Ben Lindsay: "The work we're doing isn't easily marketable"

From former pastor to setting up a charity, Power the Fight CEO, Ben Lindsay, has been busy making waves - but he's only just begun.

If you’re looking for a charismatic and capable leader in the charity sector, look no further than Ben Lindsay, CEO of youth violence charity Power the Fight. For an organisation only set up in 2019, it has already overcome a number of challenges and is thriving even in the current climate. So what has made it such a success?

At the heart of it, Lindsay is passionate about the cause. He is no stranger to youth work. Over nearly 20 years, he has held positions in schools, the youth offender service, mental health charities and community safety teams before becoming a pastor for 12 years.

Then, in 2016, while he was working in Southeast London, two young people were murdered, one of those was a boy Lindsay had known since he was one year’s old. The boy was 17-years-old when he died. “At his funeral, his best friend gave a eulogy. And it was odd, I’ll never get used to young people giving eulogies about other young people. But five months later he lost his life to youth violence too and then suddenly in this community in Southeast London is a collective trauma.”

Working as a pastor, Lindsay was entrenched in the community, working with the families and supporting them. “But I was like you know what, I think there’s something we could do which is a bit different – towards community.” And that’s where the idea of Power the Fight was born.

“The idea of Power the Fight is really how do we empower communities to be a part of the solution? How do we fight against the power of violence? How do we fight against the power of structural oppression? … And in 2019 I had the opportunity to do it and we started this organisation from scratch.”

From the beginning

But setting up a charity isn’t an easy task. It took a year for Lindsay to get the go-ahead from the Charity Commission and when that was given everything else needed to be set up. For Power the Fight, that included training professionals, creating resources and programmes for schools in addition to helping families affected by violence.

And then the next challenge appeared - funding. “You’ve got these ideas, get the charity set up with the mission and then you start applying for funding. And then you realise most funders, most foundations, most grants, won’t give you the money… they’ll say you need at least one year’s worth of accounts. But how am I meant to have one year’s worth of accounts without being able to do any of the work? So then you have to work out how you hustle.”

Lindsay was fortunate that because of his church connections, work as a pastor and the fact he’d just written a book, he was able to get some start-up money. “That really helped massively – but no one tells you any of that stuff, you need to work it out.”

His reputation also benefited him, Lindsay speculates. He’d had connections with the Mayor of London in the youth violence commission, and had worked with local governments. He was able to connect with high net-worth individuals, as well as encourage donations and find grants, giving Power the Fight an effective mixed funding model.

But with the settling of one challenge then came another – the pandemic, which hit when
the charity was just a year old. However, because its training programme was already up and running, the organisation was able to operate a quick transition to online training, which then encouraged more funding because their work was able to adapt so quickly.

It’s ability to adapt, and to find its own niche, has certainly led to its success. “You have an idea, you tell people and everyone has an opinion, right? Why don’t you do this? Why don’t you do that? But I really wanted us to be supporting families, training
people.” The charity has since focused on just that; piloting a partnership with the local NHS trust. “To be acknowledged by the NHS is great… but we’ve had to stick to our guns.”

“Not a fluffy charity”

It’s hard to deny that Power the Fight has gone from strength to strength. In four years, it has
survived a global pandemic, the beginnings of a worsening cost-of-living crisis, gone from two staff to 18, trained 13,000 plus practitioners and given over 60 families more than £30,000.

Lindsay acknowledges the charity has grown
exponentially, “unfortunately it’s because the issue of violence affecting young people isn’t going anywhere.” But it’s also not a cause that is easy to raise money for.

“Sometimes when you talk to funders or high net worth individuals about youth violence or violence affecting young people, it’s not a fluffy charity.”

He talks about an occasion where he was running a half marathon and the majority of
runners were running for dog charities. “Which is fine. But I realised… when you’ve got a dog and then you’ve got young people being killed by violence, the work we’re doing isn’t easily marketable. People have misconceptions straight away.” They ask if they were in gangs, or what they did to encourage the violence, he explains.

But despite the perceptions, he’s found a way and has had to build the organisation from the ground up, which he’s “loved” doing. “All my SLT (senior leadership team) are women. It’s
important for me to champion women and also have black women in my SLT. I’m extremely proud of them as well.

“We’ve got diversity throughout the whole team, not just in our staff but our trustees and also in our advisory group. I like to bring in knowledge and cover my own weaknesses as well… I try to employ people who can help us.”

Having a diverse group surrounding him isn’t the only thing Lindsay is focused on. Every member of staff gets clinical supervision, which is essentially support to help with any emotional trauma from the job. “It’s something I needed to build into this organisation because when I was working in the youth offender service, you’re seeing children get locked up or horrific crimes with no clinical supervision, or there wasn’t any back in the mid-noughties. You realise that’s why there’s such a high burnout rate and why people were leaving organisations. I didn’t want that here.”

When we discuss the current state of the sector and how it’s changed, Lindsay plainly says: “I don’t think we saw many black and brown CEOs. I still don’t think we see enough… and the CEOs in my sector who are black and brown, we all know each other.”

“There’s a danger of it becoming an industry,” he adds. “I think there’s a danger that it becomes, particularly in this context, the exploitation of black and brown people. And you see a lot of bigger organisations, who have at times, if I’m honest, probably exploited that a little bit.”

“So for me, the challenge is, how do we make sure the grassroots organisations who are doing work on the ground with young people and families, get the right opportunities, get the right funding, or help with the infrastructure because that’s sometimes where the barriers are.”

A unique perspective

It’s hard to put into perspective what talking to Lindsay is like. He is a charismatic person, and has a very modern way of thinking, but also a unique one and it comes across in the charity.

Its social media channels are well-received by the demographics they work with. The charity utilises its social media “right down to the type of logo we’ve got”. They want someone to be happy to wear it on a t-shirt.

“I run Power the Fight a bit like I’m a record label executive. I’m thinking about what single is next, what is the lead up in the market for that; it’s the same mentality. I’m like okay, we’re about to put this report out, or we’re going to put out this podcast… what’s the lead up? What’s in the market for that? Who do we need to promote this?”

He utilises the tools around him, with ambassadors to help get the message out there, including Premier League footballer Eberechi Eze and Misfits actress Antonia Thomas. “We want young people to look at these people and be inspired as well.”

Power the Fight is a well-oiled machine, run by Lindsay and it’s working – he won the Rising Leader award at the 2022 Charity Times Awards. He’s just glad the team got the opportunity to celebrate.

“It’s probably one of the only times where I’ve seen everybody look immaculate,” he jests. And although it was an individual award, he felt like the recognition counted for the whole team. “They are some of the best people I’ve ever worked with in my life, and we are who we are because of them.”

But the challenges aren’t over. The cost of living crisis is only the latest, and it won’t ease any time soon. That’s where collaboration comes in. “There have been conversations I’ve had with charities who have said: listen, we’re in the same sector, we’re trying to get the same people to come and work in our organisations. I wonder whether we should think about a job share.”

Organisations are having to think more outside the box, partnering up for bigger pots of money that can be shared between work. “It’s a win-win.”

It’s this sort of mentality – one open to new things and a different way of thinking – that has kept Power the Fight marching forward and growing year after year. It’s undoubtedly a success story all leaders, from all sized organisations, can learn from.

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