Risks are crucial to fundraisers' development, conference hears

Operation Smile chief executive says organisations should regard mistakes and failures as opportunities to learn and grow

Operation Smile
Operation Smile

Fundraisers must never be afraid to take risks, Dr William Magee, the chief executive of Operation Smile, has told delegates at the International Fundraising Congress in the Netherlands.

Speaking at the closing plenary session of the conference, Magee, whose organisation provides surgery for children with facial disfigurements, spoke about the things his charity work had taught him.

"If you’re not willing to take risks then you’re not willing to move on in any productive way," he said. "Challenge the boundaries of what exists today."

He said fundraisers needed to come up with concrete images that defined the abstract things the charity was trying to achieve.

For Operation Smile, this concrete image was a child’s face, which conveyed the way the charity took a child from hopelessness to possibility, he said.

Drawing on people’s emotions was also important, Magee said. "If we want to sell and have people buy in, we have to get a tear in their eye and get their emotions engaged," he said.

Magee told fundraisers that when things went wrong at their organisations, they should use it as an opportunity for improvement.

He recalled when Operation Smile received negative publicity that drove him and his team to review the entire organisation.

"We wouldn’t be the organisation we are today without that misery," he said. "When something goes wrong, don’t look at it like it’s the end of the world. Look upon things that are horrible as a gift."

- Read more news from the International Fundraising Congress 2010


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