I’ve been Revolutionised!

IMGP1261A guest blog from Esther Preston about her learning at the recent hospice fundraising masterclass.

If Alan Clayton were a preacher his church would be full. Having spent three days engrossed in learning from Alan and fellow presenter Lucy Gower, I came away with a renewed sense of purpose, and feeling just a little bit scared.

But that is ok. I learned that scared is good. Hmmm.

I’m willing to give scared a go and my desire to implement what I’ve learned is definitely stronger than my need to not feel scared. So let me explain what the hospice fundraising masterclass was all about.

No, I haven’t joined some weird fundraising cult or completely lost my marbles. I have spent three full-on days with senior teams of two other fantastic hospices learning how to think differently about what we want to achieve.

I feel privileged to work for a hospice and I meet fabulous people every day who tell me how amazing our services are and how they couldn’t have coped without them. It is vital to focus on the positive impact your charity makes, and at a hospice you are very close to the cause and the people who benefit. Yet when we were asked to think about what our purpose was, and what problem we are trying to solve it was hard. Not because we didn’t know what it was, but because it was emotional.

Thinking about people who face a terminal illness without support, or friends and family that do not receive the counselling they need, or families seeing their loved one suffer because they haven’t had effective pain relief is something I have seen first-hand. These experiences motivate me to do the job that I do. However, in order to protect ourselves, it’s easy to compartmentalise the work we do, to somehow shut off emotions and shy away from thinking in terms of real people and real life stories of people like you and me.

The three-day masterclass brought together like-minded people dedicated to making a difference. Unsurprisingly we found we had a shared goal of wanting to make sure that hospice care is available to every singe person in our communities that needs it.

The scary bit is how we raise the income to make this goal a reality. We realised that we were too busy trying to manage expectations of what we could deliver with current funds by telling people what an amazing difference their support made to the patients we care for, instead of telling people how much we need to reach everyone that needs us.

We need to tell people what a tragedy it is that hospice care isn’t available to all who need it, how big this problem is and how much money we need to raise to solve it.

As a fundraiser I know the power of storytelling to explain what we do but I had never explored ‘storytelling the problem’; the patient stories that didn’t go well because we didn’t have enough funding to offer the services they needed. This was a really powerful lesson.

Taking three days out to concentrate on emotional fundraising and meeting both beneficiary and donor needs was only the first step. Back at work the next day I started to appreciate the enormity of what is ahead of me – convincing 250 staff and 700 volunteers to think big and asking our board to approve an investment in fundraising today, that would not yield significant results for several years.

It’s a marathon not a sprint

My chief executive held the first drop-in session to share some of our learning and encourage feedback. It was well attended by staff and volunteers. We shared a sense of relief that we were united in not settling for doing what we have always done. To say out loud that we are here to solve a big problem and not just make it a bit better for a few more people was a massive first step. The response from staff and volunteers made me start to feel that this was going to be a more enjoyable process than I had first thought.

Next we presented to our board of trustees who had given up their Saturday morning to come and find out what we had learned on our three days away. A new trustee started that day so we used it as an opportunity to go around the room and share who we were and why we worked at Ashgate Hospicecare. This was a real breakthrough as it reminded all of us about what had drawn us to the charity and then kept us engaged. For some people this was a personal experience of hospice care and for others, like me, it was seeing a loved one die without specialist care or support for their family. We inspired each other with the stories we shared and we ended with a feeling of ‘yes, together we can do this!’

This is the start of our journey and over the next year we will work with staff, volunteers, patients, their families and local supporters to achieve our new ambition. These are the people who will be part of making it happen so the process is just as important as the end result. We know we want hospice care to be available to everyone who needs it in North Derbyshire and we won’t stop until we have the funds to make this happen.

Esther Preston is Director of Fundraising and Marketing at Ashgate Hospicecare

The next hospice fundraising masterclass is 11-13 October at the Inch Lodge, Loch Ness, Scotland. For more details go to www.revolutionise.com or email lucy@lucidity.org.uk

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