Who do you think you are?

Published by Rebecca Davies on

My eyes follow Maestro’s baton up… and…. down.

SPLEE-AAAAAH! (The cacking sound no French horn player wants to make, also known as a clam.)

Tap tap tapping on the podium. Concentrate. Hear the note you’re aiming for, please. Again. Maestro gives another preparatory beat. I focus entirely on the tip of that white stick, willing a perfect and beautiful entrance. Down….


frenchhornI miss the note again, and with his left hand Maestro cuts off the orchestra. Some of the woodwind section rubber necks to see who’s messing up.

It’s sound check on concert day. I’m not feeling well and playing poorly. Maestro grips the baton, lifts his right arm, and communicates Mahler with his eyes. Just don’t tell me to relax, I think. “Relax, horn! Breathe. Here we go.” Up… and….down.


And number three makes it a clambake, as we say in the biz.


Thank you, dear 101 readers, in allowing me this bit of self-indulgent writing. But what has this scene to do with you and your fundraising? It’s bouncing off a fabulous blog post I read this week, and also something I’ve wanted to blog about before there was blogging. Are you Really Proud to be a Fundraiser? challenges fundraisers to embrace the fact we raise funds, and at the end offers a brilliant manifesto to drive home the idea professional identity. Fundraisers raise funds. There’s no such thing as “just a fundraiser”. But for my colleagues who still have existential night terrors, or want to put a finer point on the quality of fundraiser you are and how to be better, sometimes the answer is in doing the opposite thing or another thing. Consilience. I invite you now to step away completely from our profession and reflect. Who are at your essence?

Back to me and my French horn, and that sound check last month. What did I do after such a rough rehearsal, with the concert a few hours away? Crisis managed, of course. I tucked away Rebecca-the-Musician and invoked Rebecca-the-Director. Instead of seeking an artistic answer to my musical problem, such as practicing my breathing or fingering technique over lunch, I instead applied what has been the second single greatest reason for my fundraising success (the first being a loyal team): the art of delegation. That was it! I would delegate that exposed entrance to the assistant principal horn player, a full-time professional player. This was the responsible thing to do: the concert would be less likely to start with a clam, which would rattle in everyone’s heads on and off stage for the duration of the concert and for the rest of our lives, and I’d be able to relax over lunch. Barbara would play the note. And as the principal horn for that piece, it was my entitlement to delegate.

“Barbara: I’m going to sit out that entrance. Please play it. Now I can enjoy my lunch and concert.”

She said: “I’m a professional player, yes, but I’ll still worry about this note over lunch. I’ll do it, of course, but you’re a fabulous player and musician. Are you sure this is what you want to do?”

Her response triggered a moment of clarity into who I was, and a moment of essence. At my essence, I am music. At my essence, I’ve a need to express myself with flourish and emotion. At my essence, I crave the adrenaline of performance. And at my essence, there’s a deep, deep yearning to connect with people, which I’ve always done best through music making. All of which I’d just delegated for the sake of a safe, clean start to the piece.

I felt like both victim and bully. My heart chafed. You can’t delegate essence.

You see, I’d done it backwards: I tried to draw on acquired skills from my chosen profession to fix something artistic, intrinsic, when for the twenty years I’ve been a fundraiser, it was always my musicianship that successfully informed and supported my fundraising practice.

Because at my essence, there is no fundraiser. For me, the matter of amateur versus professional does not come into essence/identity arguments, and both are absolute: I AM a musician; with this, I CHOOSE to be fundraiser. It doesn’t matter that I’m a far more skilled fundraiser than horn player at this point.

It’s because I’m a musician that I can fundraise.

Our sector’s brilliant Alan Clayton encourages fundraisers to activate emotions: I can do that. I can do that because I know how it feels to go to war, to lose my love, and what it’s like in Heaven. What redemption feels like (Tannhauser). The anger in Chopin’s Revolutionary Etude Op. 10, no. 12. The deep sorrow that is the third movement adagio from Beethoven’s Piano Sonata no. 29, and, from the same composer, the opposite: joy (in his mighty ninth symphony). And, of course, Tchaikovsky’s Francesca da Rimini, where the strings climax into the love theme. I mean to make you blush.

Beyond the emotional content, because of my music I can be a player, a coach, or a player/coach. I’m also comfortable to quietly analyze complex rhythms, patterns, and data, as I have the courage to perform in front of hundreds.

So that’s me. I’m now conscious of just how much I draw on my essence to be an effective fundraiser, and also how proud I am to be one.

