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Nonprofit Heroes: Daryl Upsall, International Fundraiser and Recruiter

Welcome to our Nonprofit Heroes series, where the Donorfy team interviews industry experts, successful proven fundraisers, and nonprofit heroes with stories and tips to inspire your charity to use technology to your advantage and do good, better. Enjoy!

The fourth interviewee in our new series is Daryl Upsall, who has worked in the charity sector for over 30 years.  We asked Daryl a few questions about his career and how he sees the future of the sector and digital fundraising.

Let’s start with some background information - who are you, and what do you do?

I'm Daryl, CEO of Daryl Upsall Consulting International and Daryl Upsall & Associates and based out of Madrid, Spain. We provide services to the fundraising sector and nonprofit sector in multiple markets all over the world. We provide fundraising strategy, market assessments and help hire senior fundraisers and CEOs for organisations.

What was your first job?

My first job in the sector, post-university, was raising funds for the Nicaraguan revolution back in 1983. I was the first fundraiser of an organisation called the ‘Nicaragua Solidarity Campaign (NSC)’ which still exists today. We wanted to help bring about awareness of the benefits of the revolution happening there, and raise funds for specific projects around sanitation, health and education.

Daryl & American celebrity Whoopi Goldberg

Daryl & American celebrity Whoopi Goldberg

Was ‘fundraising’ as a profession well understood back then, or did you have to make it up as you went along?

Neither I, nor anybody around me, had a clue what a fundraiser was to be honest. Even in the UK. My parents told me I’d never make any money - and for a long time, they were right!

After many years living in strange, budget accommodations, we ended up taking the NSC  from 1 part-time person to 10 people, and from £5,000 per year to £1,000,000 per year - and had a really fantastic journey along the way.

When you were at university, did you think you’d go into fundraising and the charity sector?

Actually, even as far back as age 16, I was fundraising through music projects and band pursuits - although I was the least musically talented of the group and ended up being the manager (and occasional Go-Go dancer!). Some of the members actually ended up going on to form the fairly well-known Creation Records and managed the band Oasis.

When I got to Cambridge University, I ended up being college Social Secretary and President and University Rag Week President and organising benefit gigs and beer festivals! I also got heavily involved in politics as well, and turned my entrepreneurial flair into fundraising for issues I cared about, including a popular weekly “Red” disco. Really, I ended up drifting into fundraising because the issues I cared about never had money!

Sounds like you’ve met some movers and shakers along the way. Who is the most impressive or inspiring person you’ve met so far?

It has to be Nelson Mandela. When I was in my early 20s and working on the Nicaragua project, I was honoured (and surprised) to be approached by a legend in British fundraising, Lyndall Stein, who was then working for the Africa National Congress in Europe. I backed her up on her fundraising efforts and became a political advisor to her boss.

Fast-forward ten years later, while both Lyndall and I were working at the HIV/AIDS charity Terrence Higgins Trust, and I was called back with Lyndall to help fundraise for the ANC and Nelson Mandela in South Africa as they’d run out of money. We raised two-and-a-half million pounds, and I ended up being introduced to Nelson at gala event in London. It was a great honour.

You’ve seen many changes in fundraising climate over the years, and especially now we are seeing seismic shifts in the political climate. How does this change the way charities gain support? Does it present challenges or opportunities in the coming year?

It’s going to affect charities and organisations differently depending on what their focus is. I often reminisce about my early days of fundraising in the early 1980s when the world had a Reagan administration in the US and Margaret Thatcher in the UK. There was civil strife and unrest everywhere, and it was a really tough time. Many Latin American countries were also ruled by violent dictatorships. I think people either forget what a difficult time that was or they were too young to be there. Added to that our fundraising tool-kit was very limited and there were no donor management solutions like Donorfy to help us.

Either way, when I think of that time, it gives me a bit of a deja-vu feeling to what we’re experiencing now in this strange political time. When there is a serious political change going on, for better or worse, depending on where you sit on the political spectrum, but it’s a moment that also forces action from civil society. Not just charities - but those working in campaigning like Greenpeace, Amnesty International and Planned Parenthood. Organisations fighting for human rights are gearing up for the some of the biggest battles in their history.

