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Reigniting the ‘why’

publication date: Nov 3, 2015
author/source: Melanie Jackson

Melanie JacksonIt’s been a long, tough year for fundraisers. The global economy continues to pirouette daintily along the edge of total disaster, the collective corporate belt is ever-tightening and individuals, threatened by austerity and redundancies, are clinging to every coin in their purses.

But, every so often, an opportunity comes along to cast these cares aside – just for a few days – and mingle with others who seek the same thing we do; a better life for all who live on the planet. Some choose to effect their change within humanity, and others in the environment, but one thing’s for sure – there’s no shortage of inspiration when you attend a fundraising conference. And this week, I got to attend the granddaddy of them all, the 35th annual International Fundraising Congress, hosted by the Resource Alliance.

Without making too much of it, an international conference is a big deal for a South African fundraiser.  Most of us sit in a department of one, and are tasked with raising millions each year, with little support and almost no chance of attending much-needed capacity-building training.  I have often described the few fundraising forums that exist in our country as support groups, but they are much more than that. They give fundraisers a platform to learn from others and, when referring to international gatherings, to rub shoulders with giants and giants-in-waiting.

Difficult times make creativity almost impossible, and I have noticed that many organisations in the non-profit sector, in my country and perhaps yours as well, seem to have lost sight of their mission. This is likely due to the scramble for funding just to keep the doors open.  If I take nothing else away, I will remember the presentation made by Alan Clayton, Creative Director of Revolutionise and all-around great guy, reminds the weary, cynical fundraiser that our ‘why’ – the reason we get out of our warm beds and go to work every day – should be at the heart of every decision we make and is the message that we should invest in to broadcast the importance of our cause to our various constituencies.

Alan speaks passionately about taking a big idea and ensuring that governance structures and management furnish the necessary financial and other resources that go into making it a reality. He cites examples of excellence from around the world and is not afraid to tackle ‘compromised’ brand propositions – even with their creators in the room!

Another giant, and source of inspiration for fundraisers across the globe, spoke at the opening plenary session – Dan Pallotta, fundraiser extraordinaire, author, regular contributor to the Harvard Business Review online and founder of the Charity Defense Council, which was established to “change the way people think about changing the world. To let them know that low overhead is not the way the world gets changed. That poor executive compensation is not a strategic plan for ending hunger or poverty or curing disease. That inadequate, donated resources are not the path to global transformation.” (Charity Defense Council website)

Just hearing him speak in person is a privilege – and I am an unashamed fan-girl. His conviction that the world needs to look at how non-profits are funded and how their employees have a right to a decent salary is downright inspirational  – especially to those who have people say “is that really a job?” when asked what she does for a living!

Dan made a statement about innovation in non-profits near the end of his presentation: “It could be awesome beyond your wildest dreams …” And I believe that wholeheartedly. As long as we believe in and have passion for the cause, we can find our ‘why’ every day.

And that is exactly what I intend to do. 

Melanie Jackson is the Director of Words that Count, a fundraising consultancy based in Cape Town, South Africa. With a passionate commitment to spreading the power of philanthropy as a transformative force for good in the country, she is an enthusiastic champion of a range of non-profit organisations with with interests as diverse as the saving seabirds and promoting literacy. Connect with her on or on Twitter: @MeljSA


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