And you? What makes you so effective? In our sector there are as many worlds as there are fundraisers and donors. What is your essence and how does it inform your own fundraising? I’d love to know you.


PS – I did play the full performance, and rocked the hizzy. Thanks Barbara!

Rebecca Davies

Rebecca Davies

Rebecca Davies is incoming Chief Development Officer of Save the Children Canada. As past director of fundraising for Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) Canada, from 2007-2014 she lead a team that in seven years increased private revenue from $19 million to over $50 million. Prior to joining MSF, she held senior fundraising positions in some of Canada’s top hospitals and the University of Toronto. Her current volunteer passion is the Ripple Refugee Project, where she and a group of concerned Torontonians are sponsoring and settling five Syrian families over the new few years. Rebecca’s an active musician (French horn), plays hockey and golf, and very proudly is on the executive for and was the inaugural blog post contributor to 101fundraising.org.


Nikki Bell · April 24, 2014 at 16:50

Excellent post Rebecca, very thought provoking!

I’m newer to Fundraising than my counterparts and since the day I started have been shouting from the rooftops that I’m a fundraiser, and proud!

I’m the sort of person that likes to absorb as much information as I can from the world around me and the sector I work in and so I volunteer on the wards in the Hospice that I fundraise for. I definitely think that helps with my asks as I envoke a very ‘real’ and organic ask to our supporters and it helps bring the charity a little bit closer to them.

    Rebecca · April 24, 2014 at 23:23


    Keep on volunteering and declaring your pride in our profession! How did you chose fundraising as a career? We’re lucky to have you.


Tom · April 24, 2014 at 21:47

I’m familiar with your plight. I was there and playing with you….and…..you did ace it ! If I may be so bold I would like to add to your hypothesis. Remembering fundamentally who you are at your very core is critical in anything you do. It’s the unknown “extra” quantity you bring to what you do. However I should note that as a fundraiser (or substitute any significant line of endeavor) you act as part of a team and while ultimately it’s you who has to deliver the goods, it’s the support and encouragement of your teammates that helps give you the courage and strength to believe in yourself and get it done. Congratulations on a fine performance and on a great application of self awareness to your business skill set.

    Rebecca · April 25, 2014 at 17:41

    My dearest Tom:

    You know why I bought the Conn, right? It’s because I want to sound like you. Marvelous you. In fact, if I wanted to grow up at all, I’d want to be you when I did. Good thing for me we’re peas in a pod – forever young and mischievous.

    And yet, on days like that concert Sunday and in responses like yours above, I also know you to be so thoughtful and wise wise wise.

    Thank you for believing in me when you gave me the part, and encouraging me when it wasn’t going so well. And thank you, too, for supporting my fundraising career all these years. xoxoxoxoxo

Adrian Salmon · April 25, 2014 at 17:23

I feel so the same way Rebecca! I’m a singer. And blogged on the connection I feel between the early music I sing, and fundraising last year – here’s the link! http://adriansalmon.wordpress.com/2013/10/30/fundraising-early-music-and-dissonance/

Funny how so many fundraisers are also musicians – emotion must be one big thing in common!

    Rebecca · April 28, 2014 at 14:30


    I suddenly just launched a CD contest, and you’re the winner of a favourite CD of mine (polyphonic vocal music recorded in Toronto). I’ve spent so much of my musical energy studying and playing massive orchestral music, and I’m finding in middle age child-like wonder at discovering the depth of choral music. Please DM me your address to claim your prize. Thanks for coming out as a musician, and for a wonderful blog. Let’s have a proper discussion on music and emotions in person. RD

Jaye · April 26, 2014 at 19:35

And a great writer too!!

Nicely done. And you sounded great in the last concert!! It was a chop buster!

    Rebecca · April 28, 2014 at 14:32

    It’s been neat to see you in your own career development: music and event management and everything else your own talented self does. Secretly, I’m glad you’re focusing on music at the moment because you’re so darn good. Thanks for finding me in this space and commenting! xo

Melissa Hughes · April 27, 2014 at 16:00

I think violin-playing has a lot to do with why I’m a writer. When I left my violin studies, I felt like there was something I wasn’t able to articulate fully with music. Now I realize it was not about precision, but about self confidence. Thanks again for a great and thoughtful read.

    Rebecca · April 28, 2014 at 14:34

    Thank for your honesty and vulnerability, Melissa. I can’t wait to be at the book launch. xo

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