I’m a fundraiser because…

Written by
Damian O’Broin
Added
September 21, 2017

This article first appeared on Medium on August 25th 2017 and was the opening talk by Damian at the 2017 Ask Direct Fundraising Summer School.

My opening remarks at the Ask Direct Fundraising Summer School, Trinity College Dublin, 24 August 2017.

I don’t know about you, but I wasn’t supposed to be here.

This. None of this, was ever part of the plan.

You see I was supposed to be a scientist.


Graduating with my B.Sc.

I even have a piece of paper to prove it, and my name on a thesis in an esoteric area of number theory that barely makes any sense to me anymore.

That was the plan.

But life has a habit of getting in the way.

My Dad used to say that that as a boy his dream was to be an explorer and to travel the world. But then he got caught up in politics here instead, and never got around to going.

The furthest he ever got was London.

My Dad, Sean O’Broin.

My Dad was a cobbler, a bus conductor, a trade unionist, a republican, a gun runner, an Irish language activist, a political organiser and very nearly a monk (but that’s a whole different story!)

When I was a baby, we used to get anonymous threatening phone calls to our house in Tallaght telling us that ‘Reds aren’t welcome here’.

So I suppose it’s no great surprise that like my Dad before me, I got a bit distracted by politics too.

When I should have been focusing on Fournier equations and quantum mechanics I busied myself with protest, megaphones and occupations. I’d caught the activist bug.

Myself and Maxine Brady addressing an ESF grants protest, O’Connell St, 1991/1992

We can all look back and point to the moments of inflection in our lives, when we take a fork in the road and commit to a path that leads us in one definite direction. For me, that was a spring day in Dundalk in 1993, when I was elected Deputy President of the Union of Students in Ireland. That was it. There was no way back.

And ever since, in one form or another, activism, organising, and persuasion has been my lot.

Because for me that’s what fundraising is.

I don’t see fundraising as a neutral endeavour. Fundraising is my activism, my contribution to positive change. 

I’m a fundraiser because, today, in this country, there are 3,000 children who are homeless

I’m a fundraiser because two million people have fled for their lives from war in South Sudan to take refuge in neighbouring countries.

I’m a fundraiser because my mother died from lung cancer, and my Dad died from kidney failure.

Mum and Dad, Sean and Deirdre.

I’m a fundraiser because we’re sleepwalking into catastrophic climate change that will put everything we hold dear at risk.

I’m a fundraiser because I grew up in an Ireland in the 1970s and 1980s that was poor, grey, stifling and unequal, in a place that was abandoned, ignored and despised.

I’m a fundraiser because male violence against women continues to be routinely excused and downplayed.

And I’m a fundraiser because 30 years after my friends and fellow student leaders were threatened with jail just for printing the phone number of a non-directive pregnancy counselling service, women in Ireland still don’t have the right to access abortion when they need it.

Abortion Information Protest late 80s / early 90s

But I’m also a fundraiser because we’re closer than we’ve ever been to beating cancer.

I’m a fundraiser because I’ve seen the transformation a guide dog can have and the difference a week in Barretstown can make to a sick child.

I’m a fundraiser because my parents showed me, throughout their lives, the power and importance of caring, of community and of solidarity.

And I’m a fundraiser because I know the amazing potential and hope there is in bringing great causes and generous, passionate people together to make change.

And in these difficult days to be able to keep selling hope is a precious gift indeed.

These are my reasons. I’m sure each of you has your own basket of whys, your own spark for getting up every morning and persevering through the hard days.

I hope these few days make those sparks brighter.

But great fundraising requires more than passion. It requires excellence and mastery.

As fundraisers, we sit in that sacred space between donor and beneficiary, with duties and responsibilities to both.

Our work is far too important not to strive to be the best we can possibly be, too crucial not to insist on the best and most rigorous standards.

And that’s why the Ask Direct Summer School exists.

To share the knowledge.

To ask the difficult questions of ourselves.

And to move us all a little closer to the mastery that we must aim for.


Next week SOFII will be featuring a piece by a young fundraiser sharing what he learnt at the Ask Direct Summer School – stay tuned!

Did Damian’s story move or inspire you? Why are you a fundraiser? Please share your story with other fundraisers around the world working to make a difference.  Email joe@sofii.org

About the author: Damian O’Broin

Damian O’Broin

Damian leads Ask Direct, a fundraising and direct marketing agency based in Dublin. He helps charities understand, inspire and connect with their donors so that they can raise more money to do more great work. He’s passionate about doing fundraising better, treating donors better all with the goal of making the world better. 

He is a regular speaker at conferences, probably spends too much time tweeting and occasionally finds time to write the odd blog… sometimes even about fundraising. 

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