Small is Beautiful
The other day I bumped into a fellow fundraiser as we snatched a coffee at Waverley Station. She was dressed in mirrored brogues, tailored trousers and a very snappy striped jacket. I had my five year old chunky ankle boots with my smartest jeans, and a lucky charity shop buy jumper. She was off to meet an internationally famous artist for a national charity. I was off to St. John’s Church to replace the bricks on my repaired interactive mural. Looking at the two of us, you wouldn’t have placed us in the same profession.
The great thing about the voluntary sector is that charities come in all shapes, colours and sizes. I’ve always veered towards the hard to reach causes, capital builds and small charities because I relish the challenge. Other people thrive by focusing on a specialist role in a big department. The point is to find the cause that matches your skills and aspirations.
There are, of course, times when I dream big. Many of my positions have been start up roles in charities that don’t have a fundraising function. I arrive with an optimistic list of requirements. A full-time administrator would be lovely. Could we have a specialist database to record all donor transactions? I’d really like a decent budget, so we can try a few innovative ventures and benefit from training. This wish list dwindles rapidly until, after some bartering, I am pleased to at least have a working laptop and access to a kettle. Believe me, the latter is not always guaranteed and is very important!
The large majority of Institute of Fundraising Scotland members represent small charities. Personally my membership has been a real life-saver. Being a sole fundraiser can be isolating; the opportunity to meet similar fundraisers and share celebrations or challenges is vital. Plus, when your training budget equates to the spare change in the Director’s piggy bank, you have to think carefully about whether to invest in training. For me, IoF membership and Special Interest Groups in particular are an essential part of that budget.
Sometimes I think life might be easier if I worked for a charity everyone had heard of. Surely the big health, welfare and research charities don’t face the same barriers to funding as a ‘who on earth are they’ cause? The job security of a long-term role, rather than a short-term contract, might give me (and my bank manager) less sleepless nights. Having a prospect researcher or finance assistant would be just super. There might even be opportunities for travel beyond Falkirk.
But then I look back on the fun that I’ve had. Success, when you work for a small charity, is about celebrating little wins. Sometimes it’s a piece in a local paper just when you need the publicity. Or a cheque pressed into your hand by a well-meaning supporter at the point when you’re despairing of ever reaching your target. A few hundred pounds raised by a bake sale, ceilidh or book exchange can genuinely make a difference.
Plus, when your role is fundraiser/appeal manager/all round superhero, you get to try your hand at some really cool tasks. In a big department you might not get to take photos of the Lord Provost with some goats, for example, or abseil from a one hundred foot tower.
So, when it comes to the voluntary sector, size matters. Whether big or small, let’s celebrate the things that make working for our charity really special.