Fundraiser focus with David Burgess

Episode aired August 12, 2021: Fundraiser Focus

Can anyone become a fundraiser? David Burgess of Apollo Fundraising trains fundraisers but also helps non-fundraisers to become fundraisers for causes that are close to them. In this episode David discusses 

  • what fundraisers should focus on (hint: it’s not the money)
  • the impact of stories on donors AND staff
  • 3 characteristics all fundraisers should possess
  • why you should turn an ask into an invitation
  • tips for making a successful ask and
  • why NPOs requiring a university degree in job listings should stop it. Now.   

Below you can listen, watch or read this podcast episode.

Ephraim: Welcome to this edition of the Your Weekly Dose of Nonprofit podcast, the podcast that delivers actionable items you can implement at your organization right away. I’m your host Ephraim Gopin of 1832 Communications. Today I’m really happy to have with us an experienced fundraiser, trainer, strategist and nonprofit smartie David Burgess. David, how you doing today?

David: I’m feeling a lot better after that introduction. That’s made me feel really good about myself.

Thank you. I’m not too bad. I am  recovering from the football which perhaps didn’t go the way we wanted, recovering from seeing some pretty horrific aftermath from that but also feeling slightly more positive because in the face of that, seeing the support and particularly I think it’s been great watching how some of the England players have come out and responded, taking on the government, taking on racists and just being unashamedly proud of who they are, what they represent as they have throughout whole tournament. For anyone that hasn’t been following the football, that’s a football reference and based on the fact that I’m based in England, yes. So it’s given me hope out of the despair. And there’s always a World cup next year.

Ephraim: Okay, so on the whole, balanced.

David: Balanced, yeah.

Ephraim: Alright. So let’s introduce you to our listeners, watchers and readers.

David Burgess is a fundraising consultant and trainer, specializing in supporting arts, culture and heritage organizations to achieve their fundraising goals. Before moving into consultancy, David worked for an orchestra, a theater and two opera companies in the UK. His consultancy journey started with Bernard Ross and Angela Cluff at the Management Centre before he set up his own company, Apollo Fundraising, in 2016. David works with cultural organizations of all shapes and sizes. He’s currently helping to build a better home for a 100-year-old rhino, supporting the home of the UK’s leather and fetish archive, building a brand new 400-year-old library and helping acrobats to swing from the roof of an old church. Outside of his consultancy work, David is co-chair of the Chartered Institute of Fundraising’s cultural sector network. He also leads the non-graduates welcome campaign.

Can Anyone Be A Fundraiser?

In today’s episode, we’re going to discuss fundraiser training. Let’s dive right in. David, can anyone be a fundraiser? 

David: Can anyone be a fundraiser? I mean I think so much depends on how we define what a fundraiser is. So I would say anyone can get donations. Everyone out there could go out and get money from someone, some grant making body, some company but I don’t think that’s the same as being a fundraiser.

I think that fundraising side of being able to do it sustainably, to be able to do it ethically, to be able to manage a large number of relationships at any one time I think is a really special skill and I don’t think that’s something that necessarily anyone can do or anyone would want to do. But I think the profession is so wide, there are so many things that fall within fundraising- major gifts, legacies grants, grant fundraising, corporate events- they all take some different skills. So I think it’s a wider profession than we sometimes assume and I think there is definitely space for more people to come to the profession that aren’t currently considering it as a career choice and I think there’s definitely a lot more we can do to open those doors and really help people to see that this is an amazing place to work. It’s an amazing thing to get up in the morning and support nonprofits in this way.

But I perhaps wouldn’t say it’s something that necessarily anyone can do, because there are skills that are required that not everyone necessarily has or wants to develop. I think that thing of managing multiple relationships is the key one and being able to do it sustainably, because it’s not enough just to go out and get money from one person or one organization and that be the end. That ability to build meaningful relationships with people and to do that with multiple supporters at the same time, I think is a really special skill.

