Diana Jupp: “Trust your instincts and trust your team”

Diana Jupp, chief executive of Pancreatic Cancer UK talks to Melissa Moody about the benefits of leading as a people person; the challenges of fundraising for a charity with so few survivors and why she's never had to question her career choice.

Straight away it’s easy to see why Diana Jupp has done so well in her role at Pancreatic Cancer UK. Even through a computer screen, her passion for the work she does is visible.
Although she has worked for cancer charities for over 25 years, it was the challenge that pancreatic cancer posed that attracted Diana Jupp to the charity, Pancreatic Cancer UK, four years ago. “It’s an unknown cancer. It’s less talked about. It’s complicated. It’s frightening. So as chief executive coming into this position that was hard, I had to consider: Is this something that we could crack? Could we do the same as we’ve done with leukaemia and breast cancer?”

With an unusual background as a medical anthropologist – a job that aims to understand how individuals and cultures see our own health and body, and how it affects the operating of society – Jupp likes to analyse people, rather than the disease.

“The biggest thing is that we don’t have survivors,” she states. As a way of fundraising, many cancer charities have an “army of survivors” that do activities such as the Race for Life to raise awareness. With a 7% survival rate, the pancreatic cancer charity doesn’t have the survivors, or celebrities who are living with the cancer to speak out, which is why they need to get creative with campaigns. Its latest campaign, launched during pancreatic awareness month, is an animation that uses audio from celebrities who have died from pancreatic cancer, including Alan Rickman, Sir John Hurt and Patrick Swayze. It hopes to raise funds for research for the disease, which kills more than half of those diagnosed within three months.

“I wanted us to think of something different,” she explains. “I said, lets think differently and see what innovative ideas we could come up with and I think Covid really helped us with that and allowed us to think differently.”

With the campaign expected to raise awareness across the country, it adds onto an already successful year for the charity, which has gone from making £4 million to £8.5 million in a period when many charities lost a lot of funding. “We went into the pandemic thinking we might lose 30% to 50% of our funding, and actually were having the best year ever in terms of fundraising,” exclaims Jupp. So Why does Jupp think that was the case?

What did the charity do differently? She credits her team first of all. “Everybody had a voice”, she explains. “People came up with their own ideas and we gave permission for people to just push on ahead.” The charity tried not to micromanage its staff and instead realised to keep ahead of the game, it needed to have a “move fast, adapt and move on,” mentality.
“We’re also a very personable, friendly, supportive charity. We do things on quite an individual basis. We know a lot of our supporters and we look after them. We stayed in touch throughout, which I think really helped,” she explains.

A people person
As a self-proclaimed people person, it’s no surprise that Jupp says the staff and people around her are the best thing about the job. “I think it’s a real privilege to have this role. One moment you can be talking to a family who’ve just lost someone, then you’re talking to nurses or touring research labs and then you have to actually run the organisation.

“I’ve never ever worked with such a committed bunch of people who are on board
with what we’re doing – right down to the people who are doing the data in the office. They’re all on board with it all,” says Jupp.

People work in charities, she adds, because they want to do good. “I didn’t want to have a job that was about making someone else lots of money, but something that I could do that could make a difference. It sounds terribly idealistic but that’s it. Having that purpose in your everyday work is the biggest privilege because you never question it. I’ve never had to question anything about my choice in career.”

It’s the fact that the charity sector is a very value-driven sector that Jupp thinks creates good leaders. Early in her career, she was witness to “personable and authentic” leaders who believed in what they were doing, which in turn inspired her. But she also acknowledges that society is changing, which affects leadership. “You’ve got a society now that is becoming more value-based. Our understanding of wellbeing, mental health and people are demanding more equality and transparency. I think the shift in leadership is now embracing all of that too.”'

With all this in mind, how would Jupp describe her own leadership style? “People always say collaborative, which I am, but when I think about it I’m an optimistic leader. I believe in the direction of where we’re going and a leader should believe in that.

“So, I’m always optimistically looking forward, but I have a healthy dose of pragmatism and I’m not naïve. I can see where we need to go, but I think: how do we get through it and adjust things?So I’d say I’m an optimistic leader with a healthy dose of pragmatism,” she laughs.

Trust your instincts

“My chair is a woman who’s a 10-year survivor of pancreatic cancer; one of the very few people in this country. Her advice to me when I took the job was just a very human
way of being brave. She told me to take the risks you want to take, trust your instinct, believe in yourself and believe in your team.” Jupp has now been at the helm of PCUK for four years, and it appears she has stuck to this advice.

As our conversation draws to a close, I ask Jupp which charity leaders she admires most. She was quick to answer: Polly Neate, CEO of Shelter. “I love the frank way she speaks and challenges things, and she’s really honest about how tough some things can be. She’s just a
straight-talking, honest human.”

She also mentions Gemma Peters from Blood Cancer UK. “I think she’s great. She’s really collaborative and an amazing campaigner. It’s her first chief exec job, like me, and it’s been phenomenal what she’s achieved.”

With great female role models like Jupp in leadership positions, it’s clear that in some ways that the charity sector has moved away from the stereotypical CEO of ‘old white man in suit’. “There’s a proliferation of women,” she notes, “there’s great women leaders and a great lot of inspiration and I see a lot of women coming into the sector.”

But perhaps it’s not always a good thing, she adds. “It might not be diverse enough. I’m not saying that we’ve gone too far, but we do need to ensure that we don’t have a gender split that swings the other way.

“And it’s a very white sector still. We have more women in leadership roles, but they’re predominantly white women or men. BAME women and men are greatly underrepresented in this sector and we need to be much more active in changing that. We are supposed to represent the UK, and when you look at [leaders] within the charity sector, we clearly don’t” she concludes.

Help find a cure for pancreatic cancer and donate vital funds at pancreaticcancer.org.uk/researchbreakthroughs

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