Samuel Butler

samuel butler

It was a pleasure speaking with Samuel Butler, a career fundraiser who has raised millions of pounds for charities over his 20+ years. An outstanding leader, we’re inspired by his continuous personal development and commitment to building a strong network. Recently he has completed an Open University course in Strategy and over the last two years has been fortunate enough to learn about Clifton Strengths and Myers Briggs at Starlight Children’s Foundation, helping to create more self awareness; stronger and more meaningful relationships at work and improving the organisational culture.


What is the book (or books) you’ve given most as a gift, and why? Or what are one to three books that have greatly influenced your life? 

Born to Run by Bruce Springsteen. He is a man I respect a great deal. He makes a huge effort to continue a conversation with his audience, it’s a responsibility he takes seriously. To be consistent in his thinking, in his purpose and his actions. He uses his platform for the greater good and he’s a great storyteller.

Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race by Renni Eddo-Lodge.

My wife is black, our children are mixed-race and I’m a privileged, white, middle-class male. This book helped me to understand another perspective. It was the start of a journey of discovery.

There are old friends whose values I found I didn’t share and whose minds I haven’t been able to change and I have realised it’s healthy to let those relationships go.


What purchase of £100 or less has most positively impacted your life in the last six months (or in recent memory)? (Brand and model, where you found it?)

I’m not a big buyer of things, but when I do, I enjoy quality. I have been doing a lot of running with my son, and he suggested I buy a pair of running specific trainers, so I bought a pair of Adidas boost trainers. They really make a difference.

I also have a pair of five-a-side shoes too. So now I play five-a-side once or twice a week and I run regularly. 


How has a failure, or apparent failure, set you up for later success? Do you have a “favourite failure” of yours? 

I think my greatest failure was not to have moved on sooner from a job I had earlier in my career. The company had changed over time and I no longer fit the culture. I was trying to innovate. I had a relentless determination to make a new product work in a culture that didn’t facilitate what I was trying to achieve. It was probably two years that I wasted ready to ‘die on a hill’ until I realised I didn’t need to be a hero at all.

What I now know is that the culture in which I work is of the greatest importance to me. A feeling of belonging for all those working there. I’ve really found that in my current role. 


If you could have a gigantic billboard anywhere with anything on it —metaphorically speaking, getting a message out to millions or billions — what would it say and why? It could be a few words or a paragraph. (If helpful, it can be someone else’s quote: Are there any quotes you think of often or live your life by?)

You can vote for a party that will impact your life for the better, or you can vote for a party that will positively impact everybody else in society. Which one will you vote for?


What is one of the best or most worthwhile investments you’ve ever made? (Could be an investment of money, time, energy, etc.)

I fully invested in the Clifton strengths and Myers-Briggs personality tests. They have transformed the place in which I work.

We had a loft extension on our house which gave everyone a bit more space, and has even helped in our children’s independence. It was particularly important during the lockdowns. A place where my wife and I spent a lot of time together.


What is an unusual habit or an absurd thing that you love?

I watch a lot of really bad films. Films that are so bad, they’re good. It’s my escape. I get a sense of joy from it. I also appreciate the time, money and effort that has gone into making any film. No one sets out to make a bad film.


In the last five years, what new belief, behaviour, or habit has most improved your life?

Playing five-a-side football. I’ve always preferred team sports anyway, but it’s important for me to have a diverse group of people in my life and form new friendships, both of which I get from the teams I play in.


What advice would you give to a smart, driven student about to enter the “real world”? What advice should they ignore?”

Don’t believe the hype.

There is an unreasonable expectation from people to progress quickly in organisations. But you shouldn’t  expect to be given it. Earn it. You need to have a willingness to graft.


What are bad recommendations you hear in your profession or area of expertise?

This might seem to be in contradiction to my previous answer, but there is not enough humility when it comes to more senior people listening to the younger generations. They have a great deal to offer, especially around technology, new product development, social media and innovation.


What frustrates you the most about your industry and the way companies are run in it?

Duplication. There is so much repetition in the charity sector.

All too often someone suffers a tragedy and so they set up a new charity from scratch. There’s a groundswell of optimism at first, but often as time goes on the challenges mount and the optimism dwindles.

I understand why it happens, but I’d like to see those people and that desire to do good directed to charities that already exist to serve that purpose. 

You also see it in fundraising. A good new idea comes along and soon everyone does it and it quickly becomes overused.


In the last five years, what have you become better at saying no to (distractions, invitations, etc.)? What new realisations and/or approaches helped? Any other tips?

I’m a people pleaser, so I’m not good at saying no. I’ve reflected and now I recognise I don’t always need to be the hero riding in on a horse and saving the day when people ask for help, and I don’t always say yes.


What does a balanced life look like to you? Has work or a project you have been focused on caused you to neglect other areas of your life?

The balance has changed recently. Now that my kids have grown up and have less needs, I spend more time with my wife, which is great. Learning again how we have fun together. I’m also looking into writing a book or a movie. 

It’s a double edged sword though, as especially with the lockdowns meaning we spent a lot of time with our children followed by it suddenly ending, it’s been hard to get used to them not being around.


When you feel overwhelmed or unfocused, or have lost your focus temporarily, what do you do? (If helpful: What questions do you ask yourself?)

I am particularly bad at this with certain types of work, but I’m getting better. I have an amazing line manager. We have a culture in which we are able to be and to talk about vulnerability and in which it’s ok to ask for help and ideas and support. To collaborate. We all have strengths and weaknesses and together we’re a strong team. The UK culture is one in which leaders are expected to have all the answers and I don’t think that’s healthy


What does leadership mean to you?

Bringing people along for the ride.

Being open. Being honest. Admitting we don’t know where we’re going, but we want the team to help get wherever that is. Being aware of our own strengths and weaknesses. Building a team around us that compliment each other. Demonstrating a level of vulnerability and facilitating partnerships. 


Which people have most inspired you in your life and why?

I’ve been inspired by so many people. Mainly by those that have shared of themselves, their vulnerability, that are open and collaborative. People that display characteristics that I want to embody as well inspire me.


What do the words principles and values mean to you?

They’re really important to me. I think mine are:








If you had a forum to speak to 50 leaders, what question would you pose to them, to get them thinking about and being better leaders?

How many of the people you work with look like you? How could you broaden the diversity of your team and make sure that you are bringing a different perspective into your strategic process?


What one thing could you do that you aren’t doing now, that if you did on a regular basis, would make a tremendous positive difference in your personal life?  What one thing in your business or professional life would bring similar results?

Pausing! I am very impulsive, and I often leap to fix or sort out a problem. As if there is a level of urgency in every situation I am faced with. I am consciously working on this in my professional and personal life now! Sometimes people just want you to listen, rather than to offer advice. 


Have you ever engaged with self-help, mentoring or coaching? If so, how?

I have, in the sense that I have mentored and coached people all my professional life. I find that I often seek out a person that I know to be professional astute in a particular area if I am finding it hard to find a solution myself. That’s why I believe so strongly in networking and working hard at maintaining friendships and relationships. That sense of belonging is about feelings, and I like to make people feel as if they are welcome to belong in my life! 

To donate to Starlight Children’s Foundation visit their website


Topic: 50 in 50