Learning by doing

TJGrant Expectations

Hélène Pereira da Silva

Senior Fundraiser, MS International Federation, Certified by the UK Institute of Fundraising

helene@msif.org

April, 2015

A French and Brazilian fundraiser currently based in London, I’m a proud part of the MS International Federation team. We’re the only global network of nonprofits working to change the face of multiple sclerosis for people affected by this debilitating disease, wherever they live. www.msif.org

I looked through the window this morning and the Surrey Quays marina greeted me with its colourful inhabited boats and sleek all-white pleasure yachts. A familiar sight that reminds me every day of why I love my life in London. As I put some bread to toast I thought of the article I said I’d write for the GPA blog and felt myself slowly drifting back to my first months in the city a good five years ago, when a career in fundraising had started to look like a real possibility.

Having always enjoyed writing, grants fundraising seemed a good enough choice for someone with a multitude of short-lived experiences ranging from advocacy internships in Rio de Janeiro to Portuguese private lessons in the South of France and waiting tables in Soho, London. The best of the bunch had been a four-month fundraising internship with a small French nonprofit working with street children in Kolkata, India.

Following a few unsuccessful interviews I felt insanely grateful to be given an opportunity as a fundraising volunteer at Groundwork London. There my research and writing helped fund environmental projects involving communities in need. Two months later I was happily joining Breast Cancer Care, a UK-wide nonprofit providing information and support for people affected by breast cancer across the country.

In my time with Breast Cancer Care I learned to navigate a captivating new world populated by service delivery teams, finance managers and foundation administrators and trustees. It wasn’t long before an opportunity came up to look after a large multiyear grant from the National Lottery Fund –what a learning curve.

The experience taught me to put different hats on so I could not only efficiently communicate with donors about issues like changes of plans and delays in funded service delivery, but also keep an open channel with all the different internal teams involved in the project. Other grants followed and I ended up working with almost the whole organisation, for which I felt extremely lucky. As a foreigner, collaborating closely with teams based in London, Sheffield, Cardiff and Glasgow gave me so many new fascinating cultural insights.

When I joined my current organisation I sensed I was prepared for the challenges of a federation of nonprofits based all around the world. The key for me has been to explore how much more we can achieve together and, most importantly, to do the hard work needed to bring credibility and reality to this vision.

‘None of us is as smart as all of us.’ (Japanese proverb)