It has been many years since I’ve done something totally out of my comfort zone. Combine that with my personality, where I am most comfortable lounging around at home, reading a book or watching a movie. So, it took courage to encourage my NGO to pay for me to go to a networking event on their behalf. I don’t know the first thing about fundraising, but I do know that it is much easier to convince people of any proposition when you are face-to-face. They are much less likely to ignore you, or press “delete”. So, I believed passionately that if I could get in front of businesses, and talk about our cause, we would have a greater level of engagement.
My hope was to get the “Malaria No More UK” story out to a community of business leaders in the UK, who got “malaria”, because they had links to endemic countries where malaria is common. So, I was delighted when I spotted the “Winter Party” for an Asian business event in London. As the day approached, I started to get nervous. It brought back memories of those long forgotten days when I was single and going on speed-dating events. I would sign up with great hopes of meeting the special someone, but then dreading it as the day approached, imagining all sorts of horrible outcomes. Similarly, I arrived at the event full of trepidation – what if they didn’t want to talk to me, what if it felt really awkward, what if I had just wasted my time and precious NGO resources.
I walked in, grabbed a drink, and tried to figure out who to talk to. There were a group of people standing around chatting, and as I approached, one of them made eye contact. They looked friendly, welcoming, so I smiled and said “hello”. Yay! First conversation. I was on my way. Someone at work had given me a really valuable piece of advice – “Take your full-self when networking. You are just trying to make a connection”. So, I was bold, and told them I was a GSK employee, and volunteering with an NGO – Malaria No More. The fact that I had a “different story” – someone with a business background, working for a charity, I had their attention. One of the initial group was a lawyer, who offered to do “pro-bono” work for us. Another told me “You have the easiest networking job tonight; Who wouldn’t care about your cause?”. The latter then proceeded to introduce me to an influential individual within the Chamber of Commerce, who offered to promote our charity with their members.
Emboldened by how well it was going, I then approached many others. People shared their personal story about malaria, their own involvement with NGO’s, their passion for their roots, their desire to do some good in the world, their amazing achievements. By the end of the evening, I had several offers of help for the NGO – “pro-bono” creative help, fundraising by running a marathon, nomination as CSR partner for a firm, invitation to networking events, offer to help influence Government and business leaders internationally. I couldn’t believe my luck.
Someone had taught me that fundraising is all about “friend-raising” – and that night I made a lot of friends. And, the best thing, the only skills I had to employ was to be polite, listen to them and speak as if I was interested in knowing more about their life and be willing to share mine.
Do you have any interesting fundraising stories to share?
Photo credit: Dan Corbett, Ramshackle at the Asian Business Association Event in London