“It’s important to rebuild that bond with the community” – an interview with DUCK chair Tara Oakley, part two

In part two of a wide-ranging interview, Tara Oakley reflected on DUCK’s fundraising successes and why Durham students are willing to contribute so much to charity work.


Read part one here.


Luke Alsford: Even though you are struggling with engagement right now, do you think there are still good long-term prospects for DUCK to continue to have success?


Tara Oakley: There are good long-term prospects. That is why we are really trying right now to lay a good foundation for that. I recognize that not every year can be an amazing year. We get loads of revenue from events and I was on the events team during COVID and it was very difficult. I think last year we raised around £50,000, which is still great. We are one of the largest raising RAGs [Raising and Giving – student fundraising organization] in the country. Which is really impressive, considering all the limitations that COVID brought. So, for this year, we accept that we may not be able to get the same engagement as we have had before, but we’re really focusing on making sure that DUCK stays alive and has that longevity.



LA: You said DUCK is one of the largest raising RAGs in the country. Why do you think DUCK is so successful, is it something to do with the students at Durham, or the committee?


TO: We just must have really great students who are willing to get involved! I’m always impressed year on year by how many people are interested in DUCK. I think that just speaks to the fact that students are aware of their role in society and in the university and they want to get involved with charitable endeavors nearby. This is even evident in other societies: think about the massive events like [student-run charity boxing event] “Aggression Sessions”. Students clearly want to engage in these community-based events. Students are really proactive. There a lot of students who are very intelligent and they take part in multiple societies, yet they’re still incredibly committed to DUCK. I just think Durham breeds a certain type of student that is very good at channeling their time into endeavors that are outside of their degree. 



LA: On the other hand, Durham has, at times, a reputation for being elitist, but then in reality there’s so much charity work taking place. How do you square those two things? 


TO: I think charity is a really nice base for neutrality. On the whole, yeah, there are issues in Durham with disparities between the town and the university students. There are a lot of issues, that I could talk about, or anyone could talk about. But, with charity, what I like about it is that everyone is similarly motivated. Everybody is just trying to give back and do something nice for our community. It really doesn’t matter what your background is. Instead, you’re just trying to do as much as you can for DUCK and the charities that we support. My old chairman used to say, “Whatever impact you make is a positive one,” because you’re doing this all on your own volition. I always try and instill that in the DUCK members. They put in a lot of effort to put on events for other people. I think that sense of selflessness is just consistent in a lot of people in Durham as a community, no matter their background. So, I think elitism doesn’t really come into play in charity.



LA: How has DUCK evolved from the COVID years? Has DUCK come of it successfully, or is it still being held back?


TO: I think it’s difficult. Obviously because we’re not-for-profit, it is quite hard to get events off the ground, when we don’t have any money to do so. We don’t really have the means to put down big deposits or book big events, like other societies do. We end up having to do quite a lot of stuff for free, and it’s just it’s difficult in a post-COVID world. We have no money really from last year’s events because they were all online and it’s hard to ticket and justify charges online. We are definitely encountering some challenges. We are really looking to other ways we could increase our charity presence in Durham. For example, whether that’s including an optional £1 donation to charity on a club night ticket, or making sure that a proportion of every student formal or ball ticket goes to charity. We’re having to sort of think more creatively about the ways that we get money in.



LA: Do you think people would be willing to pay an extra pound for club or ball ticket with a charity donation? Do you think generally students are willing to pay extra money for charity? 


TO: I’d like to think so. One thing that DUCK is really trying to do this year is increase the exposure of our charities, because I think it’s really easy for students to disassociate themselves from the causes that we do actually support. By actually having effective publicity and an opportunity for students to engage with the charity themselves, they’ll be more willing to opt-in and put a donation on a club ticket. So, this year we’re really trying to make sure that our charities have a student voice, in order for students actually engage with them. I don’t believe that students don’t want to give, it’s just that you have to be impassioned to give something. Hearing the appreciation from our charities of their work with DUCK is something that’s really validating for DUCK and encourages us to really engage with the student population.



LA: We have already talked about the workload and commitment that DUCK involves, which is amazing, but how do you manage balancing all that work with your degree?


TO: It is difficult, but I signed up for a reason! I do find it really rewarding and validating. Frankly, I just love hearing the feedback from the charities and how much they appreciate the work that we do. That really motivates me just to keep doing it. I love working for DUCK. It’s really interesting: we do so many different things and it is so dynamic. Sometimes I have to stop myself from spending more time on DUCK than I do on my degree. I just need to keep myself in check a little bit. I also play DU sport, so there’s a lot of things happening in my life, but I find the time to manage it. We are also surrounded by such a great team. I have a wonderful Vice-Chair, who supports me in as key a role. The exec are so great and they all have amazing teams beneath them.



LA: How does charity work feature in your life after your degree?


TO: I think jobs in the tertiary sector are really challenging, but it’s definitely something I’d be really interested in. I think there’s so much more of a conversation to be had nowadays with the role of charity and of aid and philanthropy in our society. Especially with the increasing pressures of the cost of living crisis right now, in which charity is going to play a really important role. COVID is a major pressure as well, as there are lots of people who’ve been put in really compromising positions because of COVID. Even pressures like climate change are going to end up putting pressures on a huge part of our population. So, charity work is going to play a larger and larger role in society. I am also hoping that means that it trickles down to other parts of our society and economy as well. I do economics and I’m really interested in philanthropic capital, which is mobilizing donations and creating financial returns from them, in order to reinvest those into good causes. I just think that hopefully there’ll be a lot of opportunities for people who have values and beliefs that align with charity, to do jobs that would not traditionally be associated with that sector. 



LA: All the money that you said you’ve helped to raise and will continue to raise, are you proud of how much work you’ve put in and how much money being able to raise? Do you get to see the benefits of the money that you raised?


TO: That’s a really lovely question, because so much of my time is spent thinking, “Oh, we should have raised more money for this event,” or, “We should have sold more tickets,” or, “This could have been run more smoothly.” Whereas actually, hearing charities come down and talk about how much they love being involved with DUCK: because the students are great; we are consistent with our partnerships; and we raise as much money as we can for them – that’s so nice for us to hear and so motivational as well, because I do forget that Durham is one of the biggest RAGs in the country. We have a lot of money that we raise that we can then distribute in ways that we see fit, which is so exciting and such a privilege for me, that I get to have some part in making those decisions. We often get personal testimonials about working with us, there are some from charities on our website, and it’s really lovely to see and it’s very wholesome. 



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