Five minutes with … Ellaine Hislop, fundraising and philanthropy supervisor, Surf Life Saving Western Australia

Surf’s always up for this busy fundraiser!

Capping off a busy day: Ellaine Hislop in front of the colourful display of WA bathing caps at Surf Life Saving WA’s offices.

How did you get to be Ellaine with two lls? (Is this like Ann with an “e”?)

My mum wanted my name to be pronounced a certain way, so it sounded like Elle at the beginning. So, she popped another “l” in to make sure everyone said it correctly. Poor mum, it hasn’t been entirely successful.

You’ve worked at several fundraising organisations – in health, animal welfare, private school philanthropy and now surf lifesaving. What’s the ride been like so far? Some career highlights?

Like a lot of my colleagues, fundraising as a career was a fortunate accident. After 20 years, I’ve had some amazing experiences and learning opportunities. In fact, I’m still learning. I think the highlights have been around the amazing and generous people I’ve met – whether it’s a conversation with a donor, or another fundraiser sharing their experiences. I feel so lucky to have “fallen into” fundraising. I have to say that my current role is a definite highlight of my career.

What does a fundraising and philanthropy supervisor’s day look like?

No day or week is the same. Surf Life Saving WA has only been conducting state-based fundraising for two years, and I was hired to establish and grow their new program. When I first started, it was developing strategy and creating systems and programs from scratch. To begin with, I was a one-person team, but the program and team are growing.

A day can consist of strategy and reporting, managing a direct marketing campaign, donor communications, talking to donors, troubleshooting a new situation, creating a new process on the database, talking to the lifesaving team about a possible story, processing donations… If there’s something a fundraiser does, it will be on my to-do list at some stage!

What’s the attraction of working at Surf Life Saving WA for you? I believe one of your first jobs was at a lifeguard organisation in New Zealand as a marketing coordinator/office manager, so is this role coming full circle?

My first role in fundraising was at the northern regional surf life-saving organisation in New Zealand. I’d studied marketing at university and waaay back then I think marketing was considered the same as fundraising. I can’t recall fundraising even being thought of as a career.

Being back at a surf life-saving organisation does have a familiar feeling. That was absolutely part of the original attraction. But the major attraction of this role was the chance to establish a brand-new program. Not many fundraisers have the opportunity to do this. Imagine being able to draw on your previous professional experiences to create a best-practice fundraising environment. It’s been challenging and exciting. Really, a dream job for me. 

Do you have a speciality or type of fundraising you most enjoy doing?

The majority of my fundraising roles have been working on complete development programs, not one specific area. I think that’s become my speciality – being able to develop and manage comprehensive and balanced development programs.

What are the joys and challenges of working at Surf Life Saving WA? I think moving to independence from a national model would have been challenging? How is it working out?

Joys and challenges sum it up pretty well!

One of the biggest joys has been being able to connect with supporters in our community. They’re incredibly committed to saving lives along our West Aussie coastline and supporting the work of our surf lifesaving volunteers. Now we can talk to them first-hand and let them know how their gifts are making an impact.

One of the challenges has been working in an intense acquisition state. And, as we started at zero, we’ll be there for some time yet. However, having a CEO and board who support trying new things and investing in fundraising makes this challenge a joy too!

What have been some of your favourite campaigns at Surf Life Saving WA?

There haven’t been that many campaigns to choose from just yet. But I think the current one is always my favourite. Our most recent campaign was this summer, which is when we’re front of mind for a lot of West Aussies. I was able to share the story of a young volunteer lifesaver, who at 13 years old saved eight lives on Christmas Day two years ago. It was one of his first patrols too!

Are you doing anything interesting on the digital/technology front? What about community events?

We haven’t delved into the digital front yet. But we do have a new community event called “Boardies Day.” We invite workplaces, schools and individuals to wear their board shorts for the day and raise funds to help save lives on WA beaches. We even have an in-house Boardies Day at Surf Life Saving WA. It’s not hard to convince the team here to wear their boardies to work though!

