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Being diagnosed with cancer has given me a new perspective on fundraising

I started working in fundraising about three years ago. Having moved from the corporate sector I had a vague idea that I wanted to make a difference and stop using my marketing and sales skills to make rich people richer and actually improve the world. It was all very worthy, and is still true.

But last August my life fundamentally changed and this desire to make a difference became much more real for me. I realised how lucky I am to work in the voluntary sector, and I learnt a bit more about why major donors are philanthropic.

Legally blonde

The result of corporate fundraising success is work; account management, operational involvement, marketing sign-off and PR engagement to name but a few; and then there’s my personal bugbear; contracts.

While I love the marketing aspect of corporate fundraising, the brand alignment and the planning and implementation of great campaigns, I am no lawyer; and the turgid detail of contracts leaves me cold.

Less is more in the cluttered world of corporate fundraising

For many voluntary organisations, the large charity of the year partnerships are inaccessible, whether it be a case of not meeting the criteria of national service delivery, focusing on the ‘wrong’ cause, or simply not having a broad enough appeal, or a big enough brand. This means that for a significant number of charities Tesco et al are simply not on the agenda.

At Battersea, we are able to work with partners who recognise the power of our brand, national supporter base and breadth of media channels. This allows us to tap into partners’ marketing budgets and often circumnavigate CSR policies that might otherwise exclude us. However, this brand power is a rare commodity, and consequently one I cherish.

Managing great corporate expectations

My first ‘official’ foray into the charitable sector was a series of job interviews for corporate partnership positions. At each of these I was asked about how I would handle corporate volunteering requests.

Responding that I would manage partners’ expectations sensitively, while trying to divert the potential partner towards a cash donation, I realised there was something of a trend. A few months into my role at Battersea and after responding to yet another request for ‘a wall to paint’, I realised that this wasn’t so much a trend as a flood.

Working in charities means we get to see the very best of people

So, earlier this month was my first ever Institute of Fundraising National Awards. Battersea Dogs & Cats Home was shortlisted for three awards, including best fundraising team, and we were hopeful of success.

I’ve been to lots of awards ceremonies throughout my varied work career and realised that they are a good synopsis of the industry they’re representing. The travel awards, which I attended as a guest, were astonishingly bawdy. It made me realise just how many people in travel start their careers as overseas reps. The music industry awards were, in my opinion, a series of shouty conversations with people who are always looking over your shoulder to see if there is someone more interesting, better connected or (deep breath) famous to speak to. And as for the media and sales awards…well let’s just say I wasn’t that ambitious.

So I was curious to experience a voluntary sector awards event. What would the crowd tell me about the industry I have recently joined? Lots of earnest beard-stroking, a proliferation of people who were all very worthy? What I certainly didn’t expect was to feel humbled and end up in tears, over-whelmed by so much courage and generosity. 

Fundraising is not for the faint hearted

My first job fresh out of university was selling classified advertising space for the Observer newspaper, which at the time was based on Battersea Bridge Road, around the corner from Battersea Dogs and Cats Home. There were around 30 of us in the classified team and we had to make 100 cold calls a day, resulting in at least four bookings. We had a one hour lunch break and two 15 minute ‘team teas’ a day. It was the closest an office could get to being a factory, but with the satisfaction of making a sale.