Keeping it real: How life factors into fundraising

Our work and personal lives are rarely completely discrete.

I’m not talking about whether you follow your boss on Instagram or how to ignore the laundry piling up outside your home office. I’m talking about the collisions between work and personal experiences that are unique to the not-for-profit sector.

I’m talking about things like this.

About seven years ago, when I first began working with Offord Group (the Canadian arm of Marts & Lundy), I worked on a case for support for a high-performance training centre in Langford, British Columbia for Rugby Canada. Rugby was a sport I knew absolutely nothing about. So I worked to understand and then translate the game into the language of fundraising.

Fast forward to summer 2018. My 15-year-old represented Ontario at a national rugby tournament in Halifax, Nova Scotia. Whether he will ever get to use the facility in Langford I couldn’t say, but at least I can follow the game. Thank you, universe.

I later worked on a case for Kids Help Phone, a national helpline for young people in crisis. And while impact stories must always be genuine, in this case, because callers are anonymous, we created composite stories through interviews with front line counsellors.

It just so happened that a young person close to me was recovering from an eating disorder. In partnership with the counsellors, I drew heavily on that experience to create one of our composite stories. It was a small way to share the important story of a highly stigmatized mental illness on a larger stage.

The truth is that unlike people who sell toothpaste or cars or luxury vacations, we are in the business of selling change for the world. And we can’t divorce ourselves from our personal experience with how we see that change happening.

The collisions go both ways.

I had extra insight into helping my daughter choose her high school courses after doing some work with Let’s Talk Science, a charity that encourages kids not to drop their science and math courses as they progress through high school.

My dog Hazel sat with me as I learned how little public funding there is for animal protection in Canada and crafted the case statement for a new shelter in Guelph, a small city about an hour west of Toronto.

Sometimes my own experience adds authenticity to the voice of a case. I hope I strike a chord with parents because I am one myself. I feel I can lend authenticity to the struggle with chronic illness because I cannot survive without my insulin pump.

Other times, the cause itself is so foreign to me, I can add value as an uninitiated reader who needs to understand the basics. And I thank my lucky stars that I get paid to learn about it. Either way, because we dive deep into the material, personal perspectives and experiences can be very helpful to the client.

I’m deeply grateful. I know my personal life is better because of the work that I do. And I believe my work is stronger because I’m unafraid of bringing my own humanity to the table. But I don’t follow my boss on Instagram. And the laundry doesn’t bother me one bit.

Featured image: Rugby Canada