Women Who Do: Corporate Fundraising Officer at a Leading International Homeless Charity
After managing fundraising and donor-related activities for the second largest repertory theatre company in North America, Aisling Shanley decided to move to a new continent to grow her career in corporate fundraising. After she moved to Ireland, she was offered a dream role within 3 weeks. She is now the Corporate Fundraising & Events Officer for Depaul, a leading cross-border organization focused on breaking the cycle of homelessness in Ireland. We caught up with Aisling to learn more about her passion for corporate fundraising, how she transitioned careers internationally so easily, and how she overcame her biggest career obstacles.
Q) You have a Bachelor of Arts degree in English and Psychology and a Post-Graduate Certificate in Public Relations. How did you become interested in Corporate Fundraising?
When I started school, I figured an English degree would leave a lot of doors open for me in terms of being able to go back to school for something more specific once I had finished my undergrad. I went back to school for a Public Relations certificate because I love to write. After graduation, finding a job in the PR sector where I lived (Niagara Falls, ON) was proving to be difficult. When I saw that the Shaw Festival Theatre was hiring an Individual Giving Fundraiser, I saw it as a great opportunity to work for a well-respected organization and grow my career. I was hesitant at first, but I fell in love with fundraising. It’s equal parts challenging and rewarding, but it gives you an opportunity to talk to people about something you’re passionate about.
Q) What advice would you give to someone considering a career in fundraising?
Everyone knows people don’t start working in non-profits to become millionaires, so you need to find joy in the work itself. Don’t start working for a non-profit if you don’t support the work the organization does. There’s nothing more rewarding than coming home from work knowing that the work you do makes a difference in someone else’s life. I’ve worked for both large and small organizations, and I get just as excited about a €20 donation as I did for a $10,000 check. It means your hard work has reached someone on a whole different level.
Q) How would you compare working in fundraising to working in sales?
People like to draw a lot of similarities between fundraising and sales, but they’re very different. In the most simplistic terms, with sales, let’s say you’re selling a black pen. You’d appeal to your audience by really highlighting the benefits of the pen, and what the pen can do for them once they part with their hard earned money. In fundraising, you’re essentially asking people to give you money for that black pen, but then you’re going to give the pen to someone else, who will be able to do great things with it.
Q) What advice would you give your 21-year-old self?
Don’t panic, you will find a job. Keep working hard, and put 100% of everything you have into your work. The major point I’d stress to myself is to be confident. It’s so easy to find yourself in the board room with people who have many years of experience, and feel very insignificant. The trick is to highlight your strengths to them, and stand behind what you say.
If you feel passionately about a certain decision you’ve made and people don’t seem to agree with you, go back, do your research, and come back with a really strong argument supporting your case. Not only will it gain you respect with your colleagues, you’ll grow to become better at your job.
Q) What have been some of your biggest career obstacles? How did you overcome them?
In Canada, my age seemed to really hinder my opportunities for advancement. It took a long time to prove to my department that I was capable of being a leader and managing a large portfolio. In situations like that, you just have to persevere and prove your worth. In Ireland, it seems to be the opposite, and they see the value of giving management opportunities to younger individuals.
The obstacles in Ireland fall more in line with public perception of charities. Charities in Ireland are currently under a lot of scrutiny in terms of transparency, and there’s a lot of mistrust among the Irish people when it comes to the work we do. It’s definitely been an adjustment, and it’s something I’m currently learning to adapt to.
Q) You transitioned from being Annual Fund Coordinator in Canada to Corporate Fundraising and Events Officer in Ireland. What advice would you give to others looking to work in a different country?
In your interviews, use your experience and reasons for moving to justify why you would be an asset to the organization. I was able to not only find a job within 3 weeks of landing in Ireland, but I had my choice between two different jobs. I was recently told after I was hired that it was the way I told my story in the interview that made them want me as part of their team.
I used my interviews as an opportunity to tell my story. Deciding to leave your friends, family, and life behind is a major decision, and employers love hearing your reasons why you would choose that. It makes you more human.
Q) What was it like transitioning from major gift fundraising for the second largest repertory theatre in North America to working for a nonprofit? What have you learned?
Early in my career, I learned the importance of finding out why people donate on an individual level. Once you’ve gotten to know your donors, you can appeal to them in different ways. Theatre is a passion, a joy, it teaches people life lessons. Currently in Ireland, homelessness has become an epidemic. The week I started work, 7,472 people were homeless in Ireland, the highest figures ever recorded. This changed my approach to fundraising.
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