Jock lives the ‘ruff’ life of a fundraiser

Best fur-iends! Jock carpools with Ruffle, a guide dog in training, to work.

Jock lives the ‘ruff’ life of a fundraiser

Jock Beveridge is the general manager for community engagement for Guide Dogs Queensland. When FIA’s Kim Carter spoke to him, he was getting ready to carpool to work with Ruffle, a guide dog in training. It’s a paw-some job for this fundraiser!

You’ve got an MBA and an undergraduate degree in economics and history. How did you get into fundraising?

When I was at the University of Queensland, my profs steered me towards the obvious career path of the big consulting and accounting firms, and I knew I didn’t want to do that. I decided to take a year away and do an exchange at the University of California (San Diego). That’s where I got introduced to the world of non-profits, fundraising, marketing and campaigning.

For a summer job, I applied to be a fundraiser. It was a face-to-face role knocking on doors around the streets of Seattle. It went well. Later, I travelled around the United States, working in leadership and management roles in face-to-face fundraising and being introduced to a whole range of other fundraising programs and strategies. I lived around Washington DC and the Pacific Northwest and spent a year in Alaska working for a non-profit up there. Those few years started what later became a career. It was a great experience.

Was it vital for you to have that overseas fundraising experience?

For me, it was. In the early 1990s, fundraising was much more developed as a profession in the USA. There just wasn’t the history nor the body of knowledge in Australia that exists today. To have the opportunity to access that and learn in that environment was amazing. It gave me the confidence to believe this could actually be a career path rather than just an interesting diversion while I found my ‘real job.’

Without question, the overseas experience would still be valuable today for early or mid-career fundraisers. Everything is a learning experience when you’re living and working in another country. That sort of experience is also still unusual in fundraising. We have lots of ex-pats from all over the world who come to work in fundraising in Australia, but I know very few Australians who have worked overseas as fundraisers and brought that experience back.

Did that experience translate readily into work when you got back to Brisbane?

I found my experience very useful and well-regarded. I’d been taught the fundamentals of successful fundraising, not just in face-to-face, but direct mail, major gifts, bequests and running events. Not many people had that, not at my age, at least. So, I didn’t have any trouble finding work once I got back to Australia. My first gig in Australia was as a fundraising coordinator at a small, non-profit hospital in Brisbane: the St Andrew’s War Memorial Hospital, which is now part of the much bigger Uniting Healthcare network.

Fast forward 20 years. You’ve now worked at several well-respected charities, including the Leukaemia Foundation, the Mater Foundation, Asthma Foundation of Queensland, the Southport School Foundation and Australian Conservation Foundation among others. Highlights?

A significant highlight was working at the Leukaemia Foundation. I was the first national fundraising manager that they employed, at a time when they had just established a national footprint, having been a Queensland-based organisation up until then. One of the most exciting things I worked on with lots of other people was taking the World’s Greatest Shave for a Cure national, building that into one of the biggest events in Australia and raising $10 million annually. Remarkably, it’s still going strong and is even bigger today!

Another highlight was my four years at the Australian Conservation Foundation, working on two of the major issues facing our environment today: climate change and the degradation of the Great Barrier Reef. It was a joy to help that organisation boost its impact through successful fundraising campaigns and a growing supporter base. Even today, it’s great to see that organisation so well set up to tackle those ongoing campaigns and other big issues of our generation. It was an exciting few years.

You’re now at Guide Dogs Queensland as their general manager of community engagement. What’s your day like?

My days at Guide Dogs Queensland are always different. I look after a broad portfolio that includes all of our fundraising programs, our client communications and marketing, public relations and advocacy. Most days, I get to talk to at least one of our amazing donors or volunteer fundraisers. They’re our lifeblood, with 90 per cent of our annual operating budget coming from philanthropic contributions. I also spend a lot of time with my team – thinking, planning and strategising for our many campaigns. I host site tours, do media interviews, MC special events, prepare reports and papers for our board and, as a member of the executive team, I spend quite a bit of time working on whole-of-organisation issues.

