Damian O’Broin opened the 2017 Ask Direct Fundraising Summer School in Dublin with this inspiring reflection on a life redirected. I felt you’d want to hear it, too.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
I think all of us in this room, know that.
And in these difficult days, to be able keep selling hope, is a precious gift indeed.
These are my reasons. I’m sure each of you has your own basket of why’s, 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.
Reprinted with Damian’s permission. Delivered August 24, 2017, at Trinity College Dublin.
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