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Melinda Warnecke on the importance of research, true philanthropy, her first seven-figure gift and understanding your role as a fundraiser.

Melinda Warnecke on the importance of research, true philanthropy, her first seven-figure gift and understanding your role as a fundraiser.

WHAT DID YOU WANT TO DO WHEN YOU GREW UP?

I wanted to be a vet for as long as I could remember. I was one of those kids who learnt very early that my mind was a bit strategic and I would think outside the square, so I would come home with baby animals and say they were on loan from the pet shop. We had cats and dogs, and I even brought mice home from high school science. At one point I had about 120 mice in a tank under my bed. I don’t know how my mum didn’t know!

TELL US ABOUT YOUR CURRENT ROLE.

My current role is Executive Manager, Marketing and Fundraising for Bush Heritage Australia – a national not-for-profit that buys and manages land for conservation. Predominantly, my role involves the strategic leadership and oversight of communications and media, key relationships, direct marketing – cash and appeals program and regular giving program, supporter relations and database teams.

My aim is to take Bush Heritage’s annual donation tally to $30 million by 2022.

HOW DID YOU FIRST GET INTO FUNDRAISING?

I’ve come to the not-for-profit sector from higher education fundraising where I spent the past 13 years. I first entered the fundraising space managing events for the medical faculty at Monash University. For a decade I worked in every single position you could possibly imagine in a fundraising office and ended up Deputy Vice-President for the advancement portfolio at Deakin University. Deakin didn’t have an advancement function when I started, so I was charged with setting that up and spent four fantastic years there.

Having been exposed to some pretty amazing technology and research in the university sector, I started to realise that climate change is a very real challenge for this planet, and something that I worry about for my kids. I woke up one day in March last year and I knew I needed to have more of an on-the-ground impact in this area.

That’s where the change came, and so I made the shift to Bush Heritage.

WHO OR WHAT HAS SHAPED YOUR VIEWS ON FUNDRAISING?

I’ve been really lucky that in my role at the university I was able to meet and spend time with some extraordinary people, generally high net wealth individuals, and ask them questions around why they give. All of those people have helped shape my understanding that true philanthropy is the desire to leave a legacy 100 years past your death. You do something even though you know you’ll never actually see the fruits of it. There’s something incredibly special in that.

WHAT IS THE MOST INTERESTING OR SUCCESSFUL CAMPAIGN YOU HAVE BEEN INVOLVED WITH?

One of the most interesting campaigns was my first seven-figure gift from our current Chief Scientist of Australia, Alan Finkel, and his family. It funded the Monash Country Lines Archive – the digitisation of Aboriginal songlines as a way of protecting and keeping language.

I could not get enough of perfecting and finessing this campaign. I was so lucky to work with an entire family to deliver what they wanted to do with their philanthropy and match it with what the university wanted to do.

The campaign brought together indigenous researchers, IT students, animation and clay modellers, and the community. You can learn more about this special project here: http://artsonline.monash.edu.au/countrylines-archive/.

WHAT IS THE FUNNIEST THING THAT HAS EVER HAPPENED TO YOU DURING YOUR CAREER?

I once took a language professor to meet with  a consul general of a particular country to seek funds for a PhD researcher. The consul general didn’t speak English so he had an interpreter. We were about six minutes into the meeting and he started yelling at me and I had no idea why! Then he stormed out, slammed the door, and I was nicely escorted out of the building.

I should have known that there were rules around meeting etiquette in his culture and I was not following any of them!

This experience taught me the first rule of major gift fundraising: always do your research. This is one of the most important professional requirements to me now – one that I don’t just ask of my team, I demand it. Put everything on paper first and map out your objectives before you pick up the phone and set up a meeting, because I learnt the hard way!

WHAT ARE YOUR TOP TIPS FOR OTHER PEOPLE DOING FUNDRAISING WORK?

Fundraisers have simple rules – the same as in any kind of marketing or advertising or communications job. You have to know your audience. Who is it you are seeking funds from? Who are your donors? Why do they give? Where do they live? What are their interests?

You also need to know your own business and understand what your role is. Your role is only ever a bridge. You’re a facilitator, and once you believe and understand that then you can begin to connect people with vision to great projects.

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