Creating a future of fundraising
4 November 2019 at 8:26 am
As the fundraising manager of the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre, Alan White is bringing a fresh perspective to fundraising in a bid to solve some of the most pressing issues of our time. He’s this week’s Changemaker.
Starting out your career in the social sector as a fundraiser is a rare story.
But White, who got his first taste of fundraising as part of a university philanthropy initiative, saw that fundraising done correctly could create enormous social change and have a great impact on vulnerable people.
As a fundraiser, he is passionate about creating a sustainable sector that connects donors and social causes in genuine, empathetic ways, as well as bringing and mentoring a younger, more diverse generation of fundraisers into the game.
In his role at the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre (ASRC), he has grown the organisation’s fundraising levels 40 per cent year on year. In early 2019, he was named Fundraising Institute of Australia’s young fundraiser of the year for his efforts.
In this week’s Changemaker, White talks about what led him to fundraising, the challenges the sector faces, and what he wants to achieve in his career.
When did you first see fundraising as a career option?
When I was at university studying to be a lawyer, I became involved in an organisation called the Student Philanthropy Council. The idea behind it was to create a connection between philanthropy and the student and alumni body.
It was when the council started to create vouchers for students in need, funding things such as laptop vouchers or bookshop vouchers for students that I was really inspired to get involved in the sector.
A student had applied for a laptop voucher, but they didn’t want a new laptop. All they wanted was $70 to replace their laptop charger and battery. When they got the voucher they were really emotional that we’d been able to do that for them, and it was then that I decided that I didn’t want to be a lawyer. I wanted to work in the charity space, and work in philanthropy and connect people to this work and get a feel-good feeling out of it. It’s been a constant feel-good feeling ever since.
What are some of the biggest challenges you think the fundraising sector faces?
Having gone from university straight into philanthropy, and then into working for a large international organisation, to a hospital foundation, to a really grassroots organisation like the ASRC, one of the challenges is that there are so many good and valuable and competing causes that are asking people to support their work. Coupled with that are varying levels of trust in the sector by the general public and potentially some level of confusion over where they should invest their money, whether it be $5 or $50,000.
So I think one of the challenges that I’ve experienced is making fundraising less transactional and more aspirational and actually being able to measure that. That means measuring the impact your brand has on people’s lives and on donors and connecting deeply to that work so that it’s not transactional, but it means something more. I’ve started to see a shift in the sector from fundraising being solely about data, to being data that is then complemented by actions and behaviors that then influence people’s future giving.
Retaining good staff in the sector is also a big challenge. I’m really passionate about having more young people engaged in the sector and seeing it as a career choice and a profession they feel proud to be a part of from the moment they leave university. If we can overcome this challenge, our sector will continue to grow and flourish.
What would you say you like most about your current job at the ASRC?
I get the chance to do things a little bit differently, to take risks and challenge traditional ideas of how giving can exist. And it doesn’t mean we’ll always get it right. It means that we get to push the boundaries of what’s possible. I look at the fact that we’re a really digital first organisation, as opposed to following some of the more traditional methods of generating revenue. I also love that our brand really supports our fundraising activity. We’re really outspoken and our fundraising is impacted by that. I think sometimes organisations can be hamstrung by the ability not to speak out on issues they care about, whereas we are quite fearless in that way.
What does an average day look like for you?
I get in a little earlier than the rest of the team so that I can map out what the day looks like. I will then meet with my team to see how I can best support them and what their needs of me are for that time frame, and what I need from them.
I will then meet with staff from other departments, such as the marketing team to update each other on what’s going on. I find it’s a really great way to build a culture of openness and accountability.
And then my day will generally be blocked out for hours where I’m doing some strategic reporting or approving people’s work or planning future activities while the team actually works on the current appeals. This ensures that we’re always one step ahead of the game and we’re always focusing on something new.
When you’re not at work, what do you like to do to relax?
I don’t have kids right now, but I have a French bulldog. I love taking my dog to the park and just literally sitting down and decompressing. I take a book with me, and I let him run around with other dogs at the park which is great, I love seeing him so carefree and happy.
I’m also pretty obsessed with my gym at the moment. It’s been a great way to make friends, stay healthy and it gives you a complete outlet away from work.