Building Confidence As A Fundraiser

Ephraim: Okay. So let’s follow up on that with today’s actionable item. Non-professional fundraisers may consider fundraising to be daunting and even a little scary. You train non-fundraisers to become confident and excited about building relationships. Please share with us three things you teach people that will that would help them build that confidence.

David: I think one of the things that makes it scary is we focus on the money and in doing so, we sort of put these supporters up on a pedestal in the wrong way and we differentiate them from other people that care about our work. I see this quite a lot in the arts and culture sector. You’ll often have conversations with people who say well, we can’t focus all of our time on our supporters because we need to be focusing on our audiences or our visitors. And you have to say, but they’re the same thing and also most of your supporters are people who are attending your shows. They are your best kinds of audience. They’re your most loyal audience, your most engaged audience and trying to frame it back so that you don’t see them as, you know, people with money, people who care about our work and then being two separate groups saying actually they’re a subset and we’ve got to start focusing on the fact that not only are these people who love what they do the people that want us to succeed, they want to see our organizations do well in the arts and culture sector. That’s often because they have a vested interest in that. They want to be able to attend the shows, attend the exhibitions.

But even across the wider nonprofit sector, they want to see us achieve our missions. They want to see those changes that we’re there to try and achieve. They want to see those changes in the world. So it’s not about the money. It is about the fact that they really do care. You’re finding those people who just get what you do, who really want to see you succeed.

I think one thing we can do that makes that a bit easier is to collect stories. So we talk a lot about storytelling in fundraising and how telling stories can bring our organization’s work to life, it helps us get our message across to people in a way that’s compelling, in a way that’s emotive, in a way that drives people to take action. But collecting stories have an impact on us as fundraisers as well and actually spending time just to remind yourself why your organization exists and the positive difference you make just has that unbelievable mood boosting effect. The more you can sort of remind yourself of those stories, remind yourself the difference, remind yourself why you’re doing this helps you when it comes to go to talk to other people or writing to other people or having to sell that mission, that vision, to other people. Because it just inspires you, it just lifts you up and says, this is why I’m doing this. This is why my job is important. This is why this conversation is important.

So it’s one of the things I do quite a lot at the start of strategy projects is one-to-one interviews with staff and I just get them talking about their job and asking them about their most memorable day at work or the moment that made them realize this organization was for them, getting them to reflect on those stories. And often we’ll try and put in place some mechanism where all staff across the organization can share those stories. There’s steady stream of stories coming into the fundraising departments that you may never use in an appeal or in a fundraising proposal but just that constant reminder of the difference you make makes such a difference.

And I guess the other thing that can make it slightly less daunting, I think this is particularly true for smaller organizations where you might only have one person looking at fundraising or one person where fundraising is part of their job description, is to say don’t feel you have to do it alone. Fundraising should be a team sport. It’s a team game. Bring in other people to those conversations. If it’s a face-to-face meeting with a potential supporter or donor, don’t feel it just has to be you. Find someone on the front line who can add a different perspective than you can bring or look at the skills, look at what you can bring to the table and find other people that complement that.

The same with proposal writing, the same if you’re approaching corporate supporters, potential corporate partners. Don’t feel that all of that burden sits on your shoulders. And I think we often see that a lot. Particularly with smaller organizations, if they’ve got one person responsible for fundraising, everyone else goes okay, we can pan that off on them. We don’t have to think about that now. But actually when it works best is when the whole organization says, we can play a part in this. We might not necessarily be the right person to make that ask, might not necessarily be the right person to write a proposal or write a pitch, but everyone can feed in at some point within that supported journey. Everyone has got something they can bring to the table that no one else in the organization can bring. So the more we can get used to seeing it as a team event that just happens to being led or being managed by one person or one team of people, again, it shares that pressure and it means we’re bringing that full skill set into that process as well.  

Ephraim: Excellent. I believe the song goes ‘you will never walk alone.’ Sporting reference, English football.

