I fell into fundraising when I was 18. I was stopped by a street fundraiser called Sam on Wood Green High Road the summer holiday after I had finished my A Levels. I was too young to sign up, and I didn’t have any money. He told me that he could refer me to the agency that he worked at and if I was successful, I could have a job for the summer. I was; we ended up working on the same team.
Over the next two years I worked campaigns for the British Red Cross, Amnesty International, Break Through Breast Cancer, Cancer Research, World Vision and many more. Street fundraising was by far the most challenging and rewarding job I have ever had. Not only are you asking busy strangers in London to drop what they are doing, listen to you and give you their bank details in the street, you are also battling the elements: rain, snow, winds, heatwaves. All with a smile on your face and a spring in your step. I will always have so much admiration for street fundraisers – it takes skill, bravery, resilience and grit to do that job.
In those years I was learning how to tell stories, build rapport, problem solve and think on my feet in order to make the ask and walk away successful. I was also talking all day about the truly amazing and innovative work that the charities I was representing were doing. I felt passionately about these causes and the people I encountered in the streets felt inspired by me. Enough to become regular donors. I fell in love with the third sector; I fell in love with fundraising.
Fast forward a few more years and I am now a fundraising consultant after being the Corporate Partnerships Senior Executive at Refuge where I worked in the head office. I am also black and queer. This has its benefits, and its drawbacks. In the most meetings I am the only person of colour in the room. I feel a lot of pressure to be successful because I sometimes feel like I am representing my race. That pressure can be exhausting.
I work with some really cool businesses across the country whose values align with my organisation and have a lot of fun doing it. I think donors like working with me because I am different to who they usually see representing a charity. I bring a new perspective; I can connect with new audiences. It’s refreshing. Donors want connection, and organisations are missing out on a whole pool of potential new donors from communities of colour, who want to give, because they don’t have fundraisers in their teams who can connect with them.
More people of colour should become fundraisers; the fundraising industry would be more innovative and authentic if there was a diverse range of people sitting at tables where decisions are made. Leaders have their part to play and should be investing time and budget into transforming their recruitment processes, and taking the time to understand BAME candidates and the barriers that we face, where we job search, which recruiters will find us and what language can inspire us to apply.
The work that the #ChangeCollective is doing to reinvent the fundraiser sector and nurture staff of colour and attract a more diverse range of talent is hugely valuable in our sector. I urge everyone to read their manifesto for change, learn about the barriers that people like me face and do your part to create truly inclusive environments that give everyone a fair chance at success. I have always loved being a fundraiser, we inspire people to invest in social change and be part of a collective solutions to some of the most complex social issues of our time. We shouldn’t be afraid to speak about our past failures when it comes to equality, diversity and inclusion. In fact, we should be the ones showing other sectors truly inclusivity looks like. All it takes is honesty, humility and hope.