How a big change (and a little more maturity) taught me 3 new lessons

Published by Margaux Smith on

western-australia-kangaroo-beachSo, in a few weeks time, it’ll be my birthday, yet again, and I’m getting a little uncomfortable with how close 30 has become. I’m well aware that age is just a number, but the irrational part of my brain still has silly fears about getting older. Am I accomplishing everything I thought I would? Am I still acting too much like a child? Should I be ‘settled down’ by now?

Thankfully, all this fretting has also brought with it time to reflect on how much I’ve grown in the past few years, not only as a human, but as a fundraiser too.

I’ve recently changed jobs. But far more than that; I’ve changed departments…countries…hemispheres, even. And it turns out change can be one of the best tools for learning. So I thought I’ve share a few things that are becoming clearer to me, every day.

1. Different perspectives are crucial
Maybe it took seeing things upside down and backwards, but moving to Australia has given me a new way to look at things that I didn’t expect. My job in London was the first place I’d worked since making the switch to a career fundraising. Because of that, the things I learned in that company became all I knew. The way the teams operated, the scheduling processes, the creative approach…I didn’t realize until I left that I was assuming their way was the only way.

Now, on the other side of the world, I’m able to identify the similarities and differences between organizations that much better. And instead of simply learning a few new things, it’s as though my knowledge has nearly doubled in a very short time. I’m able to bring everything I learned from London to my new work in Sydney, while taking in the new ways of working – I’m mixing the best practices from both perspectives.

This process has me thinking – do we get stuck in ruts in part because we’ve been in the same place, doing the same things, in the same way for too long? There is a high turnover rate in the third sector already, so I don’t suggest we keep changing jobs over and over. But it’s become clear how much we might benefit from even more collaboration and sharing.

2. The other person has it harder than you think
I did the ultra-weird. I moved from the creative department to client services (apparently, that’s not a common switch). I couldn’t be happier in my new role, but immediately, one thing became clear. Client services is SO much harder than it looks!

I’m sure a lot of you are thinking, ‘yeah, obviously’. But sadly, let me assure you, many creatives reading this are calling BS.

I was extremely close with our accounts department in my previous role, counting many of them among my closest friends. I tried to be a pleasure to work with and always felt I gave them the benefit of doubt when things were challenging.

But even still, it just didn’t seem that hard. Was dealing with unruly clients the most difficult part?? I could do that…send some emails…write a brief every few weeks…no problem. Right?

I wrote them all apologies within my first few days working in Sydney.

That’s the thing – looking on from our creative department upstairs, we had no real idea what the people in accounts were doing. So, we assumed the answer was ‘not much’.

I hope I never make this mistake again, because these silos that not only stop communication, but real, true understanding, are keeping us from producing our best work. We can’t afford that in this sector. Respect each other, and be patient and kind, always.

3. Put your donor hat on more often
Time and time again, we hear ‘you’re not your donor’. You shouldn’t let your personal opinions get in the way of tested methods. And I always try my best to keep this in mind. But I am a donor (often to my own clients) so this remains a challenge. Part of you feels you can occasionally speak for the donors if you are one yourself. But from my first ever 101 blog post when I confessed to being a comms devil, to now, I felt like I’d come a long way towards taking myself out of the picture.

So it hit me like a slap in the face to realize, just last week, that maybe I hadn’t come far enough.

I was complaining to myself, as I sometimes like to do inside my own head, about the fact that too many communications were going out to our donors with the CEO as signatory. Sure it’s nice to have some legitimacy and authority in our packs, but couldn’t we have a little more fun? Write from the perspective of the beneficiaries? Nurses, doctors, puppies, children’s toys, anything more interesting? CEOs sounded so boring to me. Weren’t we trying to make things more warm and personal??

I’ve vocalized this opinion many times before, but for some reason, this time something clicked and it dawned on me – two of my most loved charities to whom I’m a donor, have CEOs who I idolize. I ONLY open their charity’s emails when I see one of their names in the ‘From’ field. I follow their personal blogs. I hang on every word they write about what my gifts are accomplishing and beam with pride.

How had I never made this connection before? Yet again, my marketing hat was trying to knock my donor hat off my head without my consent. But it made it clearer than ever that stepping out of the organization’s shoes and into those of our donors, is something I’ll have to keep doing consciously, perhaps for the rest of my career.

Change can be hard and a bit scary, but change can also be wonderful. More than anything, I’m learning that the only one who really stands in your way is you, whether that’s through self-doubt, or pre-conceived notions. So I hope that no matter how old I get or how many years I’ve been in this industry, I’ll continue to be open, respectful and eager for the next lesson.

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.


Simona Biancu · September 11, 2013 at 08:56

What a “must-read” post, Margaux!
I’ve found many points I usually deal with in my day-by-day routine.
Different perspectives, as you wrote, first of all: As I frequently have to deal with people from different countries, I’ve ever considered such kind of relationships a plus. Not so simple, sometimes, but really interesting and, most of all, challenging for everyone’s approach to issues (both fundraising-based or not) and people and context.
I am working with an NGO based on a double kind of donors and approach – Italy and US – and it is sometimes hard to arrange a sole kind of communications aimed to countries so different in terms of approach to raising funds. But, as I said, it’s a challenge, and this consultancy has been teaching me how to manage completely different positions and expectations. Great exercise: I’m truly grateful to its Board for this experience!
As a consultant I frequently don’t have a direct relationship with donors (may I say I sometimes “miss” them?), even if part of my job consists in having a shoulder-to-shoulder partnership with the NGOs I work with (and this is another plus). But, as you’ve said, working within a clients service department is among the most difficult jobs – in fundraising and everywhere, I think…so, a great “good luck” for your job (and hope to receive further updates about it!).


Fundraisingwoche vom 09.09.-15.09.2013 | sozialmarketing.de - wir lieben Fundraising · September 16, 2013 at 18:02

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