David: Yeah, I’m an Arsenal fan so I couldn’t possibly comment on that. Not this year, maybe next year. But Liverpool fans everywhere will be applauding.

3 Characteristics Fundraisers Should Possess

Ephraim: Fantastic. So let’s talk fundraisers for a second. What are three characteristics you believe all fundraisers should possess?

David: I think the key one is being inquisitive, being curious. Having that inbuilt desire just to find things out and not feeling that you have to find these things out. Just genuinely wanting to get to know a person, getting to understand how they think, what they want in life, why they care about your organization and that I think focuses on two bits. It’s focusing internally, being inquisitive about what else is going on within your charity or within your nonprofit. Those bits that you might not necessarily know about because again, it’s amazing how many times there are fundraising opportunities hidden away that you haven’t been told about because it’s not part of a strategy. But it takes something to say, you know what? Have we thought about pairing this potential donor with this project because that sort of seems like the thing they’d like. That only comes if you start asking those questions or if you start exploring what else is going on within the organization.

And obviously being inquisitive when it comes to understanding donors, understanding what motivates them, what inspires them, what excites them, what they hate, what they’d change about your organization or about your mission if they could. And that’s not necessarily saying go out and change that just because the donor says so. But it might align with the change that you want to make anyway. Perhaps there’s potential there. So yeah, I love people that just ask questions all the time, who want to know why, who wants to know what and just sort of get out there and really sort of just want to appear behind the curtain of everything and just see how things work and what’s going on. So I think that’s a really important skill.

I think the ability to be inspiring is important as well and I’m going to steal this one from Julia Ammon who’s a trust fundraiser here in the UK. We did a conference session recently on things that you see all the time in fundraising job descriptions and actually how they can present a barrier. And Julia talks about the one that I think is probably in every fundraising job description ever, “must have excellent communication skills.” Julia makes the amazing point it’s not particularly inclusive because if you are someone that stammers or stutters or if you’re someone who’s deaf or has a hearing impairment, actually that might affect your oral communication skills.

But also excellent as an end point isn’t really what we’re looking for. I think as soon as soon as I heard Julia say “actually it really isn’t” and Julia makes the point, our job is to inspire people. That’s what we want and I think her words were “stop chasing excellence because it doesn’t exist.” Let’s focus on what we really need. We need people who can turn that data, those raw facts into a story, into a narrative, into a message that’s going to inspire people to take action, into a story where they can see themselves in it. They can see why they should be part of that story, why they’re needed and understanding that we’re trying to inspire lots of different people. But ultimately it is about inspiring people, even if you’re applying to a trust, to a company. It’s not a faceless machine making these decisions. We’re trying to inspire a real life, living 3d person on the other side of it. And I think the other one is being open to change. Our profession requires us to be flexible and partly that’s in how we respond to the conversations that we have with supporters and with potential donors and understanding that what we think we know about them actually might not be right. It just takes one thing in a conversation for that whole plan that we had in our head of where this relationship was going to go completely in the other direction.

But also I think we make the mistake within our profession of relying on how things have always been in terms of the approaches we use to fundraising, in terms of all of the things we’ve just said about who can be a fundraiser, in terms of inclusion, in terms of the impact that our work has on our mission. I think we’re constantly finding that the ways we’ve previously done things actually aren’t necessarily the best or at worst could be causing harm and I think that ability to say, well we’re not going to take that approach that well this is how we’ve always done it or this worked last time, so it will definitely work this time. That ability to keep learning, to keep understanding all aspects of our job and the impact it has on different parts of our communities and making change even when it’s scary, even when it feels like we’re going against the perceived wisdom that we’ve built up over all these years and decades of our profession. I definitely want to see more of that both in the day-to-day but also thinking bigger picture in terms of how our profession, how fundraising sits within the nonprofit world and within the communities ultimately there to serve.

