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Tuesday, 4 December 2012

When you tell people you are a fundraiser what is the typical response?

Do people see fundraising as
 ‘getting money out of people’?
By Lucy Gower

For me, people either ask if I’m ‘one of those chugger people’ while slowly backing away, or are incredulous that I work for a charity – which must mean I don’t get paid – and yet how is it that I manage to live in an expensive place like London?

The general public have a basic lack of understanding about fundraising. The majority understand it to be about ‘getting money out of people’ and it is often, in my experience, perceived as somewhat underhand or in some way against people’s will. As fundraisers, part of our job is to work harder to help the general public better understand that fundraising is not just asking for money, but more about giving people the opportunity to make a difference – to enable them to make a change in the world.

Only by being inspired can we
inspire other people
Therefore it makes sense to approach our fundraising from a perspective of how we make a difference rather than simply raising money.  Can you be a good fundraiser if your focus is simply about asking people for money? I think you can do a good job and raise your targets without a passion for making a difference for your beneficiaries. But I think that to be a great fundraiser you have to have to be truly passionate about the cause and the difference that you are making. Only when you are passionate can you convey that passion and emotion to someone else. And great fundraisers know that people make decisions based on emotion.

Charlie Hulme talks about how your own passion is an essential part of being a great fundraiser in his 101fundraising blog, ‘Why tell a story when youcan tell the truth’. He highlights the importance of getting out from behind your desk to get inspired about the cause you fundraise for on a regular basis.

It can be hard to make time to do this when you have tough deadlines, day-to-day pressures and are reacting to the many demands of your colleagues, volunteers and donors. It is easy to get worn down by the daily grind, but the great fundraisers make time to stay inspired.

I was lucky enough to be working with some great fundraisers at TerrenceHiggins Trust this week.

The partner and friends of Terry Higgins set up the Terrence Higgins Trust after he died with AIDS, on 4 July 1982. His doctors didn’t know what was wrong with him and his family – who never approved of his ‘lifestyle’ – didn’t want to know. His partner, 19 years old and terrified, had the hospital curtains shut in his face. He wasn’t considered next of kin.

Terrence Higgins Trust was founded in Terry’s name, so that others wouldn’t have to suffer the way he had. Today Terrence Higgins Trust is the UK’s leading voice on HIV and sexual health.

I wanted to understand a bit more about what inspired the Terrence Higgins Trust fundraisers so I asked them to bring an object that represented why they do their job.

They bought an eclectic range of objects that included

  • Newspaper cuttings from 1985 depicting AIDS as a killer epidemic showing how far the organisation has come in educating and supporting people with HIV.
  • A torch representing a shining light that Terrence Higgins Trust shines on a subject that is met with prejudice and is unpopular to fundraise for –which provided an added element of determination and inspiration for many in the team.
  • Pictures of teenagers – for those in the room with small children who want to feel assured that their children, when they reach their teenage years, will have access to information about their sexual health and how to stay safe.
  • Stories of how Terrence Higgins Trust had helped staff support friends who had been through a sex change.
  • A copy of the Gay Times that represented experiences of how hard it was growing up as a gay man with no support networks or understanding.
  • A letter from Maureen who had made a donation in memory of her son thanking Terrence Higgins Trust for all their work.
  • Examples of  hate mail that is often generated when appeals about this unpopular topic are launched, such as, Why should I give anything to SELF-INFLICTED IMMORAL SCUM. At one time these people were killed that’s how it should be THAT’S the TRUTH’, which just fired the team up to work harder to educate people about HIV and sexual health.

I also heard some inspirational words from Stephen Fry at a Terrence Higgins Trust Friends for Life event, he said,
‘I’m not the only one here with tear-stained cheeks; it happens every year that someone, or some people tell stories of their lives with HIV and how Terrance Higgins Trust has helped them. It doesn’t matter how many times you hear it, each time you are inexpressively moved, its not just their courage and honesty and bravery but the memory that it is the kindness of people like you that has allowed them to be there.’
The team was incredibly open and shared many personal and emotional stories, as well as their fears and hopes for the future. I had no idea that was going to happen. It was an emotional experience for us all. What inspired me was that everyone in that room was connected to the powerful and important work that they do to make a difference to people with HIV or in need of sexual health services. No one talked about asking for money.
We all have work to do to help people understand that fundraising is not just about ‘getting money out of people’. It is about enabling people to make a difference.

PS What object would you bring to represent why you are inspired by your job? I’d love to know.