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Monday, 26 March 2012

The world needs you to be excellent

By Kimberley MacKenzie CFRE

How one fundraiser secured her place at an international conference.
In my years as a fundraiser I’ve come across many inspiring stories. But without doubt the most inspiring tale of commitment to attend a conference is the story of my friend Sudeshna Mukherjee.

Sudeshna Mukherjee

I first met Sudeshna at a conference in Jaipur, India. I was a volunteer SOFII country ambassador at the time and Sudeshna was considering a similar role in India. The second I met her in that hotel lobby I knew that someone very special had just entered my life. Sudeshna was intense, anxious to know what to do and extremely motivated to get started. She also had an amazing smile, a bright lightness in her eyes and an extraordinary amount of energy. Perhaps what I was most taken with was the amount of space she took up in the room. Sudeshna is a small person but her energy and enthusiasm filled that large hotel lobby. I was completely in awe of her and liked her instantly.

After seven years working as a fundraiser for Oxfam India and the Resource Alliance Sudeshna was awarded an Atlas Corps Fellowship and is now working with GlobalGiving in Washington DC. When Sudeshna was invited to attend AFP’s 2012 Conference in Vancouver she had a problem – how to get there. Living on a small fellowship makes a trip from Washington DC to Vancouver almost impossible to imagine. ‘Almost’ being the important word in that sentence. Because, you see, Sudeshna is one of those remarkable people who always views the glass as half full. Instead of seeing her attendance at AFP as impossible she asked herself – how can I make this work? The solution to her was to practise the very skills she is working on honing – she would raise the money. Sudeshna launched an online fundraising campaign.

In her own words on the boostive website:

What is the issue, problem, or challenge?
Every day I help nonprofit organizations develop their own online fundraising strategies. While I've learned a lot working with GlobalGiving as an Atlas Corps Fellow, I’d still like to grow and learn more about how I can help nonprofits raise more money and be more effective. The AFP's 2012 edition of the International Fundraising Conference in Vancouver, BC is happening in April, and it will be a great opportunity for me to learn how I can better serve nonprofit organizations. I have been invited to the conference, but I am still required to cover my own travel expenses.  I'm currently living on a fellowship with a limited budget, so it is difficult for me to afford this conference all by myself.
How will this project solve this problem?
I’ve decided to practise the exact skills I’m trying to hone; I’ve created an online fundraiser to help raise funds for my attendance at the fundraising conference and $1000 will get me to the conference!

Potential long-term impact
I believe that this conference will not only help me with my own professional development as I meet other practitioners and specialists from the field, but it will also help me improve my skills. Furthermore, it will provide me access to international networks, help me earn latest skills from the sector, and help me learn from my peers. If I am successful I plan to tell my story on The Showcase of Fundraising Inspiration and Innovation (SOFII), so I’ll help others learn from my experience!

Project details:
I will be in Vancouver, BC from March 30 to April 3, 2012. My budget is $1000 including visa, travel and lodging. I scrutinize project budgets on a regular basis, so I value transparency.
Therefore I'll tell you exactly how I’ll spend the $1000:
-        Flight (round trip – Washington DC to Seattle): $450; 
-        Visa: $75;
-        Greyhound bus (round trip – Seattle to Vancouver, BC): $80; 
-        Hostelling International (4 nights stay): $200;
-        Intra-city travel in Vancouver: $40; 
-        Food: $150. 

Truck drivers, lawyers, farmers, doctors, insurance agents, real estate agents, dentists: all of these professions, and many others, require continuing education and ongoing profession development.  New technology, the environment, fluctuating economies and other external factors change the way in which all professions provide services. The world and the needs of society shift and evolve. Raising money to fund charitable programmes is no different.

In fact, I would argue that staying up to date and inspired is even more important in our profession because as fundraisers we serve a greater good. We fund life-saving programmes. We help those who cannot help themselves. When publicly funded government programmes are eliminated, non-government organsations or the ‘third sector’ steps in. Now more than ever, development staff need to be inspired, motivated and at the leading edge of their craft.

In spite of this organisations continue to see professional development as a perk.  At a time when charities have to do more with less, budgets for professional development often don’t survive even the first round of cuts. This is extremely unfortunate and not good for the overall health of a charity because we know that the best way to build revenue is to keep staff. We also know that fundraisers value continuing education budgets even more than compensation. The best way to keep fundraising staff is to support their professional development.

However, it is a far greater tragedy when fundraising professionals accept the elimination of an organisational budget as defeat. It is not the responsibility of the charity to keep your skills fresh, it is your responsibility.  This is your career and you need to be committed to advancing it. Period.

There are all sorts of ways to ensure you are able to attend workshops and conferences. You could volunteer. You can allocate a portion of your salary each month to your own education fund. You could build conference attendance into your family vacation plans. You could invite a colleague to come and do an in-house workshop with your staff. Or you could simply copy what Sudeshna has done and raise the money yourself from friends and family.

This blog post was originally intended to help a friend achieve her goal of attending the Association of Fundraising Professionals International Conference in Vancouver. However within one week Sudeshna had exceeded her fundraising target and I’m very happy to say will not be staying in a hostel, but will be hosted by a fellow fundraiser in Vancouver. Bravo my friend. Well done!

So if next week you are at AFP’s International Conference in Vancouver and you see  a small Indian woman talking a lot, smiling and full of enthusiasm for her profession, please say hello to her and help her feel as welcome as she did for me during my first shopping experience in India.

I hope you find Sudeshna’s story inspiring because she has displayed exactly the kind of determination, commitment, innovation, initiative and tenacity that our sector needs right now.  Remember, this is your career and while it is nice if your employer is able to underwrite the costs of your professional development, ultimately the responsibility is yours. Find a way to stay inspired, refreshed and up to date. The world needs you to be excellent at what you do.