Lessons Learned From My Own Advice

Published by Margaux Smith on

RTRK KidsI’ve had a hard time sitting down to write this. Not because it’s hard to write about, but because it’s been far too long since I’ve sat down to write! You see, I actually acted upon my own advice and got away from my desk – far away this time.

Before arriving safely this week in my new home of Sydney, Australia, I spent a whirlwind five weeks travelling down through Africa – the first two of which were dedicated to doing something which changed my perspective. And, I believe, will help make me a better fundraiser.

I went to visit a small, community-based, international aid charity in action, not as a fundraiser, but as a donor.

It’s incredible how much you can learn by simply seeing things with your own eyes [great argument for DRTV anyone?]. In fact, I’m now embarassed and somewhat ashamed to divulge the mental picture I’d had in my head about the place my hard-earned pounds were going. I actually thought I’d be driving up to a bunch of mud huts…a village of maybe 100 people, with ample evidence of poverty and hunger…the images of African need I’m used to seeing back in the offices of the western world.

Nakuru city centre

Nakuru city centre

Of course I was shocked and mortified by my own ignorance when I arrived to discover that Nakuru, Kenya, is the fourth fastest-growing town in the world! (I’d wager that any ‘town’ with a two-storey grocery store containing a section selling treadmills is a legit city, but maybe that’s just me.) In retrospect, my naivety was pretty pathetic, but as my parents used to say, ‘you can’t know what you don’t know until you know’.
It was partially luck that landed me in Nakuru. My trip was mainly a result of having two weeks to kill between my UK visa ending, and my African overland holiday starting in Nairobi. Thankfully, I just happen to know a wonderful young woman named Holly Bantleman.

Holly founded a grassroots charity based in Nakuru District called Raise the Roof Kenya, to which I’ve donated and run some races for. Months ago, I mentioned to her that I’d love to visit the project area if possible. To my delight, although she’d be back in the UK, she kindly offered for me to stay there with her project manager, so I could get a taste for how things were happening down in the field. I was sure it would be interesting, but I had no idea how important it would be for me to learn about the reality of life on the other end of our appeals.

The biggest mind shift for me should have come before I’d left England. But I guess it didn’t sink in until I saw it myself. While chatting about his year in Kenya over a drink upon his return, Holly’s previous project manager and my friend, Sean, had tried to explain what he called ‘intermediate poverty’.

maslowabcThe way he described it reminded me of every fundraiser’s favourite pyramid, Maslow’s Heirchy of Needs. There are a lot of fantastic large organizations raising money to address the people on the bottom rung – those who are living without clean water and adequate food, those dying of preventable disease and lack of sanitation. But what about once those bottom level needs are mostly met? Should our job be done?

Luckily Holly doesn’t think so. And neither do more than 50 other inspiring young people who’ve started grassroots NGO’s in Nakuru. Seriously. There’s that many. And each one has invested in a small number of people, a tiny pocket of the community where they saw need. And they are giving each beneficiary full, intense, unwavering support, and opportunities to build a future for themselves and their families. Skills training, education, community centres, escape from abuse, and the list goes on. I guess you could say it’s like the difference between Walmart or Tesco, and the Mom and Pop Shop down the street, who know everyone in the neighbourhood by name, who take pride in every item on the shelf, who work long hours and stretch every penny.

Walmart and Tesco will always reach far, far more lives. But it’s different. That difference isn’t something I’d thought much about in regards to international aid. Should it be quality over quantity? Perhaps that depends on the goal. And I guess it’s up to the donor to decide what feels right to them.

Either way, the experience certainly gave me a lot to consider, filling me with a more educated perspective with which to approach fundraising in the future. And more than ever, I’m delighted to send my donor dollars to Raise the Roof Kenya and Holly!

Last year, Holly started a fantastic crowdfunding campaign to build the Barut Youth Development and Sports Centre – a local career training centre for young people in Barut, one of the poorest rural communities surrounding Nakuru. I was happy to participate in said campaign, running a Spartan obstacle race outside of London and my first ever 10K to raise money, because Holly really made it fun. She has that contageous enthusiasm and relentless energy you just can’t help but latch yourself onto. She runs RTRK from London, outside of her full time job, and still manages to accomplish so much in Kenya. I don’t think I’m alone in feeling that she inspires everyone around her to push a little bit harder, and go that little bit further.

Holly and the girls celebrating with a fun, community race day at the Barut Centre.

Holly and the girls celebrating with a fun, community race day at the Barut Centre.

This past February, the Barut Youth Development and Sports Centre opened its doors to the first 50 students. There was something so magical about watching that happen from back home. Through Raise the Roof Kenya’s excellent use of Facebook, almost daily, I was not only connecting with the tangible example of what my efforts were helping to accomplish, I also felt like I was an important part of a small group that were making this possible. There’s something really special about that one-to-one connection organizations like this can create. That’s why it’s so important that we, as fundraisers, translate that feeling into charities of any size by sharing the story of one person.

But when I look back on my trip, above all, what I’ve taking with me is this: I’m sure I’m not the only one in this business who often feels overwhelmed by all of the issues in the world we’re trying to help solve. I certainly felt this way many times during my weeks travelling through Africa. But Holly, and Nakuru itself, helped to remind me – no one can do everything but everyone can do something. It’s why we’re here.


[If you’re on Facebook and like seeing a bit of happiness and inspiration in your newsfeed, I highly recommend following Raise The Roof Kenya. This little charity is doing amazing things and is full of feel-good enthusiasm!]

Margaux Smith

Margaux is currently living in Sydney, Australia, working closely with incredible clients at Flat Earth Direct, creating digital and direct mail campaigns with them to help change the world. This Canadian fundraiser misses her compatriots in London and Toronto, where she learned almost everything she knows, but is enjoying the Australian sunshine a little too much to leave any time soon.


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