Leadership diaries: A small charity CEO on using tech to thrive during a pandemic

As part of our new series, Leadership Diaries, Mel Boda, CEO of Electric Umbrella, documents how one week during a pandemic resulted in some of the charity's biggest fundraising achievements to date.

Background

Electric Umbrella is a charity challenging the perception of people with learning disabilities and combatting social isolation by empowering and enriching lives through music.

The week before lockdown, the charity built an online programme to allow some of the most isolated members of its learning-disabled community to come together for daily interaction, friendship and music.

The charity suffered an 'initial wobble' and lost all sources of income. However, it was successful with a couple of initial emergency grants and furloughed two members of staff.

A few weeks later, the charity's audience increased and the demand for its digital offerings had soared. The learning-disabled community from around the world was starting to engage with the charity's digital content and the furloughed staff were re-employed to help meet demand. it urgently needed to find funds to maintain the dramatically increased level of output and significantly increasing audience.

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Sunday

Sunday nights are a race against the clock to prepare for the week. My husband and I are sharing the childcare of our three boys age six, four and one so I can only work during the afternoons from 2pm, then again later once the boys are in bed. I have to manage my own time impeccably in order to be available for the team. We are a team of seven part-time staff and are really missing regular team meetings. Our full online programme of over 24 hours a week of interactive content, together with everyone’s individual situations at home means finding a convenient time for all is pretty much impossible. We are keeping connected as a team by stealing time on a long WhatsApp thread that has felt every emotion!

Tonight, I updated our weekly cash forecast to share with our trustees. The finances were so tight at the start of the year that weekly reporting was critical. I made some edits to the Trustee report for last years’ accounts. I finalised the details for the launch of two additional online group sessions for 20 people each week ready for advertising in the morning, and wrote a long list of all the things I needed to do before the week was out.

Monday

By the time I started work at 2pm, we had over 25 enquiries for the new sessions. By the end of the day, both groups were full – one with people living in Hertfordshire and one with people from across the world including Wales and Australia. I am amazed by the togetherness that being apart can bring.

Our increased profile has led to the need for extra cyber security measures and the update of our online protection policies so spent some time on this.

I am really aware of the crisis entire families with a learning-disabled child continue to face. Knowing there is such a need and demand for a purpose and some respite for the families makes me more determined to push our reach and ensure we impact as many people as possible.

Tuesday

My first phone call was to our artistic director. We founded Electric Umbrella together and are aware that when we are too busy to make contact, those are the times it’s most important to connect.

There is so much online content out there, but we have attempted to offer an extra level of interactivity. Tom agreed to write an album over the coming weeks with our Friday audience. We did a bit of songwriting as one-off a few weeks ago and it was amazing how many people opened up about how the lockdown was affecting them. In the Zoom room there is so much peer support and our session leaders are able to hold the space really well. Songwriting would be a way to ensure the therapeutic benefits of music are still met.

Good news today is that the new chairman of our local council chose us to be their charity partner for the year. This is great in terms of financial support and an exciting opportunity to further develop our partnership.

I implemented some audience targets for the team and shared some recent feedback we have received from families so grateful for the services we are providing, as well as the respite it’s bringing for the families who are providing 24/7 care.

Wednesday

I had a catch up with our chair of trustees and then our patron, the Lord Lieutenant of Hertfordshire, about rescheduling a major fundraising event which we had to cancel. I spoke to our administrator about how to move forward with our new session members and responded to some enquiries about collaborations that have come in.

Thursday

I did a radio interview about our response to the Covid situation and then had a long chat with our marketing and comms manager about the focus for next week.

Even though the boys were mid-bath, I couldn’t resist the temptation of opening the decision letter from the Arts Council when it came in at 6pm. Needless to say, by 6.05pm the boys bath time had turned into a celebration disco as the Arts Council said YES. This is big news for Electric Umbrella as all our funding to date has been from very local much smaller funds. It will spur us on with our national reach and give us much needed breathing space to get through the next few weeks.

Friday

The MP has been in touch requesting a meeting to discuss what we are up to. It’s heartening to know there is support across the county for what we are doing.

It’s the end of a week, with our biggest fundraising achievements to date. When Electric Umbrella set out to combat social isolation for adults with learning disabilities, we never imagined the need to respond to anything on this scale. We have been approached by social care agencies, local authorities, residential homes and other learning disability charities asking how they can engage with us. I have ended the week with more ambition and drive for what we do than ever before.

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Got a diary to share?

If you’re a charity leader – CEO, COO, chair, trustee or department head – and would like to document a typical work day, week, or project, please get in touch with the Charity Times editor, Lauren Weymouth at lauren.weymouth@charitytimes.com.

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