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Voice of the charity sector, Debra Allcock Tyler

Updated: May 30, 2023

Welcome to Purposely with Debra Allcock Tyler, CEO of the Directory of Social Change (DSC).


Established in 1988, DSC has been a trusted resource in the non-profit sector, providing vital research, high-quality training, and ongoing support to charity leaders and volunteers. In addition, DSC advocates on behalf of organisations facing tough challenges, from economic crises to the recent global pandemic.


With over two decades of leadership experience at DSC, Debra has played a crucial role in empowering charities to fulfil their missions despite limited resources and frequent obstacles. She proudly emphasises DSC's position as a sector leader, offering unique resources that remain relevant, even as competition has emerged. Debra also discusses the evolving nature of the sector, highlighting shifts in attitudes and approaches.


One example of this shift is the increasing transparency in funding practices. Debra recalls a time when DSC faced criticism from trusts and foundations for publishing their information in directories. Nowadays, organizations inquire why they haven't been included, indicating a sector-wide move toward openness.


DSC operates as a self-sustaining charity, generating revenue through resource sales. By reducing reliance on grants, Debra explains how DSC maintains the freedom to express its views and remain critical without concerns about offending funders or losing support. This financial independence enables DSC to stay true to its purpose.


Debra underscores the importance of staying connected to the core purpose of the work rather than becoming fixated on specific methods. This mindset has allowed her and the DSC team to continuously find innovative ways to support charities. Their agility and responsiveness to emerging needs have resulted in valuable services.


Throughout our conversation, Debra candidly shares her experiences as a leader at DSC. She openly acknowledges that she didn't have all the answers when she first joined the organisation and describes how her leadership approach has evolved over the years.


Debra believes that people tend to emulate what they observe as effective. She points out that traditional leadership and management followed a predominantly male and patriarchal paradigm, emphasizing growth and similar metrics. However, she highlights the success of alternative leadership styles that have emerged, challenging the old norms.


In leadership, the primary objective is to ensure team members are aligned with the vision. Authenticity lies in supporting and enabling individuals to bring out their best to achieve that shared vision. Debra emphasises the importance of distinguishing between being authentic to the leadership role and simply proclaiming, "This is me, take it or leave it," which is unsuitable for effective leadership.


Drawing from a powerful analogy, Debra passionately addresses the need for charities to go beyond providing temporary solutions and address the root causes of societal issues. She highlights the duty of charities to not only rescue people from the river but also go upstream and fix the source of the problem. While acknowledging that complete eradication of issues may be unattainable, she emphasises the importance of advocacy and voice in driving preventive measures.


The responsibility to lead the sector in the right direction is significant, but DSC's unwavering commitment to empowering organisations and fostering positive change has guided them for the past 20 years.


"Our focus has always been on helping organizations improve their practices and achieve their goals, whether it's fundraising, governance, leadership, or other vital areas."


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