Ephraim: If you listen to David’s answer which I really liked- all three of those- but David touched on my two favorite hashtags which are: #AlwaysBeLearning and #AlwaysBeTesting and those are two of those three characteristics fundraisers should possess. So your answer was at least for me exactly what I was thinking and you got it.

David: I’d love to say that I embody that all the time and I certainly know that’s not been the case throughout my career. There have been times where I haven’t been open to change or I have relied on what’s worked in the past and yeah, it’s certainly not an easy space to occupy and particularly if it means going against that perceived wisdom or feeling like you’re that only person. Actually I’m not. Everyone else seems to be thinking we should get that. I’m not sure about that. I think we need to look at a different way or I think we need to dig into this more. I can’t say I have a 100% perfect record on that but it’s that aspiring to, as you say, to keep learning, to keep testing and not just to keep testing but to respond to that and to try and understand why are we getting this result, why does this seem to be working in this situation but not in this or why did this work last year but isn’t working now, to guide those decisions and make those informed choices.

The Ask

Ephraim: The goal is always to aspire to be better and continue day after day. That’s the goal. Let’s talk now another group that you work with, fundraisers just starting out. The ask can potentially be one of the most intimidating and overwhelming parts of the job. Given your experience in the field, what tips and best practices would you share with new fundraisers so they’re ready to ask?

David: It’s always interesting that the ask is the bit that makes people nervous, isn’t it? Because one of the things I say quite a lot in training is actually, if you’ve done all the bits before the ask right, the ask is the easy bit. So why don’t we get as nervous about that relationship building, about that trying to take someone on a journey. Because if you get that foundation in place, if you work with each potential donor decision, what is it they need to know, what is it they need to feel, what is it they need to think about the organization, what do we need to know about them to make sure that we’re giving them the right opportunity, that should be the bit that’s terrifying, because that can go in all kinds of directions and because that’s a sort of two-way street. You’re not necessarily in control of that.

This is the hard thing with fundraising that only gets a say in it as well, isn’t it. They can derail all of your finely made plans in a second as we’ve just said. But I think one of the things I always find helps me, because again I’m quite an introverted person and even now I still get nervous when it comes to making the ask. But changing the perception of it and thinking about what you’re offering, seeing it as an invitation rather than an ask, I think really helps and so what the pinned tweet on my Twitter profile at the moment is an image saying, “your case for support should be an invitation.” Whether that’s an invitation to fight for something or be part of something or change something or enable something. What am I inviting this person to do or this company to do, this trust to do, that they want to be part of and think of it as going into that meeting saying, I’m here to give you something, to give you something you want, to give you a chance to meet that need or that motivation that you have.  

I think partly that gets over this mindset of haves versus have-nots and again this idea of putting people with money on a pedestal just for the pure fact that they have money. But it eases that as well. If you go in… we feel more comfortable when we’re giving things away than when we’re perceiving to take something from others. Because ultimately if you’re giving someone the right opportunity, it should be win-win. It isn’t the situation where one person comes out of that meeting poorer than the other. If you’ve given them the right opportunity, I think the more we get into that mindset of saying if this goes well, we will both come away with something that we want and we need, I can get over that I guess.

The other thing is practicing apparently just by doing it a lot and getting that experience, seeing what works and what doesn’t but also practicing making the ask before you go into that meeting. Working with a colleague to practice saying things outloud so that the first time you hear those words isn’t when you’re stood face to face with that donor, with that trust or that company. Part of that is practicing how you’re going to make that ask but also then how you’re going to respond in different scenarios. So working out what are the questions they might come back with, what are the different ways they can respond when we make that ask and what will I do in that situation. So again it’s ensuring that you’re not then sort of scrabbling for answers or feeling flustered. The more time you can spend saying how might this go, what are the different scenarios we might face and preparing for that and again, practicing those answers outloud, is going to make it a lot more comfortable when you’re in that moment.  

