Colin McKenzie, Director, House of Illustration

When the National Arts Fundraising School (NAFS) opened it’s doors in 1988, Colin McKenzie was one of the first participants. Read about his fundraising journey since then and find out why he’s still benefitting from the programme, nearly 30 years after attending.

I was one of those fundraisers who fell into the job rather than having it as a career plan. After graduating with a degree in art history, my first job was PA to the Head of Fundraising at the Barbican Centre. Not surprisingly, I gained a lot of practical experience. After two years my manager left and it was suggested that I should apply for her job. Much to my surprise I was appointed and at the tender age of 24, I was Head of Fundraising. Although I’d learned a lot about fundraising from working with someone so knowledgeable, I was well aware there were gaps in my understanding – I just didn’t know what all of them were! Convinced that I could benefit from some kind of systematic unpacking of fundraising techniques and approaches – and, of course, other people’s experiences – I booked myself onto one of the earliest National Arts Fundraising Schools.

It turned out to be transformational, not least in that it was my first exposure to Bernard Ross. His boundless energy and enthusiasm together with his great sense of humour made the week enormously enjoyable and everything seem possible. He was then, and still remains, a bottomless well of ideas and inspiration. The structure of the School forced everyone to think about things in a different way – even the things we ‘knew’ how to do. There are some aspects of fundraising that make it like any other job. That is, once you’ve got used to doing things one way it’s a challenge to think about (let alone adopt) new approaches – and yet so important. As they say, if you do what you’ve always done, you’ll get what you’ve always got. Bernard forced us to be creative, to think laterally and to look at what we were doing from the donor’s point of view.

Since attending the School I’ve sent many of my staff on it – first from the Barbican and then from the National Gallery where I was Development Director for 12 years. When we appointed our Development Manager at Charleston (where I have was Chief Executive from 2006-2013) it carried a lot of weight that she was also an alumni of the School.  Every success I’ve had in fundraising over the last 29 years owes something not only to the fundamental principles of fundraising and good practice that it teaches, but also to the awareness it instilled in me that there are endless possibilities within fundraising. As Bernard probably continues to say, there is never a shortage of sources of money for the persistent fundraiser! I still consider this in my current role as Director of House of Illustration even though fundraising hasn’t been my sole focus for a long time. It’s something all arts leaders need to know about, particularly as public funding is in such decline.

I can’t recommend the National Arts Fundraising School highly enough – there is nothing else in the UK that offers anything like the breadth and depth it covers. And I defy any fundraiser not to benefit from the experience. You want three words to sum it up? Inspiring, life-enhancing, and fun!

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