Fundraiser of the Week: Ian Vallance of Smile Train

The director of fundraising at the charity that helps to provide cleft lip and palate repair surgery to children in developing countries talks to Third Sector about advice, resilience and which fundraisers he admires

Ian Vallance
Ian Vallance

How long have you been in your role?

I joined Smile Train as UK director of fundraising in September 2017, but I’ve been a professional fundraiser for almost 20 years now.

What is the most challenging aspect of your role?

I think any job that doesn’t involve challenges would become boring pretty quickly. The fact that Smile Train is an international charity with team members based all around the globe, in different time zones, can prove to be a logistical challenge at times, but we always manage to make it work.

Do you think fundraising has changed since you have been involved with it, and how?

I think it has changed in many ways, but mostly for the good. In some ways fundraising today feels more difficult, but I think that only serves to make us more determined at what we do. It’s safe to say preparing for the General Data Protection Regulation was a challenge for all of us, but anything that ensures we take our donors’ personal information very seriously is a very good thing in my eyes.

What did you want to be when you grew up?

An astronaut.

If you could have any superpower, what would it be?

The ability to magically transport myself, instantly, to faraway places without the need for long-haul air travel. Also, to need less sleep than I do in order to function well.

How did you get into fundraising?

I suspect like many people did – completely by accident. I was working as an usher at the English National Opera many years ago, and the then head of development asked me one evening if I’d ever considered a career in fundraising. I very clearly remember saying: "Not really. Why, what does it involve?" The rest is history.

What do you think is the biggest challenge for the sector in the year ahead?

I think uncertainty about the potential impact of the GDPR on income will keep everyone on their toes.

Would you like to see more done to support fundraisers? If so, what?

Actually, I think there are plenty of support networks already in existence. Some of the best advice I’ve been given has come from colleagues in the sector who have first-hand experience.

What’s the best piece of fundraising advice you’ve ever been given?

When it comes to making difficult decisions, trust your instincts. They are usually right.

What qualities do you believe are important in a good fundraiser?

Patience, resilience, attention to detail and a good sense of humour are essential, as is a genuine passion for the cause. If it’s not there, keep looking until you find it.

Which fundraiser do you most admire and why?

There are many, but the late Dame Jane Tomlinson CBE, who raised almost £2m through a series of incredible athletic challenges while she was suffering from terminal cancer, is a particular inspiration.

Nathan Abbott, one of Smile Train’s amazing fundraisers who was born with a severe bilateral cleft lip and palate, is also a true inspiration. He has raised thousands of pounds through various sporting events and activities while still going through clef treatment and follow-up surgeries.

What do you think of the fundraising levy?

I think a little more consultation will help aid better understanding of where the money goes and encourage those charities that choose not to pay it to think again.

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