What do you do as Fundraising Advisor for the National Union of Disabilities’ Organisations of Rwanda (NUDOR)?
As Fundraising Advisor I build the fundraising and organisational capacity of each of the eight disability organisations that form the National Union of Disabilities’ Organisations of Rwanda (NUDOR). I help to identify potential partners, work with organisations one-on-one to develop fundraising proposals and deliver skills training and workshops.
Why did you get involved with VSO?
With seven years of experience fundraising in London I was keen to challenge myself to live and work abroad. Voluntary Services Overseas has a good reputation in the sector and when I investigated further I appreciated their simple model: they select people with experience in a relevant field and place them where those skills are needed. Volunteers do not fill a role, but pass on their expertise and build the capacities of the people they work with.
I knew that VSO would ensure I was based somewhere that my skills would make a long-term impact. Eight months into my 18-month placement I am still impressed by VSO and am enjoying working alongside NUDOR and its members.
Describe a “typical work day”.
Our day at NUDOR starts at 7:30am and, despite the early start, everyone takes the time to greet each other. This is my chance to practice my Kinyarwanda and my colleagues’ opportunity to laugh at the lack of improvement I have shown with Rwanda’s national language despite living in Kigali for eight months!
Then I get to work – providing feedback on the various applications and reports the member organisations are working on. I also spend time researching potential partners and sharing their details with the member organisations.
Mid-morning we stop to share tea and an amandazi (like a doughnut without sugar). We share what we are working on which helps me to identify where I can provide support and is another opportunity for my colleagues to laugh at my poor Kinyarwanda.
Most days I will jump on a moto to meet one of the member organisations and have a one-to-one mentoring session. Typically we will look over a funder’s criteria and proposal format and create a project together. The support each organisation requires varies widely so I prefer to provide tailored support in this manner but I have also delivered training to all the organisations where I have identified a common need.
Sometimes I manage to get out of Kigali to see a project in action – an important reminder of the true impact of the projects that I am helping to get funding for. Most recently this involved a trip to a rural area of Eastern Rwanda as part of NUDOR’s ‘Education for All’ campaign. The highlight was a theatre performance by Troup of Handicap Persons Twuzuzanye. This unique organisation of persons with disability performs drama to change mind-sets and demonstrate that disability is not inability. Seeing more than 400 people crowd into a hall, including in doorways and windows, enthusiastically cheering the performance was incredible.
How did you get to your current job?
I started in event fundraising. Whilst at university I organised a number of fundraising events and volunteered once a week in Refuge’s events department. Immediately after university I started as Events Officer with an international education NGO, Link Community Development, organising a mass hitch-hike to Morocco for over 600 students which raised more than £370,000 annually.
My move to The Food Chain, a HIV Nutrition charity, in 2009 was also one into wider fundraising – for the first time I was also responsible for individual, corporate and grant fundraising. My role continued to expand and I was made Fundraising & Communications Manager last year.
Eight months ago I decided to take the plunge and share the experience I had gained by beginning a VSO placement in Rwanda.
You have worked most of your career in the non-profit sector – why did you choose this route?
Attending the London School of Economics it sometimes felt like everyone was destined to work in the City, and I knew I didn’t want that! As trite as it sounds the idea of putting my time towards helping people was much more appealing.
You did a BSc in International relations and history at the LSE – how has it helped with your career?
My degree helped to give me an understanding of the many institutions involved in the development field. LSE is also a truly international place and it gave me a thirst for learning about different cultures and working styles, which has contributed to where I am now.
What are the most and least rewarding aspects of your career?
I love it when a big cheque arrives – (for the organisation, not for me)! When a proposal is successful I get a great sense of satisfaction knowing that a project can start, or continue, because of the work I have put in.
Conversely, it can be extremely disappointing being turned down by a potential funder. I have always worked in small organisations so there is a real pressure to deliver results to sustain projects. There are occasions when you really feel you fit with a funder’s criteria and interests and you still get a ‘no’ – that is tough.
What advice would you give to somebody who would like to do a similar job?
Don’t become a fundraiser if you don’t like asking for things – you need to be able to pick up the phone and sell an idea to someone. You will also hear ‘no’ a fair amount and you need to be thick skinned, but if that doesn’t put you off (!) then start volunteering / interning. You are unlikely to be offered something on a paid basis without some experience but there are lots of charities crying out for people to dedicate a day a week of volunteering to support their fundraising efforts.
What are the key skills that make you good at what you do? How did you gain them?
Fundraising is all about motivating people to want to help. Both my written communication and public speaking improved through practice. I have been extremely lucky to work for excellent managers who given me the opportunities and advice I needed to develop these skills.
Relationship building is another crucial skill in my role, and one that came naturally to me. I enjoy meeting people and was never afraid to ask people for their time or money!
Finally, you can’t be a good fundraiser unless you have a head for figures – which is where my maths GCSE comes in!
What is the toughest lesson you have learnt?
That I can’t do everything! As a fundraiser the only real limit on the number of proposals you submit or the number of events you hold is your time. It took me a while to learn that prioritising sometimes meant deciding not to do something, but recognising the opportunities you should not miss. I still find it difficult not to work too hard, but I am getting better!
What is the mistake you wish you hadn’t done?
I once worked on a large application, it was well over 40 pages, and at the last minute I slightly increased the budget of the project. Without realising it this change took me over the limit of the funder – this meant it was automatically rejected and I was unable to resubmit to that funder for another 12 months. It was a lot of work down the drain.
I now check and double check a funder’s criteria over and over again... and frequently share this story with the people I am working with so they can learn from my mistake.
What has been your biggest challenge and how did you tackle it?
In Rwanda I have faced a long list of challenges, to name just a few there are communication barriers, slow or non-existent internet, a lack of information sharing and a completely different approach to time keeping. I have found it is best to meet these challenges with patience and a sense of humour. If I got het up every time a plan changed, or something went wrong, or was harder than expected I would have given up by about week six!
What achievements are you most proud of?
I am very proud of some of the larger grants I secured to support The Food Chain, including the Big Lottery Fund, MAC AIDS Fund and City Bridge Trust. I am also very proud that I project managed the development of the current Food Chain website and how it would interact with our CRM – it wasn’t my area of expertise so I learned a lot very quickly!
In Rwanda, the slow but steady improvements I see in each application completed by the people I am supporting gives me immense pride. Small things like when someone starts to understand the difference between an activity and an outcome shows they are one step closer to being able to submit successful applications without any support.
Tina Sloane - Fundraising Advisor at the National Union of Disabilities’ Organisations of Rwanda
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