It has been 5 years since Imogen Ward and I created the company now known (after Mark Astarita joined in 2017) as AAW. It has been quite a ride.
September 2016 feels like a different world now. Our idea, when we set up AAW, was that there was a space for an agency that combined strategy consulting for charities with finding the people who will implement those strategies. This was something of a leap of faith at the time but the logic of combining strategy with people consulting has looked increasingly compelling over time.
Our view in 2016 was that fundraising as had been practised over the preceding few years in the UK and Ireland, needed significant re-invention. For a range of reasons, a particularly transactional approach had taken over the fundraising operations of many charities and this had created a whole series of problems including increasing donor cynicism and dissatisfaction.
It wasn’t only fundraising activities that had become transaction focused. Charities were also treating supplier relationships as being all about price, including with those agencies who were tasked with finding their key staff
We felt then that this was, fundamentally, an issue of leadership. Too many non-profit leaders had let fundraising become an isolated function with a focus purely on (often short-term) income generation. The needs and views of donors were absent from organisational strategies.
We considered that the best contribution we could make to the change that was needed was to help charities integrate fundraising into their strategic thinking and to take a strategic approach to finding fundraising leaders.
Of course no one forsaw what these last 5 years would actually be like. It has been a period of unprecedented demands on all of us and enormous challenges for all non-profits. But the demands of Brexit and Covid have only confirmed the need for strategic transformation.
Since 2016, AAW has conducted hundreds of strategy consultancy projects and filled a similar number of vacancies for senior leaders in charities and non-profits. Increasingly we have worked on strategic transformation programmes helping both create the change strategies and implement the new approaches. From small domestic charities to the world’s biggest INGOs, we have worked across the full range of organisational, fundraising and communications strategies and created change.
We have learnt loads along the way. We can only thank our early clients who persevered with us when we were learning the ropes of the recruitment business (which it turns out, is actually really hard, who knew?) and those who had faith in what we could do even when there wasn’t a lot of evidence of us actually doing it.
We are, current clients will be relieved to hear, a lot more structured and professional but hopefully just as approachable and personal as we were at the beginning.
We’ve developed our agency offerings to respond to the changing environment over the last 5 years. So we are now the AAW Group, slightly alarmingly. Our practices are AAW Strategy, our strategic consulting arm, AAW People, our executive search and interim placements practice, AAW Audience, our creative and campaign implementation agency and AAW Global, our worldwide consultancy. We have a lovely new website telling you more about each arm, if you’re interested.
Partnerships have always been important to us at AAW because we believe meaningful strategic transformation will need the work of many different hands. We have a couple of new partnerships that we’ll be talking about soon. As well as some news about what we are doing on the digital fundraising consulting side.
As we look back on 5 years of constant change and challenges, the beginning of our now not quite so little company seem a long way off. I think, though we’ve stayed true to the vision of what we wanted the company to be and on the change in the world that we wanted to support.
AAW at 5 years isn’t necessarily the agency we thought we were creating but hopefully it is what the sector needs us to be to help it face the challenges to come.