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Leaving the Taylor Bennett Foundation

Taylor Bennett Foundation Alumni and Sarah StimsonToday we announced that I will be leaving the Taylor Bennett Foundation at the end of October 2018. I have been there since the very first meeting about it between the Foundation’s visionary founder, Heather McGregor, and the then director of employability at the University of East London (and, still, trustee of the Foundation) Femi Bola in 2007.

At the time I was running a small recruitment agency in the Taylor Bennett Group. That company, Unicorn, still exists today and the Foundation started as a small social good programme on the side. Within two years the traineeship we’d devised and ran, initially with Brunswick, took more of my time than Unicorn did and we hired someone else to run Unicorn so that I could develop the training in more depth.

My responsibility was to support the trainees who came through the programme with their aim to be as employable as possible in the world of communications, without stripping them of their individuality and ethnic identity.

In 2013 we became a charity and in at the end of 2016 I stepped up into the CEO role when the previous executive director moved on. My focus switched from developing the programme and teaching the trainees, to the sustainability and growth of the organisation.

It was a massive learning curve and I knew I would have knowledge gaps so at the same time as taking the new job, I also started an MSc in Charity Marketing and Fundraising at Cass Business School – which I will finish next month.

I took the CEO position with several goals in mind:

  • To double the amount of people we support into the industry each year. This year we have quadrupled the previous numbers with the launch of the really brilliant Summer Stars scheme.
  • To raise the profile of the Foundation. I have lost count of the meetings, breakfasts, lunches, dinners, parties, and awards I have been to in the past two years. I have written endlessly to people in the industry to urge them to work with us, and I have enjoyed every minute of it.
  • To forge stronger relationships with organisations in the industry. In the past two years we’ve been the PRCA’s charity of the year, we’re partnering with the Media Trust to host a joint alumni event later this year and a number of industry professionals (including Matt Cross of Hotwire and John Brown of Don’t Cry Wolf – please give generously to their fundraising pages) are running the Royal Park Half Marathon on the Foundation’s behalf in October.
  • To make the organisation financially sustainable. Most of the Foundation’s funding comes from the industry in the guise of sponsorship. The traineeships are expensive to run as all the trainees are paid and receive a travel allowance and there is the cost of the trainers, back office, IT, marketing, staff and so on and so on. We’ve had to be very creative about cutting costs and raising funds and we are in the best financial position we’ve been in in a decade.
  • To secure long-term office space. We’ve moved 8 times in the past 4 years. In September we move into an office space with a 12 month lease, with potential to extend it and very importantly, it’s within our very limited budget. This is hugely important to give the staff some stability.
  • To build stronger links with our alumni. We established a shadow board, led by alumnus Kuldeep Mehmi, and have held several alumni events to support them in their ongoing PR careers.
  • To strengthen our board with new trustees and, as it turned out, a new Chair and Vice-Chair.

We have achieved all of those things, and more, so the time is right to leave the charity and hand it on to someone who will take the strong position it is in and push it further into growth.

There is more to be done. I would love to see more work around outreach at universities and schools, a more formal relationship with our alumni and supporting them further as they progress in their careers, expansion of the Summer Stars scheme and further expansion out of London – we launched in Edinburgh for the first time this year. I would love the industry to really get on board and take ownership of the diversity issue and put its money where its mouth is – things do not change over night and the Foundation is doing fabulous work with amazing young people but that all costs actual cash. This is challenging and exciting work for whoever my successor will be.

Over 200 organisations have supported the Foundation in the past decade. I can’t tell you how many individuals but my guess would be in the thousands.

194 graduates will have been through the Foundation’s 31 traineeship programmes by the time I leave in October. 97% of alumni are employed and over 60% work in PR and communications. Over 600 graduates have benefited from coming to our recruitment assessment days and received very detailed feedback which we hope will help them with their job searches. (nb: We are recruiting right now for the autumn programme in London, please spread the word to BAME grads!)

A further 50+ have been through our mentoring programme since the end of 2016, and 34 took part in this year’s Summer Stars PR lectures and work placement programme.

I am so proud of all our alumni and feel so much joy each time I get an email saying one of them has been promoted, or got a new job. They are fabulous ambassadors for the Foundation.

After over a decade it was a terribly hard and emotionally challenging decision to leave, but it is the right time to explore some new opportunities and I have a number of exciting projects to announce later this year.

I have learned so much in the last eleven years. In that time I have had some very difficult conversations with some very challenging people and have left the room, or put down the phone, and sworn and/or cried. I have counselled alumni through personal tragedies and difficult career decisions, and seen them get married, have families, and flourish in their chosen career paths. I have learned not only how to manage our staff, but how to manage trustees (which is an art and other Charity CEOs will tell you it is one of their biggest challenges but the Foundation is very lucky to have an incredibly supportive board). I became a charity trustee myself at ELATT to learn from their CEO and to see what pressures are put on boards so I could understand the trustee experience better.

I also did other things to expand my horizons and broaden my skillset. I continued this blog and set up PRcareers.co.uk, I wrote a book (SO hard), I had two children (not as hard as writing a book – but good for brushing up on organisational skills), and won a diversity award.

Like everyone, I have made mistakes and, I hope, learned from them. I have admitted my weaknesses and earlier this year I took on an executive coach in order to reflect more deeply on what I am really good at and what I could do with improving on. It can be painful to examine your faults and uncomfortable to acknowledge what you excel at, but it was hugely liberating too.

I am enormously proud of everything we have achieved and have been very lucky to have worked with some wonderful, dedicated people who go above and beyond every single day. It has been a huge team effort of the staff, trustees, our partners at Taylor Bennett and the sponsoring agencies, and all our supporters. I have also developed my strengths and my new ventures will take full advantage of those – more of those projects in the autumn.

I have had overwhelming support both personally and for the Foundation itself from so many people. I started writing a list but there are so many I can’t possibly name them all and I would be bound to forget someone unintentionally so please know that if you have ever given time or money to the Foundation, or your guidance and support to me, I am endlessly grateful for it.

Thank you.

I am so, so sad to be leaving the Foundation. Dear PR Industry – please look after it.

 

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