Harpreet Kondel - Fundraising Consultant, HCH Consulting

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Harpreet Kondel

Harpreet Kondel, Fundraising Consultant at HCH Consulting tells us about her inspirational story and her fundraising journey.

A career inspired by my childhood

Growing up, I was always charity-minded and did lots of fundraising throughout school. I’m old enough to remember that, during Harvest Festival, we would all be asked to donate food to school, and then we would personally deliver the parcels to the homes of the elderly. I remember the joy I felt when they opened their front doors and watched their eyes light up when we handed them their food parcel. I also enjoyed listening to the life stories which they often shared, as many were lonely, and it was nice for them to have someone to talk to.

At the age of seven, my family life was turned upside down when I suffered the traumatic loss of my mother in a car accident, it was a huge shock and her death left behind my siblings and I aged from 8, 7, 3 and 9 months. The devastation this brought on the family cannot be underestimated and my father, who was drinking and driving at the time of the accident, has been plagued with this awful guilt all of his life.  As siblings, it didn’t even occur to us to blame dad for the accident, instead, because of our upbringing, we showered him, and each other with love, kindness, care and compassion.  We also learned years later that social services were threatening to take us into care and my father fought tooth and nail to stop this.

There are so many lessons from loss, and one of them is that, as siblings, we all have an intense sense of empathy for others - this is the legacy of loss. This period also taught us about survival and resilience which are characteristics that have served me well throughout life. You need plenty of resilience to be a fundraiser, but don’t let that stop you!

I was quite a shy child, but when mum passed away, we all had to step up and work in our grocery store. Serving the customers in our shop (which I did from the age of seven) taught me a few things, like the importance of customer service, the art of conversation and how to count the correct change in your head as the old-fashioned tills didn’t work it out for you (a skill that has stayed with me!)

First memories of fundraising

As a teenager in 1984, I was very shocked and moved by the famine in Ethiopia and the subsequent Live Aid fundraisers. I also remember my dad getting his cheque book out and sending £51 (why £51 you might ask? In our culture if you give someone money you always do it in denominations of £11, £21, £31 etc., it is considered to be auspicious) in response to the appeal. This was by no means a meagre amount as he was a bus driver and, as an immigrant, he was still regularly sending money back home to his family in Punjab whilst supporting a family of five children.

During Live Aid, I decided I would like to be an aid worker and help people in need. Of course, as I grew older reality set in, and it soon became clear I was quite squeamish and could not possibly do the job of an aid worker well. I felt very privileged years later when I met the Red Cross Nurse Claire Bertschinger who drew the world’s attention to Ethiopia’s devastating famine and inspired Bob Geldof to organise Live Aid. (https://www.redcross.org.uk/stories/our-movement/our-history/five-formidable-women-who-shaped-the-red-cross)

A career that I love

I came to study at Goldsmiths and ended up staying in London after I graduated. From 1990-92 the UK was in recession with the housing market in freefall, so when I graduated the job market was non-existent, and I had a loan that I needed to pay back.

I took any job that I could. I sold advertising space in publications, I managed fulfilment in a mailing house for Land Rover, BT and Penhaligon’s and, at the same time, I took an evening job that required me to call charity donors and ask them to give a regular donation via Direct Debit to their chosen charity.

This was the beginning of my fundraising career.  It was during these telephone calls that I put into use the skills I had learnt as a child, customer service and the art of conversation, and I learnt a new skill - the importance of listening. I enjoyed this job so much that I quickly became very skilled at it and was reserved to call the ‘high value’ donors. I remember one day I was thrilled to get a £10,000 donation over the phone. And the rest, as they say, is history.

I raise money to help those in need whatever the cause - children, elderly, animals, the sick etc. As a consultant, I am often asked if there are causes that I would rather not work for and my answer to this is no, because otherwise, who is going to raise money for the underdogs?

Throughout most of my career I have rarely had the opportunity to meet beneficiaries, but I don’t think this has held me back from fighting their corner. Just reading their stories can bring me to tears (I am a bit of a crier!) and motivate me to do my job well.

I do a job that I love, and, as a result, I hope to leave the world in a better place than I found it – this is what I want my legacy to be.

Overcoming personal challenges and addressing inequality

There have been many challenges throughout my career - I can say with confidence that I am probably one of the longest-serving BAME fundraisers in the UK. When I started out, many of my peers came from good white, middle class backgrounds and yet here I was, the daughter of an immigrant who went to her local comprehensive and then managed to get a degree. Talk about imposter syndrome - I don’t think there was a name for what I was feeling at the time. But I have never let this hold me back (although there have been promotions and jobs I believe I have missed out on because of the way I look) and if anything, I have used my lived experience to be the best fundraiser I can.

Like many women, I have suffered from sexual harassment, bullying and racism in the workplace. In addition, I was living a double life dealing with very specific cultural challenges that impacted on my day-to-day work life. Throughout my 20s and early 30s I was under immense pressure to have an arranged marriage and was constantly asked to come home to meet the latest suitor. Having grown up in a western culture I was adamant that I was not going to have an arranged marriage, but it took all my effort to deal with the emotional blackmail (bringing shame on my family) I was enduring as well holding down a full-time job, in a very busy agency.

I do think it is important to focus on the positives and I think navigating race and gender bias has equipped me with the skills to be agile and flexible. I have a zero-tolerance approach and I am a passionate advocate of diversifying the sector so that it better reflects those it serves and roots out these negative behaviours. The lack of diversity does hurt charities - the best performing organisations are those with a diverse workforce and there is plenty of evidence to back this up.

Championing fundraisers

In terms of the poor reputation of fundraising in the organisations I have worked in, it has been a slow burn and it has taken time to change this view. I have no doubt there are still charities out there today who view fundraising negatively.

Fundraising cannot succeed in a vacuum, it needs to be championed right from the top of the organisation. When I talk about fundraising, I am also referring to the database managers, data analysts, supporter care staff, the donation processing teams etc. because, without them, fundraising would just not happen, they too, are often overlooked. Too often, fundraisers have low morale, which makes sense if you do not feel valued and supported by your charity. I believe the key to success is building relationships with operations staff, colleagues, SMT and trustees and of course celebrating every little win!

At St John Ambulance where I am a trustee, I made a commitment to myself that I would not be like an arm’s length trustee but instead value my fundraising team, support them and champion them at board level.

Fundraising is a skill and must be valued, organisations must respect and listen to their fundraisers.

A word of thanks

One person who had made a big impact on my career is Simon Robinson. He gave me my first job at Pell and Bales, and then took me to work with him at the British Red Cross. He is a brilliant leader - kind, thoughtful and yet so modest. He taught me what it is to be a good boss and, throughout my career, I have tried my very best to emulate him. He now runs specialist fundraising and strategy consultancy, Capidale.

Why fundraising brings me joy

Professional fundraising is all about the lives we have helped to change for the better. Charities support people in the darkest moments of their lives so, what job could possibly be more worthwhile? I have been a fundraiser for 30 years and I could not have chosen a more fulfilling profession - thanks to everyone that has been part of my journey, I can’t wait to see what the future brings.

This Percicles quote sums up for me what being a fundraiser is about: “What you leave behind is not what is engraved in stone monuments, but what is woven into the lives of others.”

Harpreet Kondel
Harpreet Kondel
Fundraising Consultant, HCH Consulting
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