Pears Foundation Grantee Support Programme: The Wiener Library Perspective

Dr Toby Simpson, Head of Development at The Wiener Library reflects on his experience attending part of the Pears Grantee Support Programme.

7th March 2019

We’ve had a fantastic start to the Foundation’s Grantee Support Programme in 2019, hosting workshops on Inclusive Leadership and Young Trustees, and kicking off our third Action Learning Set.

 It’s always a real pleasure to be able to welcome Pears Partners to present as part of the programme, and last week we were delighted to welcome Dr Beth Breeze, from the Centre for Philanthropy at the University of Kent to lead a Lunch and Learn on her latest book, The New Fundraisers.

 Here Dr Toby Simpson, Head of Development at The Wiener Library, shares his thoughts on the event.


This was my first Lunch and Learn event and I really enjoyed it. Last year I was appointed Head of Development of The Wiener Library, having worked here for seven years in two very different but equally challenging and fascinating roles. All my roles, in different ways, have been about bringing the collection started by Alfred Wiener in Amsterdam in 1933 to wider audiences. Wiener was a German-Jewish scholar and writer who had been based in Berlin during the 1920s and early 1930s working as an early opponent of Nazism. He and his family were forced to leave the country when Hitler came to power. The Wiener Library now holds Britain’s most extensive collections relating to the Holocaust. Even after many years, I am constantly surprised and fascinated by the items held in the Library’s stores. Individually and collectively, the collections have an amazing power to expand perspectives and challenge misconceptions of the history of the Holocaust.

During the time I have worked at The Wiener Library, it has gone from being a ‘hidden treasure’ with a relatively small but dedicated core audience, to being recognised by the Arts Council England Designation Scheme as a Collection of National Significance. We have established a vibrant engagement and outreach programme that has helped us to build up a larger and more diverse range of regular readers and researchers plus more casual visitors. People therefore come to us from many different backgrounds, with very different expectations and needs, but almost all groups are arriving in growing numbers both in person and online. The growth of the organisation’s reach has been hugely satisfying to be part of, but it has also brought its own challenges, including the challenge of raising enough funds to sustain our achievements. That is part of the reason that I increasingly understood fundraising as not only a necessary, but also an intrinsically valuable part of the Library’s work. I also began to understand how satisfying and meaningful it could be when done well.

I signed up to hear Dr Beth Breeze speak because I read her book The New Fundraisers in preparation for my interview for this job last year and really liked it, and was very pleased to have the chance to chat to her informally before her talk began. I was also keen to connect with other fundraisers as I am relatively new to this area of work, and there are not very many opportunities to do so in my day-to-day activities. The speaker was very engaging and informative, as I expected, but I especially liked how the audience were encouraged to get involved by asking questions. I think the group was just small enough, and the atmosphere just informal enough, to make people feel at ease. The friendly welcomes from staff, and introductions offered by the Director of JHub, Shoshana Boyd Gelfand, helped set the tone. I came away having made some great new acquaintances as well as getting a tasty lunch and some food for thought.

As we discovered in Dr Breeze’s talk, my positive experience may also have had something to do with the fact that fundraisers tend to exhibit higher-than-average openness as a character trait. That said, I will definitely be looking out for the next Lunch and Learn session at JHub to see if I can make it along. Many thanks to the team at JHub and Pears Foundation for providing the opportunity.


The New Fundraisers: Who organises charitable giving in contemporary society? by Beth Breeze, is published by Policy Press. To order this fantastic book with 20% discount, click here.