Non-Graduates Welcome

Ephraim: Excellent. Excellent answer and anybody who’s just starting out or even if you’re a fundraiser for years, it’s still good practical advice, especially that practice part and figuring out the different scenarios that could happen so you’re prepared to go. You’ve been very active on Twitter with the “non-graduates welcome campaign.” Could you tell us about this campaign and what your main objectives are, i.e. what change do you want to see take place in our sector?

David: This is something we’ve been doing for about two years and it came about when I was researching job descriptions, fundraising roles, here in the UK and I kept seeing this one requirement over and over again, which was educated to degree level. And this isn’t just a UK problem. I went through I think it was about 48 hours worth of job postings on the AFP careers Twitter post which was something like 35 jobs, 33 of which required a bachelor’s degree for someone to be able to do that job.

Access to higher education is not a level playing field in any country. There are so many barriers that people face and it’s easy to think about the financial barriers, the high cost of going to university, of getting a degree. But there are so many things that can happen to people at early stages of their life that mean that that’s never an option.

So for example here in the UK a government report recently found that disabled people are far less likely to go to university. They’re far less likely to complete university and if they do complete, that they are far less likely to get higher grades because of the barriers that people face during their time at university. People with caring responsibilities, people who had children and during their teenage years before the age of 20. People from family backgrounds that require them to be out earning in order to sustain their family. People with illnesses or experiencing illness in their life. People experience homelessness, people experience care, people experiencing the death of friends or family. Just this huge range of reasons that means university is never in the cards and I looked at this thinking, why are we saying someone has to have a degree in order to be a fundraiser? For start, how many of the people we’re asking for money have a degree? We’re saying it’s okay to give money if not got a degree but asking for it, that’s a different thing. And the more I looked into it, the more I realized actually this is a major problem because it’s discrimination, it is classism. There is nothing that is consistent across every degree program in every university that means that you can guarantee that someone coming out at the end of it has a specific set of skills.

So doing a degree yes, you might have to do a lot of written work, it might mean that you’ve got written skills. I did a music degree. The majority of my course material was either writing music or playing the trumpets. My younger brother has a first degree from music college and did almost no writing at all. Yes it might mean that you’ve got research skills or leadership skills or problem solving skills. But none of these things are unique to doing a degree, to going to university.

So we’ve created this barrier that there is prioritizing one route into the sector, even though we know access to that route isn’t the level playing field, even though we know the people who are currently underrepresented within our sector, within our profession don’t have equal access to that route and yet we keep adding it to job descriptions without thinking.

So we’ve been challenging organizations saying, what is it a graduate will bring to this role that nobody else could possibly offer? Why is the degree essential? Why is the degree even desirable? Why are you saying that if you’ve come through this route you are more desirable than someone who’s had to overcome adversity, hardship or just chose that they didn’t want to do it? If we keep saying we want to make fundraising a profession that people choose, so what does that mean for someone who gets to the end of college and says, you what? This is something I want to do when there isn’t a degree course. There are certainly many degree courses for fundraising. Why are we saying no, you have to go and do three or four years at university, at great expense, in a completely unrelated subject before we’ll look at you?

Over the course of the two years we’ve spoken to people who had experience of charities earlier in their life, I just knew this was what I wanted to do but now having gone straight from college into working in fundraising, I’m finding I’m blocked out from career progression or from certain jobs because they demand a degree, despite the fact I’ve been working in the sector three to four years longer than I would have done if I’d gone through that higher education route? So this isn’t about saying there’s no value in a degree. This isn’t about saying that university isn’t a valid way into the sector. It absolutely is. As I say, there are those secondary skills that people can develop at university that absolutely have a part to play in fundraising. What we’re saying is that this shouldn’t be the only routes. We shouldn’t be holding this up as saying, if you didn’t come in this way, you are less welcome within our profession. It’s about opening the doors, rather than sort of locking out graduates.