Recently, I’ve been doing a lot of advocacy work on behalf of our clients. We have a long-running campaign in Queensland to allow people who are blind or vision-impaired to access the Disability Parking Permit Scheme. Currently, they’re excluded, which surprises most people. We’re working closely with a range of stakeholders to change the eligibility rules, and we’re hopeful of finally seeing some movement on this by the state government in the next few months. We’re putting a lot of energy into that at the moment.

Joys and challenges of your work?

The biggest joy is the opportunity I get to meet with our clients and see the impact of our efforts. Their stories inspire me; I love hearing about the challenges they’ve overcome, and how different their lives are since they’ve connected with us; whether we’ve given them a guide dog, or they’ve accessed one of our other services, such as learning how to get around with a cane or how to prepare and cook a meal for the first time since losing their sight.

I’m also surrounded by wonderful people. I have a great team behind me, as well as an excellent CEO and leadership team, and a very supportive board. I feel very fortunate.

Another great thing about working at Guide Dogs is, of course, the dogs. We always have a few dogs around the office, and we get the puppies coming through for a visit as soon as they’re old enough.

Our office is on a 12-acre site about 20 kilometres north of the Brisbane CBD. It’s a beautiful environment, with lots of space and a 1-km walking track around the perimeter. We can take the dogs for walks when they need them, which gives us both some exercise. We currently have a step challenge running across the organisation, and we’re having lots of walking meetings to get our step count up!

Fortunately, I don’t have too many lows, but there are always challenges in any role.

The 2020 FIA National Awards for Excellence in Fundraising are coming up. Guide Dogs Queensland took out the donor acquisition and donor renewal awards in the under $5 million categories this year. What was your secret?

I don’t think there are any secrets to those campaigns. It was just applying good fundamentals around fundraising practice and robust direct marketing technique. With the acquisition campaign, we went against the trend of adding premiums to the mailing packs. We didn’t put anything in there at all.

We thought: let’s rely only on our brand and story to engage people. We also took a long-term view on acquisition, so rather than focus on the response rate on that particular pack, we wanted to reach donors who would be loyal and would give again. We focused on second and third gift rates and what they would look like.

Rather than incentivising people with free gifts, we wanted to see if compelling stories about our brand, our dogs and clients, would be enough to engage people and hopefully they would stick with us.

Fortunately, the campaign was very successful, and it continues to play out today. Well over 50 per cent of donors went on to make a second gift, which is quite high for acquisition campaigns today.

We built our renewal campaign’s success on something our team had picked up on at last year’s FIA Conference. There was a presentation about a matched giving challenge that helped an organisation boost its major annual appeal. We shamelessly copied the idea, and it worked for us too!

But I think the overall key to success was the teamwork. To get a good result, the direct marketing team had to work closely with the major gifts and corporate partnerships teams to identify matched donors and make that successful. So, while we used a good formula that we picked up from the conference, the execution was successful because we had excellent cooperation and teamwork across the fundraising department.

Is winning an award from FIA good for morale?

Yes, definitely. It’s good for the team to receive that external affirmation from our peers in the sector. To have your counterparts tell you that you’re producing excellent quality work gives everyone a buzz. It’s also a great message to share with the CEO and the board. Our CEO was in Melbourne to receive the award, and I know he got a real kick out of that, and he is now an even stronger advocate for the plans and strategies we put in place.  

Guide Dogs Queensland has been looking at some other ways to obtain donations and recently undertook an experiment with wearable technology to fundraise at events. How did you come to work with Near Field Creative, and what form does the wearable technology take?

We were looking at other ways to obtain donations at events and one of our fundraising coordinators, who’s based on the Sunshine Coast, heard an interesting radio interview about a local start-up called Near Field Creative who had pioneered some wearable technology. The coordinator connected the company with my team, and we started to work together.

