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Bringing the voices that matter to the front

14 September 2020 at 8:13 am
Maggie Coggan
Charlotte Sangster is the CEO of Muscular Dystrophy NSW, an organisation that supports and connects people with muscular dystrophy and their families. She’s this week’s Changemaker. 

Maggie Coggan | 14 September 2020 at 8:13 am


Bringing the voices that matter to the front
14 September 2020 at 8:13 am

Charlotte Sangster is the CEO of Muscular Dystrophy NSW, an organisation that supports and connects people with muscular dystrophy and their families. She’s this week’s Changemaker. 

After years of working in fundraising, Sangster decided that leading a charity organisation was the next step in her career.

While she came up against many barriers to achieving that goal (her young age being one), her drive and passion to centre the voices and stories of people with disabilities led her to Muscular Dystrophy (MD) NSW, where she has grown into the strong leader she is today.  

For the past five years, MD NSW has run the month-long Sugar Free September fundraiser to raise funds and awareness for children and adults living with neuromuscular conditions. 

In the years since Sangster has taken over as CEO, the amount of money raised has doubled year on year, with hopes 2020 will be the organisation’s biggest year to date. 

In this week’s Changemaker, Sangster discusses the key to running a successful fundraiser, the things that have influenced her leadership, and why taking a step back is critical if you want to lead well. 

How did you get involved with MD NSW? 

I was working in a fundraising role for an organisation called Frontier Services, but what I really wanted to do was lead a charity organisation with a real focus on being able to bring the voices of the people that we were serving to the forefront of what we were doing. 

I spoke with a number of recruitment agencies and all of them wanted to just keep me in fundraising roles. That was really frustrating because I had this aspiration and I needed someone to give me a chance. I eventually met a recruiter who knew exactly what I wanted and put me forward for the job at MD NSW. I couldn’t believe I actually got the role because I was only 30 when I was interviewed for it, and I wasn’t sure if anyone was going to give me a go or take me seriously. But the board at MD NSW have just been nothing but encouraging and have supported my development so much, and three and a half years later I’m still absolutely loving it.

What are some of the most important skills that you’ve used during your leadership?

Resilience and flexibility. You just have to roll with the punches when you’re in a position like this. Never being afraid to try something new is also really important and to really live and breathe the mission. This is something that the staff and the volunteers will pick up on, and will make them want to come with you. 

What’s something that has influenced your leadership style?

So there’s a saying in the disability space, “nothing about us without us”. I constantly think of that in my leadership style. I think, “Is this my voice? Is this my opinion? Is this just what I want? Or is this what’s best for the community and [what] the people that we’re supporting have asked for?” And that has been the real influencer in the way that I lead. It’s really not about me. It’s about our mission and what our community wants and about always serving them the best we can.

What would you say is one of the keys to running a successful campaign message?

I think the impact stories really let people know where their money’s going – what they’re doing to help the community and why. And sharing that and getting people on board, getting people to share their stories and just really letting people know that they are making a difference and connecting them into that mission is so important.

What’s the thing you love most about your job?

I love everything about my job. I think I’m one of the luckiest people in the world. If I was to pick one thing though, it would be the people that surround me in my job. I have such a fantastic, engaged team, a community of volunteers who are just incredible and so giving, and an incredible community of people that we support. 

Maggie Coggan  |  Journalist  |  @MaggieCoggan

Maggie Coggan is a journalist at Pro Bono News covering the social sector.

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