So you think you’re in control?

After the last few days it is clear that nature rules the world and man can think whatever he likes, but he will never reverse that situation! As one of estimated 150,000 Britons abroad when the volcano erupted I faced the shock realisation that there was literally nothing I or anyone else could do to find a flight back to the UK, so after believing things would improve for the first couple of days it dawned on me that I had no option but to define a new plan, be creative, use all the resources I had available and move into action as quickly as possible.

I was meant to return home on Sunday and eventually made it back late on Tuesday night, forty eight hours of displacement that included fifteen hours of car travel (not in one single journey!), one and half hours of coach time, two hours of train time, forty minutes in a London taxi and finally sixty minutes in my own car! Quite an adventure, but I must admit the strategy was always to enjoy this, hopefully, once in a lifetime challenge.

It was a strange feeling three days into the eruption to realise that, at that point, there literally was no end in sight and the continual deadlines for improvements came and went. Despite being with friends I felt quite isolated and began to feel the need to connect back to home; I thought at the time about the feelings I was having being a microcosm of the feelings a refugee must have, especially when they have no options. Several fundraisers used the web and social networking sites to raise funds for real refugees and to raise awareness of how they must feel when their situation is a thousand times worse.

Interestingly by now I started getting emails and texts from different companies taking advantage of the situation to highlight remote conferencing, accessing my pc remotely, what my phone could do to help me, how my credit card company was waiving cash point fees, etc. But not one communication from a charity despite being on numerous lists as a donor. Where were the refugee/humanitarian charities? Where were the environmental charities and anyone else who could find a link to the unfolding situation across Europe?

At almost every presentation I give I highlight the lack of speed, creativity and opportunism in our sector and sadly this was borne out in the last week, WHERE WERE WE??? I realise many people were struggling to find a way home but there were also many people I talked to who were quite chilled and determined not to be distressed or upset in any way. Like me, they had time to reflect and would have been responsive to a charity message, not necessarily a financial ask but certainly food for thought on global issues/challenges and the things in life we take for granted.

I started my journey home from Spain, a country I have grown to love, but one where I do not speak the language and it was clear that I needed to ask for support from good friends who know the country well and could quickly advise on the many ‘escape route’ options. It was tremendous to see how everyone asked was willing to help or offer advice. It made me think that we spend hundreds of hours trying to develop new fundraising products and strategies but how much energy to we put into consulting our donors, asking them what they want and above all listening constantly for clues. You’ve heard all this before but once again the commercial sector now sees ‘crowd-sourcing’ as a run of the mill marketing technique (i.e. asking and mobilising you customers and potential customers). Without local knowledge, networks and insights I would certainly still be in Spain. People enjoyed helping and there was a great spirit of co-operation with everyone you encountered on your travels. How much do we make sure people enjoy giving and enjoy helping? Bringing joy to the donor doesn’t get enough ‘air time’ in our thinking, yet in this crazy world this is one of our key commodities and charities are one of a limited number of things that can offer this to people.

In the planning to get back I quickly realised how lucky I was to be in a position to resource any of the viable options we identified. Sure it was expensive but I wanted to get home and when the opportunities arose to meet that need I simply took them and reviewed the cost afterwards. This makes me think of charities that set goals to grow their donor base, the loyalty of their donors and the net funds available to fulfil their visions, yet when they do discover fruitful ways forward they are often hampered by limited investment funds or reluctant boards who exercise excessive caution and ultimately ensure that fundraisers miss opportunities. Many of the largest fundraising charities in the UK can attribute their current position to times when opportunities were identified and things were then resourced properly and fully to take maximum advantage of an opportunity. Even though we are officially in ‘recovery’ not ‘recession’ too many fundraising operations are struggling from expenditure cuts, lack of investment and recruitment freezes, all short term thinking responses.

So a few points to consider, but let’s end with a celebration of a man who did make things happen, my old friend David Dixon; realising that he was stranded he reviewed his options but decided to stay put on the basis that in a week’s time he had to be back in Madrid, but in addition to helping everyone else with local knowledge and contacts he launched a ‘Refugees4Refugees’ Campaign. Here is the email that worked its way through his networks and contacts:

Well what a situation! A group of volunteers who came together in Madrid – invited by Daryl Upsall and Tony Elischer, who now find ourselves stranded by volcanic ash over Europe – so now we are refugees! in a strange country no way of getting home …. and away from those we love – but in our group the resourceful and imaginative David decided that we need to make something positive out of all our inconvenience and hassle. But of course we are not real refugees; we have contacts, choices and resources. So David suggested that as we are all going to be very much out of pocket, with cars to hire (if available) hotel rooms (if available) extra food (if available) then at least let’s turn that into funds for those who are genuinely refugees who really have to endure so much who really are so far from home, so lonely, often so afraid and with so few contact, resources and choices.

We know the Zimbabwe Association. Many of you heard the wonderful Stella last time at the International Fundraising Conference in Holland and she is one of those wonderful volunteers who exemplifies the best of human efforts.

 So we urge you to go to our special webpage: and donate generously to the Zimbabwe Association, like we did and will further. Our status of ‘refugees’ will be very temporary. We’ll manage to get back to where we belong. But the real refugees have no such luxury and need your help right now.

 We all – Per, David, Lyndall and Jaap, here in Madrid – urge each and everyone who is also stuck right now somewhere in the world, being a temporarily fugitive, to realise this is an excellent occasion to think about the problems of the real refugees, in all parts of the world. This is the time for action and help people who really are in need, many of them for far longer time than us and under far worse circumstances.

Go to and donate.

Once a fundraiser always a fundraiser and it was an honor to go to this page and donate ….. I feel good!!!

Categories: Community Fundraising, General Fundraising

Resource Type: Blog

Posted by Beccy Murrell

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