Kiwi Time!

I’m back home after an amazing trip. Although my travels took place in May, the journey really started when I received an email in December from James Austin, CEO of the Fundraising Institute of New Zealand (FINZ), the professional body for those employed in or involved with fundraising, sponsorship and events in the not-for-profit sector. I was delighted to receive an invitation to be a featured speaker at the annual FINZ conference in Wellington. FINZ is a small association, but the conference has been held for many years and has invited some very prestigious folks over time. I was honored to receive the opportunity.

The invitation fulfilled a personal goal that I set several years ago to speak at an international conference. Coincidentally, New Zealand was at the top of my desired list of international destinations … funny how things work out.

For the engagement, I agreed to deliver a day-long preconference masterclass, a couple of educational sessions during the conference, and a plenary address to conclude the event. Three other international speakers – Robert Osborne Jr. of the Osborne Group (New York), Martin Paul (Australia) and Alan Sharpe of Harvey McKinnon Associates (Toronto) – were also invited, but I was the lecturer from the most “exotic” (i.e., remote, unidentifiable) location. I had an opportunity to spend time with Sharpe and found that his plenary on thank you letters was both entertaining and informative. The fact that Alan has family in West Michigan also made for a good discussion of common interests.

The Kiwis are amazing hosts. I was greeted at both the Auckland and Wellington airports by a FINZ representative. In Wellington, the FINZ communications director, Susan Fogarty, gave a hearty welcome and a cup of coffee and made sure I got safely to my rental car. Susan is the person who makes FINZ “go” and has been my primary contact in preparing for the conference. In her other “life” Susan is a published author (her book “Susan in the Suburbs” is popular among Kiwis) and has worked as a standup comedienne as a former member of the renowned Groundlings. She went above and beyond the call of duty to make sure I was well taken care of.

Prior to the conference, I had an opportunity to visit the FINZ office in downtown Wellington. While the office is modest, I appreciated how well the FINZ team of James, Susan and accounting manager Leigh Brown work together. I learned that until fairly recently, FINZ was completely volunteer driven. James, a former Wellington fundraiser, is the association’s first CEO and was hired following an exhaustive search.

During the course of our stay in Wellington, my daughter became ill (she is fine now) and James, who I am sure had farther better things to do, personally drove us the local medical care center. As I said, the Kiwis are incredible hosts.

A good deal of attention was given to the “care and feeding” of conference guests, including a welcome dinner and a conference concluding brunch. During the welcome dinner I had lovely conversations with many Kiwi hosts and witnessed a “playful” fight among some “mates” in the lobby of the restaurant where we dined. James indicated, tongue in cheek, that this was part of the evening’s entertainment. There was also an opening reception during which an improvisational troupe led attendees through a mock “fashion show” with balloons, streamers and various other party favors serving as clothing accessories. It appears Kiwis do not take themselves too seriously and enjoy a bit of light-hearted fun.

It was during these events that I learned the most about Kiwi culture. One of the most important things to know about New Zealanders is that they are globally aware. Almost everyone I met at the conference has lived in another country, and many have lived in the United States.

My new colleague Nigel Sanderson from FundraiseOnline is a Wellingtonian who lived in New York for a couple of years. Nigel described to me the nature of fundraising in NZ. While very welcoming to strangers like me, Kiwis are somewhat reserved in nature. Nigel described “street appeals” that are prevalent in Wellington. “Solicitors” hold donation buckets near business establishments similar to Salvation Army personnel in the US, but would never dream of attracting attention, i.e., ringing a bell. Nigel pointed out that it is illegal in Wellington for solicitors to “shake their buckets” as that is considered aggressive marketing. Simply put, Nigel described the Kiwi philosophy as one of “we don’t want to impose.”

This philosophy seems consistent with my observation that face to face fundraising with individuals is less prevalent in New Zealand compared to the United States. According a study conducted in 2006, 35 percent of New Zealand giving comes directly from individuals (gifts and bequests) while the lion’s share of giving is from foundations, trusts and businesses (57 percent). As we know, this is dramatically different from the US where individuals typically make up at least 75 percent of philanthropy. My masterclass participants verified all of this, although a few of my observations about the best ways for Kiwis to research foundation funders were a tad off the mark.

The point that I subtly tried to make (although some participants might not have viewed my attempts as subtle) during my time in Wellington is that there appears to be a grand opportunity at hand to increase major gift fundraising. According the 2010 Gallup World Giving Index, New Zealand and Australia tied for first globally in generosity, with 68 percent of the adult citizens in those countries making some kind of monetary gift to charity. Here in the good ole USA, where some mistakenly believe philanthropy was “invented,” we lag behind in fifth place in the same poll with 60 percent of Americans giving.