"Sometimes it takes a powerful enemy in front of you to galvanise change."

In the UK, for example, we’ve had many years of fairly sympathetic politics towards the charity sector. For example I’ve been fairly involved myself in LGBT rights myself, and having leaders of all three major political parties back the Kaleidoscope Trust in Parliament just a few years ago shows how far we’ve come.

However, now we will see a push back. There will be a lot of challenges to come and a lot of strife, but this moment provides a chance for the sector to reinvigorate itself.

You’ve shared best-practice fundraising globally. Are there areas of the world where there’s a huge untapped potential and opportunity for better fundraising?

Yes - we’re currently working across 65 countries, and the real boom in fundraising is happening in Asia. The most mind-boggling experience I’ve had recently in terms of seeing ‘change’ is in China. I was invited to speak at the first international Chinese fundraising conference recently, and learned charitable donations topped 16 billion US dollars in China. I’ve been to many fundraising conferences around the world, and to see 3,500 charitable organisations show up to this conference was particularly amazing.

In terms of a single donation, tech giant Ali Baba’s founder gave 2% of his company’s stock to a charitable trust, and as a whole, China is years ahead of us in terms of integrated digital content and payments.

Absolutely vast growth in philanthropy is happening in China on a scale we’re not seeing in the West.

Part of what you do is helping NGO’s to find leaders. What makes a leader and a great fundraiser?

Daryl and his son

Daryl and his son

First of all - a great fundraiser has to have passion. Without passion, ambition and drive, you’re not going to go anywhere. They also need a pool of optimism. When you look at Nelson Mandela, for example, he spent 27 years in prison and still came out with an optimistic outlook. That’s the reality, for a fundraiser: you’re going to hit brick walls, you’re going to experience media attacks, and you’ll hit resistance within your own organisation. You need ambition.

Also, it may come as a bit of a surprise, but when I surveyed some of the biggest non-profit brands CEOs recently and asked them what they were looking for in a leader, they said ‘entrepreneurship’.

Fundraising is not a 9-5 job. Nowadays, you have to think strategically and with a business perspective and have the drive.

What one thing would you change or improve to make it easier for people to fundraise in the current market? What techniques are needed?

The one thing that everybody needs to know and that everyone is looking for right now is truly understanding the donor. People want to understand their donor’s motivations, and be able to communicate with them in the right language and in the right time zone, using the method that the donor wants.

In my dream fundraising world, every donor would have a bespoke donor journey that would relate specifically to them, rather than with the one-size-fits-all communications approach we’re currently seeing too much of. Tech companies use algorithms to understand your shopping behaviour, so charities need to think similarly and try to understand people’s charitable giving behaviour. Innovation in Facebook and fundraising is really getting us closer to that ideal.

If you had to give one shout-out to a charitable organisation, which one would it be?

That’s a really tough one, but probably one of the most impressive organisations I’ve recently had the pleasure of working with is called The Fred Hollows Foundation, who are based in Australia. They do fantastic work, product real impact reports and fundraise with a passion and professionalism that is amazing.

Another organisation punching above their weight is WaterAid  - many smaller organisations regularly tell me they admire WaterAid and aspire to meet their standards.

Okay, a few personal questions now.

  • You are infamously passionate about good food and good wine. If you were hosting the perfect dinner party, what would you eat and who would be there?

Something authentically Chinese - it was fantastic eating real Chinese food in China. So I’d love something with a really broad range of flavours and a real zing to the senses. The best dinner parties always last several hours - enough time for good chat and conversation! My son, who is training to become a top chef, could cook :)!

  • If you had a superpower, what would it be?

It would be the ability to eat all the delicious food and drink all the best wine in the world and not put on a single ounce. Bliss!

  • On the techie side of things, are you a PC or a Mac these days?

I have a PC for work, but I love my ageing iPad for personal use.

  • Which smartphone do you have and what’s your favourite app?

A Galaxy S7 that I can use to light my barbecue! (Just kidding. I really have a Samsung S5). My current favourite app is Vivino - free wine reviews and discounts on award-winning wines. Definitely check it out.

Huge thanks Daryl for joining us for our Nonprofit Heroes interview!

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