Five minutes with … Ferdi Fourie MFIA

Ferdi has his finger on the pulse of fundraising for St John 

Growing up in South Africa, Ferdi Fourie witnessed immense poverty and inequality. He wanted to give back and advocate for those who didn’t have a voice. Today he’s running the relatively new fundraising department at St John Ambulance WA and helping the organisation find its voice in the fundraising space. He’s proud of the work the organisation is doing during the pandemic and its mission to build resilient communities. 

Driving the fundraising message home: Ferdi Fourie is proud to serve as head of fundraising for St John Ambulance WA, which he says provides a world-class service for the community. 

On LinkedIn, you refer to yourself as a sales manager, rather than a fundraiser. What’s the reason for that? 

To be a successful face-to-face fundraiser requires similar skills to account managing and sales. Fundraising requires effective rapport building, trust, communication skills and ‘making the ask,’ as does sales.   

You worked in member services for the Law Society and Australian Institute of Company Directors (AICD). Then you switched to fundraising. Why? 

When I moved to Perth from New Zealand in 2008, my first job was with the AICD, and I’m forever grateful to them for all the professional connections I made while working, but I had a yearning to give more in the service to humanity.  

Growing up in South Africa, I witnessed immense poverty and inequality. This helped foster a strong desire to give back to those less fortunate and to advocate on behalf of those who don’t have a voice. So, it was an easy decision to make when a role came up with World Vision Australia. My passion for the sector just grew from there. 

St John Ambulance has been teaching first aid techniques and transporting patients for 130 years in Western Australia. How has it evolved? 

In 1891, permission was granted to Mathieson Henry Jacoby to establish a St John Ambulance Association centre in WA. The organisation was founded on philanthropy by several doctors volunteering to provide first aid classes.  

By the end of the century, 176 students had passed their St John first aid course. Fast forward 130 years, and we now train more than 480,000 people in first aid (370,000 for free and 100,000 paid) every year. Our 9,000 volunteers contributed over 4.2 million hours to help others.  

We had over 700,000 patient interactions last year through ambulance, community transport, event health services and St John medical practices. We have had over 135,000 people download our First Responder app, which is fantastic! So, we have come a long way from humble beginnings.  

Tell us about your work as head of fundraising for St John WA. What’s a typical day like for you? What are the joys and challenges?  

Our fundraising department is still relatively new. So, at the moment, my day-to-day activities include setting up our systems and processes to enable fundraising, as well as to ensure that we steward donors well, once they decide to support St John WA via fundraising.  

The joy of this role is the passionate people I work with every day while building a strategy that will provide sustainable financial support for the incredible work we do in the community. This includes training 160,000 school children for free in first aid every year, supporting our 4,000 volunteers working in 140 volunteer country sub-centres across this great state to be first responders, and building community resilience every day. 

Currently, the biggest challenge is establishing our fundraising strategy during a pandemic. We’re also finding our voice in the fundraising space. We’re excited at the opportunity to tell our story to the WA public about the incredible work we do in their communities. There is still a perception out there that we’re100 per cent government-funded, which isn’t true. More than ever, we need the support of local Western Australians, philanthropists and businesses so we can continue the great work in communities. 

How do you generate income so the organisation can do its work? 

We have a contract with the Department of Health which partly funds our ambulance service in WA. The other part is covered through the commercial arm of our business (eg first aid, patient transfer, St John medical and an ambulance fee for service).  

Our vision for fundraising is to ensure St John WA can sustainably provide optimal care and charitable works for the community. My role going forward is to ensure sustainable funds are raised for those community projects through corporate partners, individual donors and bequests. 

What impact has the pandemic had on St John WA’s fundraising efforts? Have you had to change what you do?  

COVID-19 has definitely had an impact at St John. We’ve seen a decline in ambulance, first aid and event health services revenue. Our youth and community team has also been unable to teach school children first aid for free due to lack of funds. Our aim through fundraising in the coming months will be reaching out and partnering with the public, philanthropists and businesses to help us achieve our vision to train every school child in first aid in the state. We believe this is the starting point for building resilience in the community and increasing survival rates. 

How does St John WA view its role during this crisis? 

Our purpose at St John WA is to serve humanity and build resilient communities through the relief of sickness, distress, suffering and danger. Our role during this crisis hasn’t changed; our paramedics continue their daily work on the frontline and at times make significant personal sacrifices to do so.  

The crisis also encouraged us to innovate. Our St John medical service adapted quickly and was able to scale up our telehealth consults so we could continue meeting the medical needs of the WA public. 

Are you doing anything interesting on the digital or events front? 

Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, people weren’t allowed to attend first aid classes in person for a while. This gave us a great opportunity to bring first aid to homes right across WA by launching a digital first aid program. The aim of the program is to arm people with vital first aid knowledge to protect their family or colleague in an emergency. 

What are you most proud of at St John WA? 

I’m proud that we run a world-class ambulance service, as well as the most cost-effective service in the country. I’m impressed with our impact on a huge section of the WA community.  

When we look at the interactions with patients across all of our services (ambulance, event health, patient transfer, community transport and primary health), plus the people that we have delivered first aid training to, we have connected with a staggering 1.18 million people in WA during the year. That equates to 45 per cent of the state’s population. It makes me proud to work for an organisation so invested in their state! 

You’ve also worked in corporate partnerships for some organisations. Do you have advice for people trying to manage those relationships in this challenging time? 

The most important advice I’d give at the moment is to deepen your relationships with your current corporate partners. It’s important to remember that it’s a two-way conversation, so be sensitive when asking for support but also don’t be shy to do it. In WA, we’ve seen great support from the resource sector and Lotterywest in supporting not-for-profits during COVID-19. 

What’s the most challenging issue the fundraising profession faces right now? 

The biggest challenge is the unknown and what the flow-on impact COVID-19 will have on the economy and the fundraising sector as a whole. Another challenge for the sector will be how we adapt to using new fundraising platforms (eg technologies) to engage supporters and not purely relying on traditional fundraising platforms to raise funds.  

A big challenge for the profession is to decide which fundraising channels to invest in and which ones to switch off during this crisis, without losing sight of the big picture. 

What advice would you give to those entering the fundraising profession? 

My golden rule is: ’First seek to understand before being understood.’ Take your time to understand the sector and get involved with FIA as soon as you can. Know who your donors are and keep them at the front and centre of every decision you make. Also, be passionate about your cause. This impacts how you communicate and advocate. If you aren’t authentic, donors will struggle to connect with your cause. 

You sit on the FIA WA State Committee. What’s your role there? 

I’ve been part of the FIA WA State Committee for a couple of years. My role on the committee is to secure sponsorships for all events and professional development programs that FIA runs in WA. It’s important for me to give back to the sector that I love working in, but the return is two-fold with the great support you get from your fellow committee members and peers.  

You’re also a board member with the Underground Collaborative. What do they do? 

The Underground Collaborative is a Perth-based social enterprise that provides employment and housing solutions for people experiencing, or at risk of, homelessness. 

Our vision is to break the cycles of homelessness in WA through collaboration in providing employment and housing solutions. 

What do you like to do in your spare time? 

I like to soak up the sunshine in Perth by kayaking and paddle boarding. I also enjoy running. I aim to complete my first marathon by this time next year!