It is indeed true that while Kiwis are much quicker to embrace technology than their American colleagues, they are looking to the “states” to learn about major gifts. I met many New Zealand fundraisers who were most appreciative of any information that I or my fellow guest speakers were able to provide. I believe the Kiwis are more than capable of adopting these ideas if they so desire. As a society, New Zealand tends to undervalue its capabilities. My conclusion after my visit is that Kiwis are really a lot better than they think they are.

Regarding my previous mention of Australia, I was pleased to see many colleagues from the neighboring country in attendance. Leo Orland, who serves as the board chair of the Fundraising Institute of Australia (FIA), is a treasure trove of information regarding international philanthropy trends. Leo has been very active in the international Certified Fund Raising Executive movement, and the CFRE credential is popular in Australia thanks in part I am sure due to his good work.

I was told that CFRE is THE fundraising credential in New Zealand. Knowing this, I was honored to serve as the host of a FINZ luncheon for CFREs. I learned that there are only 19 CFREs in New Zealand currently, and some in attendance openly inquired what could be done to further promote the credential. I suggested that FINZ could do promotion in its publications, but ultimately it was about taking the case “directly to the people.” FINZ members need to be counseled, perhaps on a one-on-one basis, regarding the value of the credential.

My belief is that many fundraisers pursue the CFRE for very personal reasons and not necessarily because (in the U.S. anyway) the credential can result in promotions and higher pay. The Kiwis tell me that the CFRE is an unknown in their country and definitely does not result in more pay or higher positions. That is just as well. In the end, my personal opinion is that CFRE is really mostly about taking pride in our profession and showing that pride by pursuing a globally agreed upon certificate of standards.

The masterclass I led focused on relationship building. While somewhat reserved, the attendees did participate well and asked very thoughtful questions. Some of the materials I presented about New Zealand philanthropy were a hair off base, but no one was offended and there seemed to be some appreciation for the effort, however misguided.

A highlight of the masterclass was an exercise that I led focusing on communications and marketing efforts. I asked the participants to “imagine” their charity had received a $100 million gift, and to describe in detail how they would announce such a transformational investment. After a great discussion, I revealed that my employer (Western Michigan University) had recently received such a gift for support of a new medical school and passed along information about Operation Historic Moment (, a brilliant marketing effort announcing the gift led by our consultant Jim Small. In a nutshell, the effort created tremendous “buzz” prior to, during and following the announcement through the use social media, countdown clocks, highway billboards and even mysterious “Goldmen” (students wearing gold suits) making appearances at high profile campus events.

My plenary on ethics closed the conference. I love talking about ethics, and it appears Kiwis share my enthusiasm for the topic. During my comments I told the true story of a colleague who was offered a gold watch by a donor as a thank you in celebration of a seven figure gift that the donor made to my colleague’s institution. I could tell that the audience became personally engaged in my colleague’s quandary, and a spirited debate ensued. My sense is that New Zealanders have a very strong moral and ethical base, and seem to have a greater passion, as a whole, regarding this topic compared to American fundraisers. Although I have spoken on the topic on numerous occasions, I learned as much or more from the audience about ethics from their comments than anything I may have personally imparted during the plenary.

I was involved in several conversations about international philanthropy and New Zealand’s potential. My friendship with Andrew Watt, new CEO for the Association of Fundraising Professionals, as well as my volunteer role on the AFP international development committee, likely played a role in this. I developed a friendship with Johan Vos, a Wellingtonian who was FINZ board chair for five years and who has also been active in AFP. Johan serves as national director of Alzheimers New Zealand and is a good student of American and international philanthropy. Johan’s wife is from Washington D.C. and is a native of Holland (he is very familiar with the country’s connections to West Michigan).

Although I am relatively new to the international committee, I know that one of its core accomplishments to date has been the establishment of an international code of ethics. Johan told me there is interest now among committee members to create international standards in various categories of fundraising, including annual giving, events and bequests/planned giving.

In summary, my time with the Kiwis was unforgettable but briefer than I might have liked. I was in New Zealand for two weeks, and with several days devoted to the conference I did not have nearly enough time to fully experience the country’s amazing and raw beauty. I’ll blog about my “tourist” travels in upcoming post. The next time I make it to New Zealand, I plan to spend at least a month!

Published in: on May 23, 2011 at 9:45 pm  Comments (1)  

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