A 90 Year Old Volunteer’s Generosity of Spirit
17 May 2012 at 11:10 am
National Volunteer Week: Fundraising Epidemiologist, David Zerman tells of his unexpected encounter with a 90 year old “volunteer” whose words he remembers every day.
In 2000 whilst working as the CEO of the Victorian Section of the RFDS I was at a conference where I unknowingly and accidentally met a then 90 year old man when he asked “do you mind if I sit here?” in a room full of vacant tables at a Los Angeles hotel.
Looking up, I saw an older man aided by a walking stick sit down as he joined me. As he started talking I thought that my table companion sounded like a combination of Henry Kissinger and Arnold Schwarzenegger with his very distinctive Austrian accent.
He started a series of rapid fire questions.” Who are you? Where are you from? Why did you come to this conference? What do you do? Tell me about your education? What family do you have? Tell me about your daughter? What does she want to do? What professional development do you undertake? Tell me about your organisation? What is its mission? What is your strategic vision for its future? How do you strategically plan activities? What volunteers do you have? What do your donors value? Why do your volunteers help so much? How do you measure the organisation’s results? Do your Board Directors make significant financial contributions in addition to their time?” On and on the questions continued.
As I responded to each of his questions, this man, whose name I still did not know, would add an insightful comment or thought.
“I’m a volunteer and like speaking to people” was the answer to the only question I managed to ask to ask him during our 90 minute very one-sided discussion.
I told him about my career as a professional fundraiser where I have led and been part of teams that have initiated and undertaken fundraising programs for significant organisations in the Australian community. In response to further questions I told him about my voluntary community involvement, which, I added was so typical of a large cross section of the Australian community.
I told him that in my then role as National President of the Fundraising Institute Australia I was encouraging Not for Profits to adopt what I call the TEACH Principles of Fundraising.
I explained my definition of TEACH to him.
Transparent: Charities must be transparent in their fundraising activities if they expect ongoing community support.
Ethical: At a time when a charity’s supporters are expecting appropriate and high standards in business and politics it follows that the same applies in the not-for-profit sector.
Accountable: Fundraising is about seeking community financial support for worthwhile projects. It is not about building up large $ reserves or spending community money in inappropriate ways.
Community focused: The mission, vision and values of an organisation must focus on delivering some significant benefit to sections of the community they work in.
Humanity benefiting: All organisations need a reason for their establishment and continuation in the community.
This is where that man’s response to my TEACH Principles has as much relevance for challenges facing fundraisers in 2012 as it did in 2000.
“Fundraising is about people, logic and common sense, it is not rocket science. It is about connecting people to the organisation and ensuring its relevance to these supporters,” he told me.
It was then that a conference official came up to him and said “there you are Peter, I was looking for you to take you to the plenary where you are the guest speaker.”
It was at that moment I realised I had enjoyed the generosity of discussion with Peter Drucker, the internationally acclaimed “father of modern management,” author of 39 books in 30 languages who had probably forgotten more about not-for-profit (as well as for profit) strategy, leadership and management than most people will ever know in their lifetime.
Until he died about 4 years later Peter Drucker was charging his commercial clients $50,000+ an hour. Someone later told me at the conference that “Peter likes speaking to people in the Not for Profit sector and sharing his experiences and giving them ideas.”
I unexpectedly and most luckily obtained some mentoring/insights/words of encouragement and direction from Drucker himself. For others many of the answers can be found in two of Drucker’s easily obtainable books Managing the Non Profit Organisation and Management Challenges for the 21st Century.
Why didn’t I know it was Peter Drucker? It was not until after his death that he allowed his publishers to put his photo on any of his books.
As we move further into 2012 fundraisers are probably worrying about the impact of the local and international economies on their fundraising bottom lines. Approaching the start of the next financial year fundraisers should actively continue, and in some cases, start engaging their community and corporate donors/supporters through creative, innovative fundraising that follows the mission, vision and values of their organisation and incorporates the TEACH Principles.
“It’s not the economy or donor fatigue – it’s a lack of understanding about donors.” Drucker’s words ring more loudly than ever before.
Every day I think about my “volunteer” friend Peter Drucker and his generosity of spirit. In 2012 and beyond, fundraisers can only blame themselves and not the generosity of the Australian community if they don’t achieve their organisation’s fundraising targets. Fundraisers need to engage more with their donors and volunteers.
You never know what an unexpected conversation with a donor or volunteer might result in.
David Zerman is a Fundraising Epidemiologist and CEO of Possibility International. He can be contacted on 0418 346 999. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org