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The path to compassionate fundraising

8 June 2020 at 7:30 am
Maggie Coggan
As the director of More Strategic, Martin Paul is using his fundraising and marketing skills to create a sector that is valued and compassionate. He’s this week’s Changemaker. 

Maggie Coggan | 8 June 2020 at 7:30 am


The path to compassionate fundraising
8 June 2020 at 7:30 am

As the director of More Strategic, Martin Paul is using his fundraising and marketing skills to create a sector that is valued and compassionate. He’s this week’s Changemaker. 

Like many fundraisers, Paul ended up in the sector accidentally. 

While backpacking across Australia, he picked up work as a door knocker for Greenpeace, and instantly fell in love with the challenging, fast-paced nature of the job. 

He realised that he could put his marketing and economics background towards a good cause, fostering meaningful relationships with donors to help them make a real difference. 

After working for a number of major charities, including the Cancer Council, National Heart Foundation and World Wild Fund, and putting together the successful Include a Charity Campaign, he turned to consultancy in a bid to reach more charities and help them create meaningful relationships with donors, and foster a culture of collaboration in the sector. 

For his efforts, he was awarded the Arthur Venn Fundraiser of the Year at the 2020 Fundraising Institute Australia National Awards.  

In this week’s Changemaker, he discusses fundraising during COVID-19, his advice on getting into the sector, and the one thing he would change about fundraising. 

What inspired you to get into fundraising?

My first professional job was in corporate marketing and I soon realised that I was really just persuading people to spend more than they could afford on things they didn’t really need. I then ended up on the journey of an English backpacker in Australia and started doing door-to-door sales for Greenpeace, and I loved it. I found it enjoyable, stimulating, challenging. And so when I returned to the UK, I volunteered for Greenpeace and then I was lucky enough to get a job with WWF. I don’t think most people ever intend to be fundraisers. A few do, but for most of us, it’s an accident. And for me it was this realisation that it was the best way I could contribute to changing the world because I didn’t have any skills as a frontline caseworker or a doctor, all I could do was use those marketing principles I’d learned to try and influence people’s behaviour.

Why did you make the move from working for charities into consultancy work 12 years ago?

I wanted to be able to help more organisations, and I wanted to be in a position where I could facilitate collaboration across charities. So I set up a campaign in my last job called the Include a Charity Campaign, which now has about 140 charities collaborating to influence people’s decisions about leaving a gift in their will. I really enjoyed that and I felt that as a consultant I would actually have more scope to bring people together on different projects, do the things that I was really passionate about, and drive more change in the sector than I could as an employee of one organisation.

How are you managing the challenges of COVID-19?

It comes back to a couple of principles that have guided everything I’ve tried to do in the last 30 years, which is to make evidence-based decisions based on data and insight. Over the last couple of months, I’ve set up a collaboration amongst a group of consultants, and we’ve recruited a group of charities to share all their data on fundraising results so that we can say this is what is actually happening rather than [using] speculation and informed guesswork. 

We’ve also sent out over a million surveys to donors because it’s important to understand why people do the things they do. If we’re going to help our supporters now in the situation that they’re in, we have to understand their needs to make a stronger connection. We’re also working closely with charities to try and keep the focus on providing excellent and outstanding support or experiences to their donors, so that they will build a stronger, deeper connection that will stay with them after this crisis. 

My sense is that most donors want to keep giving. But if they do stop, we’ve got to try and make sure that they come back, and we’ve got to make sure that we maintain that relationship with them where they understand how valuable they are to us.

What advice do you have for someone looking to get into the fundraising sector?

I would say absolutely do it because it’s the most rewarding and wonderful job. I feel incredibly fortunate to have discovered it when I was only 24 because I have met the most incredible people and have had some amazing experiences. I’ve travelled to Kenya, Ethiopia and visited projects all over the world. You just get to meet the most incredible donors and witness such humble generosity. 

I would also say choose your charity carefully and make sure you go to a charity where fundraising is not just tolerated but adored, and where people are proud to fundraise. Choosing an organisation that has a data-orientated culture will give you the opportunity to invest and thrive. 

And if there was one thing that you could change about the fundraising industry, what would it be?

For fundraisers to be more respected for the skills and professionalism they bring to the organisations they work in. I think too often people don’t really understand how scientific and demanding fundraising can be. 

I also think we as a sector need to show a little bit more respect to some of our donors. I think we have for too long been a little bit [of the mindset] “let’s just get lots and lots of people”, rather than getting the right people and treating them really well. I think fixing this issue of respect in both directions would be good. More respect and a bit more understanding in both directions would be fabulous. 

Maggie Coggan  |  Journalist  |  @MaggieCoggan

Maggie Coggan is a journalist at Pro Bono News covering the social sector.

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