Your job is the change the world. Joe Jenkins shows why fundraisers should never forget why they’re here
I bet you know this story, or something similar. President John F Kennedy pays his first visit to NASA headquarters where he meets a janitor working in one of the corridors.
“What do you do here, son?” asks JFK.
The janitor replies: “Why, Mr President, I’m helping put a man on the moon!”
Try the same question with colleagues in your team. How many of them reply “I’m helping … [insert your charity’s mission/purpose here]” as opposed to their job title and team name? Yet surely that is what each and every fundraiser is here to do – alongside every other staff member and volunteer at your charity. Fundraising is always the means, not end; what we do first and foremost is help make the vision of our charity a reality.
Avoiding the slippery slope
I believe to be successful in fundraising you should never stray too far from the core purpose of your charity. It can be easy to get caught up in targets and budgets, in techniques, strategies and theories, in deadlines, internal meetings, paperwork and process. Some of that, if not all, is of course necessary to do your job. But as soon as you lose sight of what it’s all for – engaging people in your mission to make change happen – then you’re on a slippery slope that rarely ends well.
In my career, I’ve found keeping the purpose of my cause front of mind has genuinely helped navigate a whole range of challenges.
For example, I remember a few years back when I worked at a leading charity for blind and partially sighted people, being caught up in one of those perennial marketing/fundraising debates on how to present a case study. We were lost in a haze of jargon and internally-focused objectives, when a partially sighted colleague joined us. She cut straight to the point: “It’s bloody hard being blind you know – tell people that!” Instantly we were reminded of the reality – that sight loss isn’t just ‘content’ but the experience of real people; and with renewed purpose, we quickly found the right words to use.
In fundraising, there are often many tough decisions to make. Whether to continue with that longstanding fundraising product that’s only marginally profitable, but is well-loved by many colleagues. Whether to take the personal risk of investing in something new and unproven instead. Again, keeping connected to the cause always helps me work my way through. I will always take that step back and think about what our beneficiaries and our donors would expect. It’s really important to remember that it’s not about what I want, or my colleagues – it’s about the impact we’re trying to have in the world.
Crucially in my time as a fundraiser, it’s feeling a part of the impact we achieve that has been the greatest source of personal motivation. Of course I love that moment when you beat a target, but more than anything, it’s the cause that really fires me up. Working for a charity can be really hard work, and we all inevitably experience lows as well as highs. Time and again, it has been the rush of making a difference – whether that’s helping an individual beneficiary or winning a major campaign that helps us all – which has lifted my spirits and given me that all-important energy rush you need to fight another day.
So whatever your role and cause, I urge you to do more than pay lip service to your cause – you need to genuinely, passionately, believe that your charity makes a difference, and feel great pride in the role you play. Remember, you’re doing something even better than putting someone on the moon – every day, you’re helping change the world.
Joe Jenkins is director of engagement at Friends of the Earth