‘I am a fundraiser’ is a series of interviews with leading fundraisers form across the global fundraising community with one key point in common. They all started their careers as a face-to-face fundraiser.
In this series we will talk about their early days on the street or door and how those experiences led them to building a successful career as a leading fundraising professional. We’ll also be sharing our thoughts on the opportunities in face-to-face and offer advice, hints and tips to any aspiring fundraiser who is looking to follow a similar path.
First up we have Amnesty International Global Face to Face Specialist Gill Marshall.
Tell us how and when you got into fundraising?
I was at university in London studying law and there were fundraisers doing street recruitment for a F2F agency on our campus. I had never even heard of F2F fundraising at the time! But it sounded like a great summer job and so I signed up. I kept it up part time the whole way through Uni and went on to become a manager there when I graduated. I was 18 years old when I started – and 14 years later I am still in F2F fundraising.
I remember my first day really well. It was rush hour on the Strand in London, there were hundreds of people walking straight past me - I remember thinking that no one was ever going to stop!
Can you remember your first day or sign up?
I remember my first day really well. It was rush hour on the Strand in London, there were hundreds of people walking straight past me - I remember thinking that no one was ever going to stop! At that point I thought I wouldn’t even last a week in the job. But when I got my first stop, and even more so the next day when I got my first sign up, I was so happy. I remember that feeling and realising what a rewarding job, it could be.
What did you enjoy about the job?
At first it was the people. You become so close to the team you work with every day, and some of the people I fundraised with years ago are still good friends of mine now. And the people you get to meet whilst working. You get to have so many conversations with such a diverse range of people that you may never cross paths with, in your everyday life. And that feeling of signing someone up to a cause you really believe in is just amazing. I am more aware now than ever before of what a difference F2F fundraisers make for charities around the world.
Talk us through your first promotion to where you are now.
I started as fundraiser when I was at Uni and became a team leader the following summer. I loved learning how to motivate a team and helping newer fundraisers hit their targets. I remember being one of the only female team leaders at the time and wanting to encourage more women to progress in F2F. Honestly, I still hadn’t considered it as my actual career, and when I graduated, I thought I would continue fundraising for a few months until I made up my mind about what to do next. I then became a deputy manager for the London section, and went on to manage the British Red Cross in-house team before becoming Amnesty International UK’s National F2F Manager. Five years ago, Amnesty created this Global F2F Specialist role, and I joined the Global Fundraising team here. I absolutely love my job and am so glad I decided to continue with F2F fundraising.
Can you sum up your role as a global face-to-face specialist?
In short, my role is to support all our F2F teams around the world. Which means it’s a pretty varied role! We have 31 countries which rely on F2F fundraising, a mix of in-house and agency teams doing street, door-to-door and venue fundraising – bringing in hundreds of thousands of new donors every year for Amnesty International. I work with colleagues to secure investment for F2F programmes, launch new teams in countries we don’t have F2F yet – support optimisation of established programmes… and just about everything in between. Approximately 70% of all our new donors come through this channel, so it really is so important to Amnesty and enables so much of our crucial human rights work.
Even when under threat our fundraisers never gave up and worked so hard to recruit record numbers of new donors. They are some of the most passionate, brave, and committed fundraisers I have ever met.
Have you travelled to many places?
Sadly, not over the past year! But yes, usually visiting our teams around the world is an important part of my role. Although I must be able to provide support remotely, meeting our F2F fundraisers in person and going out to work with them is one of my favourite parts of the job. And so valuable. Whether it is fundraising at a train station in Mumbai, or on a street in Mexico City, you get to experience what our fundraisers do every day. See the challenges they face – and the differences between countries. I also love our skill shares where you get to bring together so many different teams in one place. Being able to travel and meet so many amazing people around the world is something I am so excited about being able to do again.
Favourite county or team you work with and why?
It’s impossible to pick a favourite! I am proud of all our teams for so many different reasons. But our team in India will always hold a special place in my heart. For a long time, they were our biggest in-house F2F team, and also one of the most resilient. Amnesty India faced so many challenges and attacks by the government for our human rights work. Even when under threat our fundraisers never gave up and worked so hard to recruit record numbers of new donors. They are some of the most passionate, brave, and committed fundraisers I have ever met.
What do you think Covid-19s impact on face-to-face fundraising will be?
The pandemic at times made it impossible to do our job. But looking to the future I think that some real positives can come from what we have learnt. Firstly collaboration – NGOs and agencies working together to get through it and protect our channel. This should be something that continues and really can benefit the entire sector. Also focusing on quality acquisition. This is of course something we should always be striving for, but it really highlighted the need to focus on quality over quantity to ensure F2F is producing the highest returns possible for the organisations we work for. And lastly our ability to be reactive and adapt quickly. We have never before had to change our way of working so urgently - across different subchannels, and even in areas completely outside of F2F. It really showed how capable, resilient… and just how amazing our F2F fundraisers across the world are.
Do you think your experience starting as a street fundraiser has benefitted you on your journey?
Definitely. I think to do this job it is important to have faced the challenges that our teams have - and the highs and the lows of being a fundraiser day in and day out. I am very proud to call myself a F2F fundraiser.
I know how important being a fundraiser is; without fundraising Amnesty International simply wouldn’t be able to carry out the life changing human rights work that so many individuals around the world rely on.
What advice would you offer to face-to-face fundraisers starting their first role in the sector?
You must work hard and learn resilience. F2F fundraising can be a tough job, and you have to work hard to get results. As well as taking a lot of physical energy it takes a lot of psychological energy too. Whether you are a new fundraiser, team leader or manager – you will experience ups and downs. I used to tell my teams that the sign of a strong fundraiser isn’t avoiding those dips altogether, but it is all about how you recover from them. And also try to enjoy it – because in my opinion it is the best job in the world.
After all this time, why are you still a fundraiser?
Because I love it. The job itself and the people I get to work with. I know how important being a fundraiser is; without fundraising Amnesty International simply wouldn’t be able to carry out the life changing human rights work that so many individuals around the world rely on. Our F2F fundraisers make this possible, and it’s part of my job to remind them of that – and make them feel like the heroes they are.
Amazing, thank you so much Gill for taking the time to share your thoughts and experiences with us for our first ever ‘I am a fundraiser’ feature. Your commitment and passion for fundraising is really apparent and I’d say the main reason you continue to have such a positive impact on the teams and people you work with! With such an organic progression throughout your career from a street fundraiser to now Global F2F specialist, I really think there will be many fundraisers who read this and relate to your journey and maybe identify where they sit on that trajectory. And of course, new fundraisers who will be inspired by the opportunities F2F can provide. Thank you.