Five minutes with … Peter Dalton FFIA CFRE

Peter Dalton is one of Australia’s most successful fundraising consultants. In this interview, he talks about his career, including his new venture with James Garland and Craig Blanchard. What you didn’t know: he makes a mean tarte tatin!

A must-read for the sector: Peter Dalton (right) with co-author Robinson Roe at the launch of their book Giving Hope: The Journey of the For-Purpose Organisation and Its Quest for Success, earlier this year in Melbourne.

When and how did you embark on a career in fundraising?

It was following an early career in politics as principal private secretary to The Hon. Don Chipp, parliamentary leader of the Australian Democrats. In 1982, I began what I thought was a fundraising career as the Victorian director of Australian Freedom From Hunger Campaign. In 1985, I joined the leading Australian fundraising consultancy, Michael G Downes, Venn and Associates, and was privileged to work for fundraising leaders Mike Downes and Arthur Venn. That’s when my fundraising ‘career’ really began!

Coincidently, Freedom from Hunger Campaign morphed into Community Aid Abroad, which in turn evolved into today’s Oxfam Australia, now a client of mine.

Is working in the sector different from what you imagined it would be?

Yes and no. I appreciate you should never answer a question that way, but coming from a political background with the Australian Democrats, who were leading on the environmental issues of the day such as stopping the damming of the Franklin River, fighting for causes I’m passionate about is in my DNA, and is the ‘why’ I’m a proud fundraiser.

What are some of your favourite campaigns?

Working with Olivia Newton-John for six years, from the inception of the Olivia Newton-John Cancer & Wellness Appeal. As the appeal director, as well as director of fundraising at Austin Health, I knew we needed to succeed for Olivia and the future patients of the cancer centre. We did eventually deliver thanks to both a great fundraising team and volunteer appeal committee, plus a healthy dose of ‘uncompromising’ capital campaign best fundraising practice.

Another favourite campaign was working with Cambridge University Hospitals, as fundraising director for Addenbrooke’s Charitable Trust, the charity for Cambridge University Hospitals. While I was there the university was celebrating, would you believe, its 800th birthday (2009) and had launched their 800th campaign to raise £800 million!

I got caught up in the campaign and the excellence of everything Cambridge, but the great learning for me as a fundraising professional, was an understanding of the power of a ‘comprehensive’ capital campaign, its transformational case and its applicability to any for-purpose organisation.

You opened your consultancy in 2012. What kind of work do you do now?

I went back to consulting with my firm soon after returning home from Cambridge. I’ve enjoyed working with various for-purpose organisations providing strategic counsel, fundraising business plans and comprehensive campaign advice.

However, I’ve been told I get bored easily, and I feel a need to keep learning and reinventing my career. That’s why I’m thrilled now to join with James Garland and Craig Blanchard in a new venture – Dalton Garland Blanchard Group!

You also chair the Outback Spirit Foundation. What does this entail?

As part of my fundraising professional development, several of my early fundraising mentors encouraged me to serve on for-purpose organisation boards. So, when the opportunity arose through a friend to support a cause which links two of my passions, cooking and Australian native plants, I grabbed it wholeheartedly. It’s challenging but immensely rewarding being on the grantsmanship and service delivery side, as well as fundraising of course!

In Outback Spirit Foundation’s case we … “promote native foods, supporting Indigenous farming enterprises in remote and rural areas across Australia to commercially grow, harvest and sell to local and national native food markets; and opening up opportunities for training and employing more Aboriginal youth.”

What are some challenges you’re seeing in the fundraising sector today? How can we solve them?

In these unprecedented times of climate change reality, fake news and a fake US President, with exponential technological change moving faster than our ‘social brains’ can often cope, I’m reminded of a quote attributed to Albert Einstein:

“Technology has changed the world, no doubt about that. Do you think it created generations of idiots?”

More than ever, great fundraising and great for-purpose fundraisers are needed to help create a better world.

Do you worry about donor fatigue?

No, I don’t, because it doesn’t exist where there is best fundraising practice!

What skills do fundraisers need right now?

I wrote an article a while back, ‘Why fundraisers need to embrace the new norm: volatility.’ Fundraisers today, above all, need to be adaptable and not get locked into a single fundraising best practice. We need to be able to work as part of an organisational learning team, and not just our fundraising team, but also with other teams in the organisation/cause we serve.

In the 2013 ACPNA report ‘Who’s Asking for What?’ the first paragraph in the executive summary nails it:

“The Australian nonprofit funding landscape is in flux. Many organisations are having to think differently and develop fresh skills either to enter the fundraising market or to cope better with rising competition for community and corporate support. This new reality affects boards, CEOs and fundraisers alike.”

You’ve written books about fundraising. What was the inspiration behind your latest: Giving Hope, with co-author Robinson Roe? What do you hope readers get out of it?

An understanding of how we can rub shoulders with great fundraising by confronting our Six Fundraisers’ Dilemmas; you’ll need to read the book to find out how!

In 2016, you won the Arthur Venn Award for fundraising. What did this mean to you?

The fact we now have an annual award recognising a fundraiser’s contribution to our ‘profession’ is much needed but a small contribution towards our being marked as a profession; we still have some way to go. For me, being recognised by your peers with an award bearing the name of your fundraising mentor will always be a little surreal and wonderful.

Did the Arthur Venn Award impact your career at all?

Only in the sense of encouraging me to continue to put back into our profession and, in particular, our professional development and body of knowledge, as I’m sure it has and will do for all Arthur Venn Fundraisers of the Year.

What is one thing your fundraising colleagues don’t know about you?

I home bake my bread, usually ciabatta, and once won a baking prize with a ginger and rhubarb tarte tatin!