29th June 2017

Chris Gray joined The Children’s Heart Unit Fund (CHUF) as Head of Fundraising in January 2014 and, last year, became the charity’s first ever Chief Executive. We spoke to her about the great work the charity is currently doing, the main challenges they have faced and their aspirations for the future.


Could you tell us a little bit about your background, and how you became involved in the charity sector?

After spending 20 years of my career in the Civil Service, I joined The Prince’s Trust on a 12-month secondment around 15 years ago. Upon its completion, I was offered a full-time position by them as their Business Development Manager, and went on to become their Head of Fundraising. I spent 12 years at the charity before joining CHUF in January 2014.

What is your role at CHUF, and could you tell us about the team you work with?

I’m competitive and driven by nature, and had fallen in love with fundraising in my previous role. The experience I gained at The Prince’s Trust held me in good stead when I was approached by CHUF to become their new Head of Fundraising. I was approached through my LinkedIn. Never underestimate the power of social media!

When I arrived, there was one part-time fundraiser; now we have a senior fundraising manager, full-time events manager, two administrators and a recently appointed community fundraiser. The journey we’ve been on is incredible, and I was deeply honoured to be promoted to become CHUF’s first Chief Executive in 2016.

What is the biggest motivation in your role?

CHUF support seven hospitals throughout the UK, and I regularly attend them, meeting with affected families and visiting the poorly children on the wards. Knowing the difference, and impact, the funds we raise have on the lives of others is our biggest motivator.

From a personal standpoint, I am also motivated by success and plans that deliver, and hope this enthusiasm inspires the rest of my team. We’re like a family, and I encourage a flexible working style that works very well for the team at CHUF. I always believe you reap what you sow!

What has been the biggest challenge faced by CHUF during your time there?

During my first year at CHUF we sadly lost our amazing office manager Lorraine Embleton. Lorraine worked at CHUF for over ten years as the sole fundraiser, and it really took its toll on us all. Her experience is still greatly missed by our team and supporters, but she would be so proud of what we have achieved over the past three years.

You were crowned NE charity of the year in 2015. How has CHUF evolved since then?

To be crowned overall winner at the inaugural event was an incredible honour, and raised great PR for the charity, which resulted in us gaining support from many new individuals. This support has led to us being able to increase our resources and take CHUF to the next level.

You have some very high-profile patrons, could you tell us about the support they give?

Graham Wylie is one of our brilliant high-profile patrons, and he not only raises significant funds for CHUF, but has also kindly supported our office accommodation. We are now based in the Fleming Business Centre, which is also Graham’s Head Office for Speedflex and for his own foundation.

He also organises our annual golf day, which is regularly attended by Alan Shearer, Ant and Dec amongst many others. The event raises over £500k every year; which is not only significant in terms of funding, but also for again raising our profile through extensive national press coverage.

What are CHUF’s aspirations for the future?

This month our new recruit joins us to take forward our community fundraising programme, and I will be spending my time revisiting the seven hospitals we support to look at ways we can extend our charitable contribution, whilst the team will look for new creative ways to raise and increase the funds we receive. These are exciting times for CHUF, and it’s a privilege to be a part of it.

When away from the office, what do you like to do to relax?

My family are my greatest joy, and we love to socialise and get together as often as we can. I am also a keen swimmer, when the time allows it!

I also have a strong passion for travelling, and I am off to New York this summer for the first time, which also includes a trip to Canada. I am hoping the trip will assist another passion… shopping for shoes and handbags!

Finally, what is the best piece of advice you’ve ever received?

Never look backwards unless you intend to go there.

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