Some closing remarks: more on fundraising legend Guy Stringer
For many years the closing remarks at the International Fund Raising Congress (the gathering of professional fundraisers from around the world that takes place each year outside Amsterdam, in the Netherlands) were delivered by Guy Stringer, formerly director of Oxfam, one-time senior executive with a major manufacturing company and now one of fundraising’s most eminent and respected gentlemen. He has more experience of and insight into the power and potential of fundraising than most of us will ever achieve. For many years Guy was chairman of The Resource Alliance (originally called the International Fund Raising Group), the not-for-profit organisation that runs the International Fundraising Congress.
Guy had a single purpose in the few minutes he occupied on the platform at the end of each year’s Congress. As he addressed the several hundred delegates, who had just survived three intensive days learning at the frontiers of the art and science of their profession, he sought to remind them of the larger purpose of being there. Techniques and skills are limited without a clear purpose, he told them. To remind fundraisers of what it’s really all about Guy used to recount some stories from his own long experience. His purpose was to send the delegates off with their spirits soaring and sights set high. He invariably succeeded, because he knows what makes good fundraisers tick.
With Guy’s permission I’ll relate two of his stories here.
Who am I?
‘So round we went and to my astonishment there were little collections of people sitting round hurricane lamps on the groundand I said to the sister, “What are they doing?” She said that the young patients were teaching the old people to read and write. And so they were – with the children saying, “No granny, you don’t do it that way but like this”. The only things that Oxfam had provided were the slates, the chalk and the little hurricane lamps.
‘The deduction from this of course is that if you are to be concerned in trying to help the poor, the handicapped and the deprived you must be totally involved. You must try to project in what you write and say in your advertisements and public addresses the courage of the people, their determination to advance the lives of their families, their responsibility one to another and you must never at any time undervalue them.’
Flying a kite
‘I visited one with about 200 families and hundreds of tiny children. It was a classic demonstration of the ability of women because the place was immaculate. I would have got it in a muddle in five minutes flat. There was only one small piece of land open to the sky which was surrounded by a very high wire fence. The children congregated in masses on this tiny piece of playground – the only bit of open air to be found. And they were making paper kites with newspaper, little bits of stick and some string. But of course if you fly a kite you need wind and you need some space and the children found it extremely difficult to get their kites off the ground. The result was that the big wire fence was simply covered with battered kites.
‘Eventually I left to go, walked out into the road, looked up and down – it is always wise in El Salvador to see who is about – and walked down the road to turn right at a corner at the bottom. Before I did I turned round and looked up and two little kites had cleared the fence and were lifting up jerking bit by bit into the dark blue sky. Some people would say that this is just some string, a bit of newspaper, some little sticks and two little boys, but in fact it is more than that. It is a triumph of the human spirit over the grim environment in which so many dwell.
‘You came here to learn about fundraising and will have learned much about new techniques and skills in your time here. I hope you have enjoyed it, but do not forget that techniques and skills themselves are limited. What you must do is to stand up and encourage and develop a vision of a new society in which all of us may dwell in peace and harmony.’
More than a job
Fundraising is more than a job. In the right hands, it is a powerful force for change and while that change is under way it should be an inspirational beacon of hope. Fundraisers have good reason to be proud of their profession.