Stephen George

Education is all about dreams – make this the heart of your fundraising strategy

Here’s a question: how do you convince alumni to who may be decades removed from your school to pledge their hard-earned pounds to your cause? Education is all about dreams, so make sure that is right at the heart of your fundraising strategy. So says Stephen George, a fundraising and leadership coach with over 30 years’ experience helping charities to raise more money, including s development directors at the NSPCC. People give because they are moved and inspired, he says, so get emotional and tell stories that evoke emotion. These insights and more are explored below in an interview with the fundraising guru.

What’s your number one piece of advice for anyone hoping to fundraise in the education sector?
Do not be shy of emotion. People give because they are moved and inspired. Education is all about dreams, hopes and possibilities, so make sure that is right at the heart of your fundraising strategy. When you are asked to fund-raise but can’t move people emotionally, it won’t work — so get emotional and tell stories that evoke emotion.

Also, be more upfront and straight about legacies. Education is the most natural territory for a legacy conversation, so I would advise that when you fundraise or start to fundraise in education, [sell the legacy angle] — it will make a huge difference to your cause and the donor.

What’s the most valuable lesson you have learned throughout your career?
Invest in finding your personal purpose and values — then align and use them. It’s a game changer in raising money. I have also learnt that when a charity focuses on the ‘what’ and ‘how’ rather than the ‘why’ and ‘the problem’, it becomes much harder to connect with donors, and to do your job and be happy.

What was the most memorable gift you received and why?
A large gift during the NSPCC Full Stop Campaign. Too many people had given up, said that the potential donor concerned wouldn’t give, that they had the wrong motives, and that it was too difficult. In the end the donor gave generously. The team I worked with had patiently put the donor first, hadn’t judged and found the spark. It was a great example of taking time to understand and connect with what the donor wanted and satisfying that need. All too often, we get consumed with ourselves and we need to remember it’s the donor who is the hero. Make them feel it.

What do you love most about your job?
Having worked for over 30 years in the sector for large, small, local and international charities, I now love the variety and challenge of being a fundraising coach and helping people and organisations grow, find confidence and succeed. I think that the time I spent working directly for charities at all levels, gave me valuable perspective and experience. Today, I find that people want to find a balance between experience and innovation. I don’t ever feel I’m not innovating or creating solutions, but I am doing so with experience and that’s a great mix for me. I also get to travel a lot and that’s a real bonus.

How did you first get into the fundraising sector? What motivated you?
By accident. I wanted to work somewhere where I felt I belonged and was doing something worthwhile. I had worked in retail for a while and one day I saw a fundraising job advertised in Community Fundraising for the predecessor of Scope. As soon as I got it, I knew I’d found the right place and purpose and that was it for me. I was very lucky. Since then, I’ve worked at some amazing charities and with amazing people. It’s often been tough, stressful and challenging but never dull.

Why did you decide to take the leap to work for yourself?
I’d had 30 years working for charities which had given me a huge reservoir of experience. I felt I had a chance to use that in a different way and have more control over my time and what I did. I also knew there were lots of opportunities internationally, so I made the leap. I felt I was old enough to know enough and young enough to use it, and it gave me an opportunity to work for myself which I’d always wanted to do. Often a career has set paths, which include a path to retirement. That’s a view I don’t subscribe to, so I made the leap at the right time to add a sort of portfolio of work that includes projects, learning, travel and some products and tools I have created. It gives me variety and choice and I get to keep on doing the things I love.

Stephen George works on global legacies strategies for international NGOs, runs a leadership and coaching programme, and is a global speaker, writer, podcaster and contributor. He has spent over 30 years in the sector, including as Executive Director at Action on Hearing Loss and as Director of Fundraising at Maggie’s Cancer Caring Centre’s in the UK. He was also Head of Regional Fundraising at UNICEF and is a former Vice Chairman of the Institute of Fundraising.

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