So we’re calling on organizations to think much more about what is it the skills you’re looking for and being really clear about that. A degree doesn’t help you if what you really want… so the degree doesn’t help you as a recruiter, if what you’re really looking  for is written skills. Asking to see proof of that or giving applicants the chance to say this is how I’m going to demonstrate that I’ve got written skills, you’re getting a much better reflection of that person. Because let’s say I graduated gosh 14, 15 years ago, so if what you want from me now is proof that I’ve got written communication skills, there’s a huge amount more that I can bring to the table and use to demonstrate that than the one or two essays I wrote while I was at university. If what you want to see is problem-solving skills or research skills or commitment to a cause- we’ve had that one come up a couple of times- I’ve got a three-year-old daughter. I mean I would argue that is demonstrating more commitment to a cause than going to university.

Other people might disagree but by empowering applicants to say, let me make the best possible case I can as to how I’ve got the skills that you’re looking for, we’re opening up the profession and we’re getting better quality applications. And because this isn’t the time to be limiting the number of people that can come into fundraising. The next couple years are going to be really difficult for our charities. We need more people working in this space, not fewer. We need to be opening the doors wider. We need to be making sure that those communities that are underrepresented within our charities, certainly compared to the communities we’re working with, we need to address that balance and by prioritizing a group that has that imbalance, that has that exclusionary part built into it isn’t going to help us achieve that.

Ephraim: I see you tweeting about the campaign. Not only do I think it’s an excellent campaign because it’s needed, I think also because it’s just and there’s more people in the profession, more diversity obviously helps us and that barrier hurts the overall sector. I think that you harping on it, on as many job descriptions that you see and telling organizations change this, you’re bringing about good change for the sector. And you know what? We need more people like you yelling and screaming about these things. So that’s why I wanted to bring it up in the podcast. That’s why I wanted people to hear about it, because I love the idea behind it.

David: Thank you. I think that’s one of the things that’s been really important over the two years is the number of people who’ve come forward, talking about their own experience of people who either by choice or by circumstance didn’t go to university and talking about the impact that it’s had on their career.

And for me that sort of really helps inspire me and sort of fire me up, because we do spend a lot of time publicly challenging charities and nonprofits who use that partly because, certainly within UK law and within U.S. law, asking for unspecified generic degree qualifications we believe constitutes indirect discrimination.

So here in the UK we have the Equality Act because access to higher education isn’t a level playing field and because people from certain protected characteristics are far less likely to have been able to go to university. So we do challenge it quite a lot and I think that often makes people feel uncomfortable. We’re here to do good. Why are you having a go at us? And you think yeah I would rather not spend my time criticizing charities, but I feel far less bad about that than I feel about when I hear those stories from people who have been affected by this. I care much more about them, so if that means that we’ve got to make a bit of noise, if that means we’ve got to make some charities feel uncomfortable about continuing to use that, then no, it’s not ideal but I would rather do that than see that level of discrimination, see that exclusion continue.

I think it’s quite a sad indictment actually that over the last years, we’ve tried making the rational argument that this is good for inclusion and obviously people see the public stuff we do on Twitter and through various social media platforms. We spend a lot of time emailing HR departments, working with recruitment agencies behind the scenes in the UK. I’ve lost track of how many coffee meetings I’ve had with various recruiters to talk about it, speaking at conferences and events, writing blogs and articles for various publications about it. We’ve tried that making the case of why it’s right for inclusion and charities keep dragging their heels on it and say, oh yeah, well we can’t change it this time but maybe next time we recruit for that role. Maybe we’ll change it then. So for all they say about valuing inclusion and trying to make their organizations more diverse, that argument about why this is right for inclusion doesn’t have as much traction as publicly calling them out.

I think it is a sad truth that more charities are more motivated by protecting their brand and their public image than they are to make their organizations more inclusive. And if that means that we’ve got to put pressure on that public brand by calling out that discriminatory practice, by calling out the impact it has on people… because sadly we’ve seen that be far more effective in getting people to change and I wish that wasn’t the case because I hate what that says about the sector and I hate that that’s how I’ve got to spend my time. Yeah, I would much rather be focusing on fundraising and writing tenuous fundraising blogs and stuff like that.

