Get Away From Your Desk And Remind Yourself WHY
In my role at a fundraising agency, I don’t have much chance to speak to anyone aside from my co-workers and the fundraising departments of our charity clients. I get to read nice case studies and hear my accounts department talk about the clients’ work, but I rarely get to see this work for myself. And it’s just not the same.
That’s why last week, I was excited to get out of the office for a few hours and head south of the Thames to do a couple of interviews. I got to speak to two women who work for one of the UK’s leading medical charities, helping people to pick up the pieces and move on after being suddenly struck with a serious medical condition. By acting as a support system to their patients, aiding them with almost every aspect of their lives – sometimes for years as they recover, they are heroes to those they help.
I can’t get into the specifics of their work due to confidentiality, but I can tell you that while speaking to these women and seeing their eyes well up with tears as they told the stories of the people they work with, I felt injected with a shot of inspiration.
THIS is why.
Why I’ve chosen to devote my life to raising money to fund the work of people like this – those who have committed to low pay and long hours in the name of doing what’s right. This was my reminder.
When you’re working at the admin level, it’s much too easy to get focused on small frustrations like the client changing your words or design. (How badly I often long to pull a Tom Ahern!) I spend too much time checking the boxes; easy to navigate layout, personalized variants, using the word ‘you’ as much as possible, sticking an ask in the P.S., coming up with new ways to say ‘Dear Friend’, or new synonyms for ‘support’– all important fundraising writing techniques, but none of these things have much to do with passion.
But as a fundraising writer, I need to be able to persuade people to do one of the most difficult things imaginable; reach into their wallets, get out their checkbooks, and hand over their hard earned cash for nothing but a (hopefully) nice feeling. I’m not a good enough writer to fake my belief in the cause. Maybe you are, but I’m not. I actually need to believe.
And this is why re-igniting the passion needs to happen constantly.
I’ll admit, I was going through petty, personal frustration with this charity – I was losing the belief. But after hearing these two women speak, I ran back to the office and announced that I now felt everyone should leave all their money to this cause. That conversation made their work that important to me. I felt what these women were doing was absolutely vital, and losing their service was just not an option. And when I write their letter, it will be with all the conviction that they themselves would bring. It’s the least I can do to help them.
This cause isn’t one particularly close to my heart. Perhaps that’s why the reminder was so important to me. But I believe it’s necessary no matter what cause you’re fundraising for. Even the issues I feel most strongly about are amplified after I’ve seen something first hand or heard a powerful story straight from the source.
It’s far too easy to grow apart from your cause when you’re working in the office. Yes, it takes time and money to tear yourself away from that and go out into the field but if it helps you write more passionately, and believe more genuinely in what you’re doing, I think it’s well worth it.
Do you think it’s necessary to visit your front lines every few weeks or do you feel this is a poor use of resources? Comments please!
Paul Nazareth ( twitter @UinvitedU ) · February 16, 2012 at 17:59
Funny when I read this I thought it was someone else, not Margaux Smith who I know.
My first thought was hallelujah!! As a fundraiser this was a huge challenge for me, until I made sure I was in a job that had me out in the field with our staff touching our programs on a regular basis. It was my fuel, it gave me the momentum to come back into the office like a tidal wave and fight that terrible paperwork and processing and admin work and meetings and staff fighting about washing dishes in the kitchen.
There is a danger here, both of us, Margaux and myself don’t work AT charities right now. So please, charitable peers know that we’re not preaching, we’re talking to ourselves because as advisors and consultants we suffer from this too.
Also why both Margaux and I fight to create experiences and events for our charity peers to help you get out from behind that desk and recharge, rejuvinate and re-energize to fight the good fight.
Say it with me “People over paper” but the paperwork must get done right? Keep fighting.
Margaux Smith · February 16, 2012 at 18:16
Thanks Paul :)
I hope charity workers don’t find this preachy – it’s more envious than anything!
It’s mainly an agency/consultant problem but I do think it could also apply to fundraisers in large charities too. Sometimes your fundraising department is a far cry from your program work. I’ve experienced that as a volunteer for an international org.
