Q&A with Amy Holtz of Pebblebeach

Pebblebeach, founded 15 years ago, has helped raise millions for charity. The fundraising agency was established in a room in Founder Ash Gilbert’s house, with the team initially growing to three members, including Pebblebeach’s Client Services Director: Amy Holtz. Since then, the Pebblebeach team has grown to ten (plus four dogs and three cats). Charlotte Kidd from the Brighton & Hove Living Wage Campaign sits down with Amy to chat about Pebblebeach’s success; Amy’s journey into the sector and company; and what her work values are today.

Can you tell me a bit about Pebblebeach’s journey?

Pebblebeach is a fundraising agency. We work with charities throughout the UK and in Ireland. And what we do is every single aspect of fundraising. We might come in and help fundraisers develop a strategy, or ways they can start asking the public for money for the first time. We handle campaigns for organisations, and I’ve been doing that for years. We help charities in any way we can. We started 15 years ago with just Ash, our managing director, in a room in his house. We’ve since grown to a team of ten, with additional freelancer support.

What do you in your role as Client Services Director? 

I’m a jack of all trades. I make sure processes run smoothly; appeals go out the door, clients are happy. But if there’s an IT issue, I’ll also get someone to jump on that. So, it’s quite varied. I might be looking at visuals or writing copy, making sure it ‘sounds like’ Pebblebeach before it goes to the client. It could be having a chat with somebody struggling with data issues and GDPR concerns. It could be talking to prospective clients. Anything, really.

What are the best and worst parts of your industry? 

We’re a company that works alongside charities, so that’s a great privilege. We get to be part of the journey with organisations that are trying to make positive changes in the world, trying to make life better for people day to day. The mission could be helping somebody who wants to die at home (we work with a lot of hospices); finding a cure for motor neurone disease; helping a hospital get a new machine. We get to be a part of all those special missions.

I’d say the worst part is that it can be quite difficult for the public to always see why charities need well-paid, intelligent, skilled individuals to run them – but they absolutely do. And why it’s so important to recruit and keep those people. This costs money – but combating the mentality that charity employees should work on a shoestring is difficult.

What’s the worst job you’ve ever had? 

Corn pollinating. So very specific to Minnesota. You can make a lot of money (for a teenager), but it’s really hard work. You go into the fields at about 4:30 in the morning, when it’s not too hot. You’re usually working in the mud, in scratchy cornrows. It goes like this: beat the pollen from the tassels of corn (which can be 7ft tall) into a bag and attach that bag full of pollen onto the flowers of another (so they get acquainted, so to speak). And you keep going and going until the field is done. This was in the days of discmans too, no iPods or smart phones, so you had to lug that around to stay motivated. Oh, and it wasn’t great for my hay fever.

What was the journey like from Minnesota to here? 

I grew up with my Dad, who was going to university when I was a kid. I was taught that you take any job – and you do that job well. You get on with things, even if the job isn’t stellar. And that’s a midwestern value, but in part growing up with my Dad. I started working when I was 14, and I’ve had many, many jobs, including working at Hardees, stapling and binding in a print shop, even working at an infamous shop in the Mall of America. I worked throughout my teens and by time I was at university I was working in the library – someone silly even made me the ‘manager’ of the uni soccer team; this luckily just meant I painted lines on the field. The value of learning to look after myself was immense – but I certainly didn’t realise it when I was serving fast food at 5am. It’s really lovely to be happy in my work these days – having difficult jobs certainly gives perspective.

What have you still got to learn?  

There’s always more to learn; it’s a lifelong project. I started at The Argus, then worked for a PR agency, and then a charity for eight years – giving presentations to young people about volunteering. Working for a charity gave me a sense of feeling good about the work I was doing. I started a Pebblebeach as a junior account executive, wanting to do something different but also to feel like what I do each day matters in the grand scheme of things. I’m sure a lot of people want that for themselves.

Is there anything you would’ve done differently and why?

Because I’ve had tough jobs before I think I maybe would’ve sat in it a bit longer and tried to see what enduring would help me learn. Because nothing lasts forever. Working in a clothing store, the hours can sometimes feel like they’re never going to end. But, there are ways to break up that time – to learn from what’s going on around you – how to deal with people, what you could do better. Of course it’s easy to be Pollyanna in hindsight!

Anything to add? 

The money of the Living Wage isn’t the only thing that I think is important to people (although it’s crucial). Feeling like you’re making a difference – that your work matters, that you’re contributing to something bigger, that’s valuable too. It’s a big mission for all of us here at Pebblebeach to instill that value into each role we offer.