Without realising it at the time, I think my lightbulb moment was when I visited Northern India for a family wedding at the age of 12. This was my first time to the ‘motherland’ and for meeting close and distant relatives. At our first visit to my paternal aunt’s rural village, it transpired that the price of a video camera that our family had purchased for the trip was around the same amount that installing a water bore hole and tap in my aunt’s house would be. I remember finding it hard to believe that, for the same cost of a piece of electrical equipment, something so life-changing could be installed in someone’s home.
As a family, we paid for my aunt’s water supply and, having seen what a massive difference this made, somewhere deep in my psyche, I knew I wanted a career that would have a positive impact on peoples’ lives. Whenever that would be.
After moving to London in my twenties, I was fortunate to find a great recruiter who was committed to helping me find my ideal role within a charity. Given I had no sector or direct fundraising experience, it was a challenge! He managed to secure an interview for me for an office admin position at, what was at the time, Concern GB.
At this interview is where I met one of the many incredible fundraisers I have been fortunate enough to cross paths with during my career – Caroline Campbell (Or, Roberts, as she was then!). During the interview, I remember talking with Caroline about my experience in Northern India, and saying how much I’d love to make a difference in the field of international development.
As a result of our interview, Caroline took a punt on me, liaising with the Head of Individual Giving, Tobin Aldrich, to secure extra funding for a role on his individual giving team. That one act of Caroline believing in me, made such an impact on my whole career, and it’s something I’m incredibly thankful for.
When Concern GB underwent a restructuring governance process, it was another amazing fundraiser – Lyndall Stein – who encouraged me to make my next career move. It was her passion for the sector, and her belief in me – telling me it was “my time to fly” that helped me into my first “head of” role at Medical Emergency Relief International (MERLIN), where I developed the organisation’s first individual giving programme under the guidance of the fantastic Imogen Ward. As a result of the Boxing Day tsunami in 2004, MERLIN, as a charity, grew overnight, becoming a much bigger organisation, as donations for the disaster came thick and fast.
It was in my role at MERLIN where I first met my next brilliant fundraiser, the late, great, Margaret Bennett, who professionally mentored me and became a great support and ear over the years. Margaret, along with Imogen, had been instrumental in developing the business case for investment and accompanying fundraising strategy.
At subcommittee board meetings, Margaret stood shoulder-to-shoulder with me at what was a time of steep learning curves and sometimes-fraught meetings, offering support when it became clear that members were not always advocates of what we were trying to achieve, and by what means. Her academic perspective and expertise were uniquely balanced with the ability to know when a simple offer of a hug was the best tonic.
When I joined THINK, it really felt like I had come full circle. Whilst Margaret had retired, I was delighted to have the opportunity to work with the brilliant Michelle Chambers, who had supported MERLIN with some corporate fundraising consultancy, and is now my boss!
I feel very privileged to basically have been in the right place, at the right time, with the right people and to have met such a range of incredible (mostly!) women throughout my career, many of which I’m lucky enough to call my close friends today.
And that for me sums up the beauty of fundraising. In my experience, people and roles often come full circle, true friendships are often formed, and the sector really does have a self-supportive and peer-to-peer learning approach that results in a “big family” feeling of community that is unlike many others.