The technology is a combination of a QR code and NFC chip. The code can be scanned by an iPhone, and the chip is picked up by most Android phones. You hover your phone on top of the chip or QR code, a donation window pops up, and people can put in their donation amount of choice and get a receipt emailed to them. It happens right on the spot or can be done later at the donor’s convenience.

These codes and chips are on the coats of our ambassador dogs for when they go to busy fundraising and community events. The dogs are there to interact with the public and receive pats and cuddles. Often people want to donate, and this gives them a way to do that.

Previously, if someone wanted to donate in situations like this, our volunteers or staff would have to refer them to our website. With this technology, people can make their donation right there and then. We’re also trialling the technology in lanyard cards. This means our volunteers who don’t have a dog can also facilitate donations without having to carry an eftpos machine around with them.

Will you keep using this technology?

Yes, we definitely will. But after 25 years in fundraising, I’ve learned that no one tool or program is the Holy Grail. You need lots of little cogs, all working together to help turn the wheels and keep your organisation moving. The Near Field technology is an important little cog, and one that we hope to grow over time.

What’s your most poignant moment as a fundraiser?

When I was working in major gifts for the Mater Foundation, I got to know a particular donor who was quite new to philanthropy. A year or two into our relationship, he told me that he had never imagined that giving away his money would be so much fun and so rewarding. He wished he’d discovered it 40 years ago!

His reflection has really stuck with me. As fundraisers, our role is fundamentally about helping people to experience the joy of giving. I always try to remember that, especially when pressure from budgets or from people who don’t understand can lead us to view fundraising as a transaction or an extractive type of process. But done well, fundraising enables people to experience a whole range of rewarding emotions that genuinely improve their life. In his 80s, this man experienced something he had never imagined possible: the pure joy of giving. I know if I focus on providing that sort of experience for our donors, then we’ll do okay.

What’s the most pressing issue in the fundraising sector at the moment?

The quagmire of state-based fundraising rules and regulations is something holding non-profits back. In an environment where charities are mindful of ROI, it’s a contradiction for state governments, especially the Queensland Government, not to be prioritising this. We work in global, let alone national environments, and to have these archaic regulations really hamstrings a lot of organisations like ours.  

Another matter is having every fundraiser cognisant of the robust framework being built around ethics and best-practice fundraising. I think it’s great FIA has been at the forefront of addressing this through its Code. This issue is likely to go on, and FIA will continue to be firm about it, which is good.

Looking ahead to the long-term, I think a big challenge for our sector is how we can engage people in their 30s, 40s and 50s in charitable causes. We know the baby boomers are transitioning into retirement and old age and will begin to pass away in higher numbers over the next 20 years. They are the richest generation in history, and very generous to charities. So, we have a good period ahead of us. But after that, there will be a big hole, and we need to be planning now on how to engage those next generation of donors. We need them to be giving in greater numbers and greater amounts than their baby boomer parents just to be on par. It’s going to be a big challenge. 

You mentioned you have a supportive board. How did you engage board members in your fundraising?

We have an inherently curious board, which is an important trait of a good board. Our board members don’t necessarily see themselves as subject matter experts when it comes to fundraising, but they ask lots of good questions, as they do across all areas of the business. They understand their governance role well. We also make sure we answer their questions thoroughly and promptly; sometimes, that takes time and effort. But it helps to build their trust and confidence in the executive team.  

We also invite board members along to as many events as possible so they can see what’s happening on the ground, meet staff and volunteers, and see how the organisation is doing first-hand. This helps build engagement and confidence.

How do you relax in your spare time?

I have three young kids who keep me busy when I’m not at work. I volunteer as scorer and manager on my son’s cricket team, and I love getting involved with that.

I also do a bit of running to keep fit and try to run a few half-marathons every year. Importantly, I have a monthly date with my wife!