How did you become a fundraiser? Did you make a decision that you wanted to work for a specific charity or cause? Did you study fundraising? Or perhaps you have applied your marketing or business development qualification to the charity sector?
Or did you just arrive by accident? That’s OK. Many fundraisers do.
Sometimes we think we arrive at what we are doing in our lives by accident, but I think there is always a series of events and decisions that whilst may not be clear at the time, will lead you to opportunities that you choose to take, that have led you to where you are right now.
Back in 2005 Steve Jobs said something in his Stanford commencement speech about connecting the dots that perfectly articulates this.
Jobs described connecting the dots as following your gut, doing the things that feel right, the things that you are curious about even if they don’t have any obvious practical application. He said that you may not understand at the time, but you have to trust that somehow that the dots will connect in your future.
Jobs tells a story about dropping out of college that gave him the opportunity to drop in on classes that interested him. He went to calligraphy classes and learned about typefaces and spaces between different letter combinations. It had no relevance for him at the time, but 10 years later when he was designing the Macintosh computer his calligraphy knowledge played an important part in the Macs design. It was the first computer with beautiful typology.
You can see the speech here.
I think the valuable lesson is that no matter where we are in our lives, we need to stay curious, learn new things, have experiences and follow our gut. This is how we create dots, that we can then connect in our future that will provide us with opportunities.
How did you become a fundraiser? What are the dots that you can now look back and join? Please share. I’d love to hear your stories.
10 years ago I set up a monthly standing order payment to charity supporting street children in Latin America.
I was a few years out of University and had started working as a fundraiser, so while I wasn’t flush with money, I wanted to make a regular financial commitment to charity.
I had this charity in mind after attending an event one year with my wife. Her parents were donors and had been invited to a celebration event at Westminster Hall. They couldn’t go, so we snapped up their tickets and set off for a day trip to London.
I was impressed with the charity. They were fairly small, but were making a tangible difference to some very vulnerable children, by getting them off the street, into new homes and giving them an education. I wanted to sponsor a child, knowing that my contribution would matter.
So I did. And it felt really good.
The charity in question phoned me up to thank me for my donation. It was personal and genuine, and I was made to feel that my gift was important to them.
Our relationship started off really well. They sent regular updates about the children they were supporting, first by mail, then by email after I asked them to save their stamps.
Then things kind of faded. I’m not sure why – I hadn’t cancelled my giving, or changed my details, but the conversation seemed to fizzle out.
I admit I didn’t notice for a long time. As a typical regular donor my giving is fairly passive and I’m not very responsive to communications. But it doesn’t mean I don’t care anymore.
The thing that irks me the most, isn’t the lack of updates, it’s something far more important.
It’s that since that phone call more than 10 years ago, they’ve never once asked me to increase my giving.
Since I set up my standing order, inflation has eroded the value of my gift by 30%. I’m giving the same monthly amount as I did in 2005, but the charity have less to spend on helping vulnerable kids.
What’s more striking is our household income has more than tripled, but I’m giving the same amount as I could afford straight out of University with a mountain of student debt to pay off.
Yes I should do something about this, but the charity, and specifically their fundraisers have a job to do that they seem to have forgotten. They need to motivate me to give.
I’ve no doubt they’ve probably analysed the data and decided that since I haven’t donated in response to any of their previous requests then I’m probably not worth spending any more money on. Hence the silence.
But they’re missing an important point – I never donated that way in the first place. My relationship is as a regular donor and they should be talking to me as such. Instead they’re treating me as a piece of data and not as the individual I am.
I’ve no doubt if they picked up the phone and asked me to increase my monthly gift, I would. Because I care about the work they do and the children who they help.
I’ll keep waiting for the phone to ring.
Ashley is a legacy fundraising consultant at Legacy Voice and Remember a Charity council member. Specialising in helping charities have amazing legacy conversations.
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