we are using all the tools we have to share information and content that they value, in ways that suit them.

I’m also excited to learn about a whole new aspect of charity infrastructure with an inspiring team! There’s a huge amount of energy and creativity being put towards social change in our country. I want to be a part of making our world a better place, for future generations but also for the people who are here now. Being able to use my skills and knowledge professionally is a privilege.

Thanks for sharing, Clare! We look forward to working with you and chatting again soon!

Look out for the second part of our interview with Clare on our blog and in the next edition of Finance Focus.

This post was last reviewed on 18 January 2022 at 12:49
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