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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.

Last August I was diagnosed with advanced bowel cancer, as well as my primary I have tumours in my liver and lungs and they’re currently inoperable. Being diagnosed with a life threatening illness certainly sharpens your perspective and for me, writing my ‘bucket list’ suddenly felt a lot more acute than ever before.

There’s nothing like pressure to sharpen the mind, and in putting down what I wanted to achieve I learnt something very real. Yes, I still want to go to Japan, and no I don’t want to do a bungee jump. Most importantly I want to have made a difference. I want to know that when I die the world is a slightly better place for me having been in it.

I am very lucky to work in a sector where I get paid to make this a reality. My job, as head of partnerships at Battersea Dogs & Cats Home, is about raising funds that enable the home to make a difference to thousands of people and thousands of animals. I am part of a capital appeal that will create lasting change at the home and the team I work with are central to delivering that income. I am motivated every day by the opportunity I have to make this difference and to know that my life (I hope) is not one that goes unnoticed.

And, of course, there’s an egotism to this; a desire to make my children proud, to be remembered fondly, to have people look at something and think of me. Understanding this gives me an insight into the minds of many major donors or potential legators. Our major donors want to make the world a better place, they want to know that they changed things and our role as fundraisers is to help them do so. A lasting tribute to their gift, a physical demonstration of this generosity is not mere ‘donor recognition’ but is absolute recognition of the impact that they have made. It is something that they can see and think ‘I did that’. It is our way of giving them something that lasts as long as their gift.

As fundraisers we get to make a difference every day, we can take for granted the impact we make and become buried under spreadsheets and forecasts. Remembering how lucky we are and the difference we can make, helps us not only do a better job, but also understand our donors and their motivations.

  • Kerry Marland

    Great article Rob. We’ve definitley changed the way we recognise our volunteers now. I agree with you that relying on length of service does not really highlight the great work of our volunteers. We now have a seperate awards ceremony every year which has done wonders and really means a lot to our volunteers and supporters alike.

  • Eowyn Rohan

    Perhaps the Third Sector would be taken more seriously where it concerned its “Volunteers”. Unfortunately, a Charity cannot consider itself a legitimate charity if, on the one hand, it exploits volunteers and/or staff assigned through Unpaid Internships and Work Placements for the Unemployed, whilst conversely restricting distribution of its Salary Budget to Senior Executives/Managers.

  • Martin Edwards

    More power to you Jane (and to all fundraisers who are worth their salt). You are using the gift of your energy and talent to make the world a better place. I hope the companies you enlist will share your passion and leave an enduring series of achievements.

  • Michaela Szárazová

    Thank you for believing in young people. Although as a MA graduate trying to enter the sector, I now feel more hopeful about eventually getting a chance to work.