The general manager marketing and fundraising at Cerebral Palsy Alliance (CPA) is one of the most progressive and impressive fundraising executives going around – and the nicest, Jeremy Bradshaw discovers.
Since joining Cerebral Palsy Alliance (CPA) six years ago Marcus Blease has racked up a solid list of achievements including: more than doubling annual fundraising income from $14 million to $29 million a year; overseeing a successful re-brand of the organisation (originally known as The Spastic Centre); introducing a new fundraising event called Steptember, which has gone global and is aiming to bring in $5 million this year; and taking regular giving income from $35,000 to $1 million a month through successfully re-introducing an earlier failed stab at face-to-face fundraising.
On top of this, he’s one of the most generous and committed people in the sector as evidenced by his willingness to share insights and expertise as a conference presenter, and lead sector initiatives such as Include A Charity. Perhaps Blease’s biggest fan is his boss and chief executive officer at CPA, Rob White, who is positively gushing in his praise.
The most talented fundraiser
“Marcus is the most talented fundraiser in Australia,” White says. “He’s brought discipline to fundraising and merged the art and science of it. The board and senior leadership now have a much better understanding of fundraising and he’s expanded the portfolio of fundraising programs. He’s also attracted a highly skilled team and is a great leader, mentor and coach.”
One of Blease’s fortunate career breaks was landing a role at Cancer Council NSW as the events marketing manager. The organisation’s head of fundraising at the time was Martin Paul. “Working under Martin was one of the luckiest things that’s happened to me,” says Blease. “He took a chance in hiring me, and he was a brilliant tutor and I learnt so much. Martin is an amazing strategic planner and thinker.
“When I joined CPA (or Spastic Centre as it was known then), one of my goals was to prove that you could take the Cancer Council science of fundraising, and successfully apply it to an organisation that was much less ‘sexy’ and much lower profile. Any cause can do it, as long as you have a good proposition, great staff, a well-crafted message, and good leadership.”
It would seem that Blease has delivered on his goal. While he is delighted with what he and his team have been able to do at CPA, he is equally proud of his involvement with the Include A Charity initiative that was conceived to drive awareness of bequests and increase the rate of people leaving a bequest to charity.
When Blease took on the role of chair of Include A Charity in 2010 it was a flagging campaign and desperately needed new life breathed into it. According to Martin Paul, “Marcus single-handedly revitalised Include A Charity with a work ethic that went way beyond the call of duty. He is a true leader in the sector.”
Blease’s tenure as chair of Include A Charity finished in late 2012, and during that time the number of charity members increased significantly to 152, and the rate of people leaving a bequest in their will had increased from 7.5% to 12.5%. Blease readily acknowledges that other factors would have contributed to this increase, such as charities generally being more active in marketing bequests, but nevertheless the campaign is widely regarded as having played a key role in boosting bequests to charities.
Long journey to fundraising
Blease’s journey to fundraising has been a long one, both in terms of time and geography. He grew up in the UK, left school at 16, and became an advertising sales person at local newspapers. He graduated to the Financial Times in London where he worked as a recruitment sales executive before being promoted to head of agency sales responsible for annual ad revenue of £146 million.
In 2002 the UK fell into recession, and it was at this time that Blease had been considering a change. He questioned the relentless and soulless corporate grind for ever more profit. He decided to take a year off and arrived in Australia at age 30 ready to relax, refresh and re-boot.
However his holiday was short-lived. One of the items on Blease’s wish list was to volunteer for charity, and within three weeks of landing in Australia he was volunteering for the Bobby Goldsmith Foundation. Within another three weeks he’d been offered and accepted the role as fundraising manager. “I found that I loved working in the nonprofit sector, and that hasn’t changed,” says Blease.
The wisdom of Marcus
On winning over the board: “Build your personal credibility by getting some quick runs on the board. Once you have some successes under your belt, you earn their trust and you can ask for more investment.”
On churn in the sector: “I wish people would stop moving around in the sector. It takes five years and commitment to build a fundraising program, but so many fundraising managers leave after just two years in the job.”
On success at CPA: “Without a clearly articulated long-term plan we wouldn’t have got to where we are. It takes a shared vision, measureable goals, and everybody pulling in the same direction.”
Jeremy Bradshaw is publisher of Fundraising & Philanthropy Magazine.