Don't Underestimate the Strength of Empathetic Fundraising
I was sitting in a café, meeting with a volunteer to discuss her fundraising ideas, when she gave me what I consider to be the biggest compliment I’ve ever had: “You don’t actually have diabetes? From the way you understand it, I would have believed you do.”
I’ve worked with the Fundraising Team at Diabetes UK in Scotland for over four years now, and in that time, I don’t think I’ve ever met two people who have described diabetes in the same way. As a condition, It’s complex and unpredictable, sometimes hard to treat and definitely difficult to come to terms with.
As a Regional Fundraiser, my first question to any supporter is always: “What is diabetes like for you?”
Why? Because I completely believe that a potential supporter who trusts and feels an affinity with the charity they are raising money for, will be motivated and driven by the cause. As their first point of contact in choosing to raise funds for Diabetes UK, I owe it to both the charity and the person I’m meeting with to show that we want to share their experience of living with the condition.
It may not be immediately obvious why empathy is an effective community fundraising tool. After all, as fundraisers it’s our job to be upbeat and positive, motivating and inspiring – we’re the ones on the kerb cheering marathon runners on, standing in boardrooms giving impassioned talks to business people, and smiling and thanking people dropping money into cans. Is there really time for us to sit with people and listen while they share their stories about why they’ve chosen to fundraise for your charity?
There absolutely should be.
The ability to share and understand somebody’s feelings is a skill everyone can develop, and it starts with simply and genuinely asking them to tell you why they’ve chosen your charity, and then really listening to the answer – metaphorically, putting the shoes on, and walking the journey with them.
Sometimes it’s not easy. I’ve found myself crying with a mum who’s coming to terms with injecting her little boy with insulin every day, or feeling sad that someone was ashamed to tell people they’d developed Type 2 diabetes. But on the other side of the coin, I’ve been proud of a teenager getting to grips with an insulin pump, and inspired by a little girl telling her nursery class about her diagnosis.
It’s an enormous privilege when someone trusts you enough to share their story with you. If they feel that you care and understand, they may then feel willing to share their story with sponsors through a Just Giving page, or online in a video or blog post, which in turn might just motivate others to donate or fundraise.
And on top of all that – it never hurts to be reminded why you’re proud to be a fundraiser.
Susie Williamson, Regional Fundraiser, Diabetes UK
As well as working for Diabetes UK, Susie is a volunteer counsellor with Childline. A former journalist, she has first-hand experience of the mental and physical effects of chronic illness and disability, and actively promotes the need for accessibility and equality in fundraising.