It seems that small shops tend to have the most integrated staff and therefore probably have the most daily contact with their front lines. I miss those days! :)
Anne Pathammavong · February 16, 2012 at 18:54
Yesterday, my manager, another senior fundraiser and I were on the front lines opening donations. We opened all the mail and looked at cheques, credit cards and the love/hate notes from donors. About an hour into the process my manager and I both said “wow every fundraiser should do this!”
It was such an eye opening experience! We learned so many things in the process that we wouldn’t have learned from just looking at the stats. It really just gave us a chance to connect with our donors, cause and remember why we work there.
I recommend everyone visit the front lines!
Christina Attard @GPtekkie · February 16, 2012 at 20:24
“It’s far too easy to grow apart from your cause when you’re working in the office. Yes, it takes time and money to tear yourself away from that and go out into the field but if it helps you write more passionately, and believe more genuinely in what you’re doing, I think it’s well worth it.”
Amen, sistah! 100% agree with you. Going through a similar process right now. It’s too easy to get stuck in the Development Office and difficult to go out and volunteer and talk to the front-line people and even accept the invitation to be served yourself by the charity (ie. taking up the offer to come by for lunch program and eat with those who are served) – but without this experience, all our writing and speaking and appeals are mere rhetoric and our donors can see right through it. I’ve been amazed in just one month to learn about how many people are touched by this particular organization’s work and it’s hard to see that, as you mention, from behind a desk.
Have you read “Getting Naked” by Patrick Lencioni? You might like it. There is an openness to being vulnerable that has to happen when going out onto the front lines and the book gets into some of those ideas – (Have commenter Paul Nazareth to thank for introducing me to that one via his blog: http://ow.ly/97eZJ )
Amy Sweeting · February 16, 2012 at 22:54
I’m very lucky to work in an office in the same building of my charity. I am the Community Fundraiser for a Surrey based charity called Orpheus. We enable young disabled adults to gain independence and life skills through the performing arts. I find it a huge help to walk past a dance session, hear a song some students have written, see their regular performances and be included in the general buzz within Orpheus daily. I think this keeps me as enthusiastic as I am about the fantastic work that Orpheus does and helps me sell it to the local community as a charity to support.
So yes, I think it is extremely important to visit the frontlines and be reminded who you’re making money for and that you are making a difference.
Brock Warner · February 17, 2012 at 13:53
When I was working as a summer student at a small hospital foundation in Ontario, there was a large sofa chair in her office, waiting for a donor plaque to be applied to it and to be unveiled at a small ceremony. Then the E.D. saw a long-time donor in the halls, and heard that his wife was in palliative care and he had been spending days and nights in an uncomfortable wooden chair by her bedside. So, a quick call was made to the donor who had funded the chair to let him know that the chair was going to be put to good use before the official unveiling, and he couldn’t have been happier. I wheeled the chair into the palliative care room, and could see how much it meant to the first donor.
Being on the front lines in this instance was a huge moment for me that made me realize I wanted to be in fundraising.
Great post Margaux
Kim Warner · February 17, 2012 at 22:18
Brilliant Margaux! In fact it should be compulsory to “touch” the cause regularly.
I think it is one of the reasons I gravitated towards education when choosing a career path for my fundraising dream. Being able to simply walk outside the doors of the office and into the college halls to experience the energy, the drive, the dreams and desires of our students is an unbelievable adrenalin rush that gets me excited about what I do. It provides constant feedback that I am in the right place doing the right thing for the right reasons. It must be exceedingly challenging to maintain that level of excitement if you cannot connect with your cause on a regular basis.
Thanks for making me realize how grateful I am to be so close to the cause! Here’s to hoping that you and all fundraisers can touch their cause today.
Jennifer Ward · February 22, 2012 at 18:26
Words I needed to hear! I battle the same frustrations in my job. I used to work out in the community constantly, and now find myself behind a desk for 8 hours a day. It’s been hard finding the passion to write solicitation letters, and I have a strong desire to get out the door and find that passion again. Thanks for the advice!
Dan Blakemore · March 19, 2012 at 15:08
Such a great reminder for all fundraisers! In my work at International House (New York City), I relish the time that I get to spend interviewing some of our resident members for various stewardship reports, as their passion and appreciation for our mission always come through without any effort.
Thanks for such a great post!