What’s the most challenging issue the fundraising profession faces right now? What can we do about it?

I think one major challenge for our profession is that fundraising loses great people. Let’s face it: fundraising isn’t an easy job!

On a daily basis, we’re faced with negative messages about fundraisers and fundraising that make our job more difficult; there is misunderstanding about fundraising as a profession; someone always knows how to do our job better than us; we work hard, often for less than we would for corporate organisations. And we’re often expected to raise more year-on-year with less investment in our programs.

There’s work to be done to educate about fundraising as a profession and the value of what we do. I feel fortunate that FIA works on this for us, and that our fundraising colleagues are always there to lift us up.

We can all be part of the solution. Keep up the donor-focused, best practice, ethical fundraising practices. Reinforce positive messages about the impact of fundraisers in our communities. And support your fundraising colleagues.   

What are the joys and challenges of working as a fundraiser in WA?

I see how much West Australians love WA. They are passionate about supporting their state, and I’m fortunate to be part of this on a daily basis.

But because it’s such a large state, it’s not always easy to participate in professional development. For our regional WA fundraisers, it can be costly to get to Perth, where we have most of our educational opportunities. And getting to national conferences in other states is a big financial challenge for a lot of fundraisers.

You’re New Zealand. Do the Kiwis do anything different on the fundraising front that we should adopt? We love your country for so many things!

I love New Zealand too. But I also love West Aussie summers!

I think as countries we have very similar fundraising styles and utilise the same concepts and strategies, which is great because we can all learn from each other.

You recently earned your CFRE. What’s it like being one of just a few hundred people in the world who have this designation?

When I moved to Australia and joined FIA, I had the pleasure to meet wonderful career fundraising professionals, some of whom were CFREs. When I looked into what that accreditation meant, I knew that it was something I would aspire to. Now that I have become a CFRE, I highly encourage other Australian fundraisers to go through the process. Not only does it demonstrate our dedication to the profession and our donors, but it also highlights our profession as just that – professional.

You volunteer for the FIA WA State Committee. Why is this important to you?

Being part of the FIA WA State Committee has been amazing in so many ways. I’m a pretty introverted person, so putting myself out there in a public way was a big deal for me. It actually took me a couple of years from when I started thinking about it to actually doing it! But I’m passionate about fundraising as a profession, and I wanted to add value to my profession and my colleagues. I couldn’t have made a better decision. Not only do I now get to support other fundraisers, but I have met the most amazing people who have supported me in my own career.

You also do volunteer work for a seabird rescue organisation. What do you do for them? Are you a fan of birds in particular?

Yes,I’m a volunteer for the Western Australian Seabird Rescue. This dedicated group consists entirely of volunteers who rescue and rehabilitate injured sea and water birds.

I love all animals – domestic and wildlife. Ever since I moved to WA, I’ve been obsessed with pelicans. So, when I stumbled across this organisation and started learning about the other species of sea birds, I was hooked. It’s devastating to see these birds injured or sick, a lot of the time because of humans. Fishing tackle entanglement is a big concern. I primarily help them with their fundraising needs, mainly grants and events. They receive no government funding, and they rely on community support to help fund rescue equipment, medication and veterinary care, and resources for birds in rehabilitation.

I’m learning a lot about seabirds and the dangers they face, and ultimately I’d like to assist with rescues too. Fun fact: did you know that pelicans can’t breathe through their nostrils? So, when a pelican is rescued, its bill can’t be held shut, or it will struggle to breathe.

What do you like to do in your spare time?

My partner and I enjoy going for motorcycle rides. It’s so relaxing to ride along our coast or out of the city. We also love watching old movies – anything from black and white film noir to classic 80’s.

When I need some quiet time, I sew. I make my own clothes and household items like quilts and table linen. I have a sewing room, and that’s my reclusive happy space.