Ephraim: Sometimes the sector is its own worst enemy. As long as you’re in this to make change and this is good change, so continue. Don’t stop.

David: A simple change, a really easy change and I think that’s one of the things that is frustrating. This should be something that’s really easy to get rid of, because it adds no value. It is purely there because too many people within organizations equate university with the right kind of people.

Let’s Learn More About David

Ephraim: Alright. Moving from that very serious topic… let’s move on to the lightning round and learn more about you. What got you started on your nonprofit career path?

David: So having come off this rant about degrees… I had a degree. I went to university. I studied music but I realized I was never going to be good enough to make a career out of performing or writing music or musicology. But I found it was the bits behind the scenes I was really interested in. So I went to work for an orchestra up in Manchester here in England, working in their community and outreach departments on an internship and sort of a couple of months into that, a job came up in their fundraising team. I thought that sounds interesting and I was mainly thinking that’s a paid permanent job, whereas what I’m doing at the moment is unpaid and only for six months. So I thought I’ll go for that. Ended up getting that job, to focus on trust and foundation applications for the community work I had been delivering and just found that was the bit I really enjoyed. I liked the problem-solving side of it. I liked the creative side of what we get to do as fundraisers and just felt this is what I want to do. So I went from there into my first full-time fundraising job at a theater.

Ephraim: Fantastic. Given all your experience in the sector, if you could shake up one thing in the nonprofit world, what would it be?

David: Assuming that we’d fixed the whole non-grads thing, I think there’s… I’ve been reading a really really interesting book around the fight for, the fight against inequality recently and I think you mentioned just now the sector can be its own worst enemy. Often it’s people protecting the status quo and that feeling that well, we want change but not like this. This isn’t the way to do it. And how many times have we heard that and I think that is actually just as damaging. I mean I’ve certainly heard that a lot over the two years. I support your campaign but please don’t use our platform to do it or please don’t use this group. Please don’t call my organization out publicly and all that is doing is because people feel uncomfortable and I think getting used to the facts change comes when we feel uncomfortable. It takes us to feel uncomfortable for that change to to set in. So I would like to see less of that.

Ephraim: You’re part of an orchestra. What instrument do you play and if you could, what other instrument would you like to learn to play?

David: I’m a trumpet player which is quite cool. It’s quite a versatile instrument. I play in an orchestra here in London and they do great stuff. It’s nice because it’s very laid back and I’m very pleased that I do it as an amateur, rather than as a professional because it means we can have drinks during rehearsal and it’s a nice social thing. If I could play any other instruments… so my little brother is a drummer and does that professionally and that always looks fun. There is always a little bit of me that’s gutted I didn’t take that up. I would be useless at it. I have absolutely no hand-eye coordination at all and you need to be able to get both legs and both hands moving in different ways. But I get excited when I get to go and do conference sessions to 2000 people and he’s off doing arena tours to many more people. 

Ephraim: One hobby you enjoy that people don’t know about.

David: What do people know… That’s a really good question. I mean I guess one that perhaps a few more people do know about because it’s what I’ve started doing during lockdown, is making cardboard animal masks. I’d normally do this up in the office and be able to see them behind me but it was too noisy up there today. But I was looking for something during lockdown that was away from the screen, because I realized I was spending all of my working day sort of looking at the laptop and just going downstairs and putting the TV on and all of my life existed around these screens. They’re great. You print out the designs, you cut and fold them and you can make these sort of sculptural animal masks and it’s a great way to kill an afternoon. I’ve made about 20 and I’ve been told in no uncertain terms there is no space for any more in the house. That is it. So I’m actually on the lookout for a new hobby. So if anyone’s got any suggestions…

Ephraim: Excellent. Hit David up on twitter with your ideas.  David, favorite part about life in the UK.

