What's it really like to be the 26-year-old CEO of a life-saving national charity?
I always chuckle when I am referred to as the 'Chief Executive Officer' of CoppaFeel!. I suppose that title still conjures up old school images of a fat man, sitting behind his desk, smoking a cigar - certainly not a job title I thought I'd ever be crowned with when I skipped away from my higher national diploma in travel and tourism management and into the 'real world'.
Of course I'm called the CEO for a reason; I am, after all, running a successful nationwide charity and company (hell yeah!), but frankly you can call me whatever job title you wish, I am still the one who instigated the CoppaFeel! madness, and mostly, more affectionately named the 'Boob Chief'.
Running a charity is bloody hard work. Starting up any sort of business, enterprise or organisation yourself is bloody, hard, work. The hours are terrible and my boss (me) is utterly unreasonable when it comes to time off. There isn't a day that goes by when I don't think about the charity and new opportunities to make it the best it can be. Raising substantial amounts of money, employing people, making big grown up decisions and having a truck load of responsibility sometimes feels so beyond me and utterly overwhelming. You constantly doubt yourself and wonder if the £10 you're spending on something for a campaign, which you know was raised with blood, sweat and tears by one of your life-long supporters, is REALLY necessary. I lose sleep over CoppaFeel! and have aged about 10 years in the process.
So if that hasn't put you off, let me just also mention that it is the BEST JOB IN THE WORLD.
Who ever said anything worth doing was easy? Because if it was, it would be boring and certainly wouldn't be creating the kick ass momentum it has taken to encourage a real behavioural change in boob checking.
I mean, sometimes it really doesn't help that I have breast cancer myself. But I try everything I can to never wear the cancer hat with the CEO one. When I need to visit hospital for treatments or scans I now don't try to cram in meetings afterwards. If (read: when) things take longer than I think at hospital and I can't make a meeting, I feel horrible. I hate cancelling meetings at the best of times, but when the pesky cancer is the cause, it riles me. So I now avoid it as much as I can.
What I love about running CoppaFeel! is that every day is different. Every day brings new thoughts, ideas, interesting emails, difficulties and smiles. Most of the time, the team and I are on our laptops, barely speaking to each other, trying to make our dreams a reality. We have all learnt a great deal since embarking on this journey. I used to get very upset if people didn't appreciate all the hard work we put into our campaigning. Mostly people don't realise how grass roots the charity is, but once someone stole a beanbag from our stall at a festival I couldn't help but get angry and upset. I took it very personally, like they'd stolen it from my life, but I soon learnt I needed to take the rough with the smooth - bad times make the good times taste even sweeter. Not everyone will love our work, appreciate what we do OR check their boobs. C'est la vie - as they say. And I certainly don't do it for the kudos, but when I am recognised for my work with awards such as the Women of the Future, I do feel like I must be doing something right. And if I can inspire others to make positive changes in society, then that is a bonus.
My advice, if you are thinking of setting up your own charity, is find out if someone, somewhere, is trying to do what you are about to set out to achieve, because your energy and passion could be powered into an organisation that has already done the ground work, but just needs you to pump some fire into its belly. Also, ask yourself these questions...
What is your aim?
Do you have an endless supply of energy? A boundless supply of time?
Can you quickly build a strong team of people who can help you and share your vision?
Are you happy to ask favours and advice?
And can you financially support yourself before the organisation is in the position to support you in that way?
And remember, bean bag thieves will get their comeuppance!
Kris Hallenga is a former shortlister of Women of The Future Awards.
Closing date for 2012 entries is Friday 21 September. To nominate click here.
The awards ceremony will take place on Tuesday 20 November and is hosted by Real Business in association with Shell.
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