Scholarship program gives smaller charities access to conference experience

Five fundraisers across Australia had the chance to attend FIA Conference 2020 through Strategic Grants’ generous scholarship program for small charities.

Julia Lieser, grants and partnerships manager, Hands Across Australia-ACT; Chloe Sarapas, fundraising manager, Women’s and Girl’s Emergency Centre-NSW; Trish Manten, CEO, Girl Guides Australia-NSW; Hollie Brown, events and fundraising coordinator, Australia’s CEO Challenge-QLD; and Diana Butler, CEO, Care for Africa Foundation-TAS were the 2020 scholarship recipients.

Strategic Grants established the conference scholarship program with FIA in 2016 to enhance fundraising skills in Australia’s smaller not-for-profit organisations and charities.

“We believe strongly in building the capacity of charities to ensure strong and sustainable business models to enable mission delivery. Best practice education and training are fundamental to an organisation’s capabilities and success,” said Jo Garner, founder, Strategic Grants.

“For us, the scholarships are a great enabler of those smaller organisations who would otherwise not be able to send one of their team members to the annual FIA Conference,” she added.

Chief executive Diana Butler is the first staff member from Care for Africa ever to attend a professional fundraising conference.

“We’ve never been in the financial position to be able to justify funding another member of the organisation or myself to attend the conference as we’re such a young and small organisation. The knowledge, contacts and confidence I obtained from the conference have given me great tools and confidence to lead Care for Africa into the next chapter of the organisation’s life. We’re aiming to set up a more robust and sustainable organisation that has the skills and knowledge to obtain larger and more varied fundraising streams,” she said.

Butler was particularly interested in the creativity and innovation sessions but found every presentation she attended useful.

“I particularly liked the ‘evolve or die’ session because it covered the cold hard facts around the decline in the global fundraising dollar. This was, however, well balanced with new initiatives and developments in the world of fundraising, which will ultimately enable many organisations to survive,” she said.

A boon for sector newbies

At the other end of the career journey, Trish Manten, who is working in her first operational not-for-profit role, said attending her first FIA Conference was a valuable experience for someone new to the sector.

“The breadth of seminar content, as well as the calibre of each presenter, was outstanding. I was hard-pressed to make my selection for each seminar session. The program was most impressive, and the length of presentations allowed for enough content and idea-sharing without being overwhelming,” she said.

She particularly enjoyed Louise Baxter’s presentation about how Starlight Children’s Foundation was partnering with UNICEF, CanTeen and the National Breast Cancer Foundation on a unique not-for-profit social enterprise. She also appreciated the talk on human-centered design by Dr Ruth Knight of the Queensland University of Technology.

Hollie Brown enjoyed hearing Red Cross Australia’s Jennifer Shailer talk about face-to-face regular giving. She also liked the presentation by Tasman Cassim of Black Dog Institute on corporate partnerships, even though she said her charity was not ready to implement face-to-face or corporate programs yet.

“Learning about things that went wrong and things that could have been done better from well-established fundraisers in real-world situations is beneficial and a great support for fundraisers new to the sector like me,” she said.

A must-attend session for Brown was the workshop on mental wellbeing.


“A few days before the conference, Brisbane experienced multiple horrific domestic violence murders. My organisation provides workplace training on how to recognise, respond and refer people using abusive behaviours, and people experiencing abusive behaviours, as well as supporting frontline services. Mental wellbeing in the fundraising space was something I needed to sit in on. While we have multiple social workers, employee assistance programs and support systems in our workplace, I’m the only fundraiser. It certainly changed my perspective on how fundraisers can deal with mental wellbeing in the space,” she said.

Helpful for the current pandemic climate

Chloe Sarapas was “grateful to have received a conference scholarship, especially considering that had the event been held a few weeks later, we would not have had this opportunity to learn, network and share ideas in person due to COVID-19.”

“A highlight for me was Esther Kwaku. I was inspired by how strengths-focused she was in her opening plenary as she spoke about the people of the Nerve Network. I appreciated the deep level of respect and admiration that Esther has for the people she works with and the way that she translated this to the audience,” she said.

“Esther made me think about how powerful it would be if we as fundraisers adopted a more strengths-based approach when sharing stories with our colleagues, our peers and our donors.” 

Another highlight for Sarapas was the workshop on inclusion and diversity.

“I’m excited to see the steps that are being taken to make fundraising more inclusive. As a group of people who strive for positive change, I think creating an inclusive sector with an accurate representation of the perspectives in our society belongs at the top of our priority list, so I was excited that this workshop was a part of the conference. I left feeling hopeful.”

Julia Lieser said attending the conference was a massive eye-opener at a professional and personal journey level.

“I’ve worked in donor relations most of my career but had never really considered myself a proper fundraiser until the conference. I applied many of the things I learned, particularly around the donor journey, to our giving day when I got back to work, and it continues to influence my work in general. It has also inspired me to do some more professional training as soon as I’m done with my Masters in Evaluation,” she said.

She found a lot of what was discussed remains relevant in the coronavirus pandemic.

“Now, more than ever, we need to maintain relationships with our supporters for reasons beyond donor retention. One of the messages in the conference that stuck was collaboration, highlighted by one of the “I wish I’d thought of that” presenters. That, by the way, was a great segment. It was about the Greenpeace appellation for donations to the AFS. It struck a chord that we can achieve so much more by supporting each other,” she said.

“Recently, the community foundation I work for, Hands Across Canberra, launched the COVID-19 Rapid Response Grant Round for organisations working with vulnerable people in Canberra and the nearby region. We asked two other major community foundations in Canberra to join the initiative. We went from a $200,000 grant round in April, to being able to announce more than $500,000 worth of grants funded. We can achieve so much more by coming together and getting through this pandemic will require collaboration across fundraising,” she added.

All of the scholarship recipients enjoyed the networking opportunities and said they were able to connect with like-minded fundraisers to share ideas. They were also impressed by the generosity of the many speakers who shared their secrets to success and survival.

Working for a small charity? Want to attend FIA Conference 2021 in Melbourne? Keep an eye out for news of the 2021 Strategic Grants’ scholarship program in a future edition of the FIA e-bulletin!