David: I love the cultural life here in the UK and obviously I think that’s a natural because of the work I do. We are blessed with a very vibrant and very diverse cultural offering in terms of performing arts, in terms of visual arts and I like that there is a sort of rebellious side within that sector as well. So we’ve seen quite a lot of pressure recently and from the government in terms of what stories can be told and what can’t be told and it’s great to see how the sector responds to that, often it’s in a very playful way. I think that’s something people in the UK do quite well. I think it’s like being mischievous and sometimes it goes too far but yeah, that ability to sort of laugh at ourselves and use that, as a sort of way of bringing about change I really like as well. And pubs, yeah. I’m a big Real fan and so very lucky that we’re on it, we’ve got some wonderful sort of traditional pub serving traditional beer.

Ephraim: I like it. I like that answer. Alright, lastly let’s turn the table. You get to ask me one surprise question. I have no clue what’s coming. Go ahead.

David: I’m interested to know if you could go back to a job, so with everything you know today, all the skills you’ve got today, if you could go back to a job you had in the past and do it again, what job would you choose and why?

Ephraim: I would go back to 2007. March 1, 2007. I was 35 and I was appointed as the CEO and fundraiser of a small nonprofit here in Israel. The nonprofit itself was right along the lines of what I wanted to be doing, because it was with kids. Specifically this was the first inclusive nursery in kindergarten in Israel, where kids with disabilities and without disabilities were learning in the same place and that didn’t exist. This was the only one of its kind and so professionally, I had made it to CEO where I wanted to go.

We were talking about university education. I have a second degree also. I have an MBA from Boston University and I always wanted to put that into the nonprofit sector and here I had the chance. Plus I was going to be fundraiser, which I enjoy doing. When I was a fundraiser, I know what a pain it is for all of you out there. I get it. But I there is a part of me that enjoys that building relationships. I love that aspect of it. So here I had the chance to come in and be CEO and fundraiser and run things the way I wanted. So I would absolutely 100% go back to that job.

The end result of it was not great. They unfortunately- and I’ve discussed this publicly, so I’m not saying anything that nobody could find out on Google- they had a hole that was much deeper than I knew about and because of that, you can raise a lot of money and fill that hole but the next day the hole goes right back to where it was, because you still have salaries and consultants and people you pay for delivering food and whatever else it is. Unfortunately it didn’t last as long as I would have wanted because of that hole and so that was the end result.

But if I could go back, in two seconds. It was for me professionally and personally and just there was a sense of pride of being able to say I’m the CEO of this institute, this organization. And it wasn’t just… like I said, every organization does something great in the community. This one was having great impact in teaching kids we are all the same and there is no difference between a child with this disability or a child without a disability and to me, that just spoke to me from the first second I was in there.

The other issue which is kind of the person who founded it. She brought me in and working with her was just the best. You get that opportunity to learn from somebody who’s been in the sector for 20, 30 years and just become a vacuum and take in everything they say and everything they’ve learned and that’s… that was another part of the job that just spoke to me beyond any other job I could have found, because I had that opportunity. So in two seconds… nobody should think this was a matter of a power trip because I was CEO or anything like that. This was just professionally I’d hit some kind of top of the mountain but this was just more. Again, I love to learn and the ability to just work with this these kids and help this organization for me can’t be beat. I honestly… I had reached what I wanted to get to in the sector, so that’s where I go back, not even a question.

But that’s an excellent question. Thank you. Brought up such a good memory just now from 14 years ago. I really… I appreciate that question because I’m not just smiling outside but also inside, because it’s just it’s a wonderful memory for me and a wonderful experience. So kudos. Thank you sir. I appreciate the question.

David, thank you very very much for appearing on the podcast. I encourage everyone to connect with David on LinkedIn, on Twitter you can find him at @DavidBurgessFR and I encourage you also to go learn more about his work at David, it was a pleasure learning from you today. Thank you.

David: Thank you very much. Great to see you.

Ephraim: Have a good day.

David: And you.