MND Scotland: rising to the challenge of a whirlwind year

Mnd scotland

MND Scotland winning Scottish Charity of the Year 2015 in June

​Head of fundraising at MND Scotland Iain McWhirter on his charity's extraordinary year – and the lessons which can be learnt

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7th October 2015 by Graham Martin 0 Comments

MND Scotland has had a year most charities can only dream about – but with great opportunities come great challenges.

That was the message Iain McWhirter, the group's head of fundraising and volunteering, gave at this year's Institute of Fundraising Scotland conference.

Awareness of motor neurone disease (MND) and his charity's work in combatting the condition are at unprecedented levels thanks to the events of the last year.

In a relatively short space of time, it has been propelled into the public consciousness, not least through the world-conquering ice bucket challenge phenomena.

On top of this, awareness of the condition was raised after former rangers star Fernando Ricksen was diagnosed.

The Steven Hawking biopic The Theory Of Everything kept the condition in the public mind and then there has been the inspiring campaign of Scot Gordon Aikman after he was diagnosed with MND. Aikman continues to break fundraising targets through his Gordon's Fightback campaign, which is on course to bring in half a million pounds.

MND Scotland's income has rocketed accordingly – from 1.3 million to 2.6m year in a year – and McWhirter said this shows the direct link raising awareness has to income generation.

But it all brings challenges. When the ice-bucket challenge started in the United States and took off here, he was working as part of a team of two and no communications officer at that point.

They had to react quickly. McWhirter said: "it's been a remarkable 15 months. A lot of things just happened and we had to be on top of it."

A major challenge for charities which find themselves in that position, he says, is managing the embarrassment of riches – whether that’s in income or awareness.

He said: "You have to think about what you're going to do with all the new levels of support. You've got all this income coming in – where will it be spent?

"You might have to encourage boards to continue to invest in fundraising, even though money is coming in."

For MND Scotland, the levels of awareness has also increased its campaigning clout – with some notable victories.

He said: “For the first time MND nurses are going to be paid for by the NHS and the number of those nurses will be doubled

“We've also achieved a major victory with the Scottish Government. Now anyone with MND who has lost the ability to speak or communicate will have the equipment they require to give them back their voice, provided by statutory services.

“There’s a number of challenges this has presented. The increased levels of support has increased the workload of our fundraising team – that team will increase in size to manage this.

“The biggest challenge we have now is to maintain momentum in awareness raising. If we continue doing this, we will raise more money, which will be invested in research which will take us one more step closerto finding a cure for MND.”