Five of the best digital charity leaders of 2019

12 days of Best Of: We take a look at five of the best digital charity leaders leading the charity digital sector in 2019

Aidan Paterson | 13th Dec 19
digital charity leaders 2020

As we gear up for the festive season, we are celebrating the 12 days of Christmas, as well as the best in digital achievement, with 12 days of ‘Best Of’ lists. Covering everything related to the charity tech sector and digital charity leaders, join us every day for new ‘Best Of’ lists.

2019 has been another fascinating year in the third sector, and as the year comes to an end it’s time to give a nod of recognition to the many digital charity leaders who have made significant contributions to the charities they are involved with.

No list can ever do justice to the many charity leaders whose work has had a huge impact on the people and causes their charities support, but here, in no particular order, are five outstanding leaders who have made a difference in 2019:


Simon Gillespie, CEO of British Heart Foundation

Simon’s leadership of BHF finishes at the end of December after almost seven years as chief executive. During his time at the helm, BHF grew to become one of the largest charities in the country, funding over half the UK university research into heart and circulatory diseases.

He has also been behind  BHF’s ten-year strategy which aims to enable people to live without fear of heart and circulatory diseases by 2030. Key parts of the strategy involve a digital platform based on Microsoft’s Azure cloud, enabling the charity to offer a robust website and use data science to make intelligence-led decisions

Earlier this year Simon was made an OBE for his services to patients and medical research, he was the only charity CEO to win an Employee’s Choice Award from Glassdoor, and he was named one of CEO Today’s top CEOs – for the second year in a row.


Seyi Akiwowo Executive Director and Founder, Glitch

After being elected the youngest black female Councillor in East London in 2014 at the age of 23, Seyi suffered online abuse and death threats. This inspired her to found Glitch, a non-profit that aims to save digital spaces from abuse, hate and fear.

Seyi now travels the world to work with governments, NGOs and companies to protect online spaces with her “Fix the Glitch” toolkit, and earlier this year she was named Digital Leader of the Year and is also an Amnesty International Human Rights Defender.


Polly Neate, CEO of Shelter

Polly is known for her inspirational and forceful leadership style and for a personality that doesn’t beat about the bush, but rather tells it like it is.

She is also known as someone who likes to push the boundaries of Instagram and other social networks to their limits to remind people why her charity and the people it supports are so important, and she is not afraid to call out anyone who she disagrees with.  This challenging voice earned her the top CEO prize at the annual Social CEO awards.


Kate Lee, CEO of CLIC Sargent

Two phrases which perfectly encapsulate Kate’s approach to leadership at children’s cancer charity CLIC Sargent are “Hands up, we’re not perfect,” and “Go big or go home.” That’s because they sum up her willingness to look honestly at where the charity’s endeavours fall short as well as a determination to overcome any obstacles in the way to achieving its goals.

Since arriving at CLIC Sargent in November 2015 Kate has been fighting to ensure that everyone diagnosed with cancer under 25 gets specialist care and support. Earlier this year she was named Charity Principal of the Year at the Charity Times Awards 2019 for her “strong leadership style, her engaging use of social media and her fearless ability to make difficult decisions.”

Kate has been an ardent advocate of the use of social media by digital charity leaders, and has built into the job descriptions and person specifications of the charity’s executive and associate directors that they have to have a social media presence.


Julie Bentley, CEO of Action for Children

Julie took on the chief executive role at Action for Children last year, after five and a half years at Girlguiding UK. There she earned a reputation for as an uncompromising leader who wasn’t afraid to ruffle a few feathers – for example by dropping the charity’s allegiance to God and country in the Girl Guide’s Promise.

Earlier this year, the charity, under Julie’s leadership, launched an online campaign on social media, including YouTube and Twitter to promote its Choose Childhood anti-bullying initiative, along with an online petition calling for a national action plan for children.

As CEO of Action for Children she has not been afraid to roll her sleeves up and muck in: on her 50th birthday in March she slept out on the street near St Paul’s Cathedral to raise funds for the charity, and it is this type of inspirational leadership that has made her a rising star in the charity leadership community.