We’re thrilled to share the next blog in our ‘Light on a Regional Fundraiser’ series, written by Rishaad Ait El Moudden, Trust Fundraising Manager at Scottish Opera.
Why did you decide to go into a career in fundraising?
It was something I sort of fell into as a (happy) accident. My first exposure to fundraising as a viable role in the arts was while studying Acting at university. We did a module on Leadership in the Creative Industries, which enabled us to form our own theatre company and put on a play at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. I ended up enjoying the project management responsibilities more than the actual performing – my marks for essays and coursework were generally higher than my marks for my actual acting, so it was a sign!
After graduation and in between lots of unsuccessful auditions, I began volunteering at my local theatre in the South-West of Scotland, the Gaiety. I’m grateful that this led to a one-year arts management traineeship that provided me with a curated range of experiences to give me a ‘taste’ of the available careers and provide extra capacity as and where required for the company. I covered duties for producing, marketing, finance, community outreach and, of course, fundraising, which was to be a core element: from my first day writing supporting documents for a Creative Scotland application, to needing funding to deliver the community projects I developed, to securing funding for a new second year traineeship. This was also validated by achieving my best marks in the Fundraising module of my PGCert in Arts, Festival and Cultural Management at Queen Margaret University.
As brilliant as this opportunity was, it became more of a blessing than a curse as I ended up finding all these roles rewarding. At the end of my traineeship, I was conflicted and overwhelmed about what to choose as my next career step. It felt like a point of no return. The majority of relevant jobs available were in marketing or project management, which I applied for out of desperation for anything, but the one I was drawn to the most was conveniently a Development Coordinator post at the Gaiety. This would enable me to continue developing the projects I begun during my traineeship and specialise more in fundraising. Fortunately, I blagged my way into it…
Inevitably, I also owe an incalculable debt of gratitude to my former manager and CEO at the Gaiety. Perhaps he took pity on me as a fellow failed actor, but his de-facto mentoring and investment in me has nurtured my down this career path. He encouraged me to pursue fundraising from a pragmatic stance – most arts organisations will always need funding, thus will always need good fundraisers, and fundraising has become a requirement embedded in various roles across all sizes of organisations – but also from a personal stance of it being a fulfilling experience and journey. That I could then feel self-assured to apply for, and get, a dedicated managerial role in fundraising with a national organisation like Scottish Opera is something I wouldn’t have thought possible only four years after graduating university. I still pinch myself with a bit of imposter syndrome!
In retrospect, fundraising is an ideal fit for my interests and abilities. I love building relationships and connecting with people, I’ve always enjoyed writing and I’m passionate about making good things happen in communities – components all central to fundraising.
“His de-facto mentoring and investment in me has nurtured my down this career path. He encouraged me to pursue fundraising from a pragmatic stance – most arts organisations will always need funding, thus will always need good fundraisers[…]but also from a personal stance of it being a fulfilling experience and journey.”
What are you most proud of having achieved in your career?
There are some obvious monetary achievements that I’m really proud of after dedicating months of energy to the applications, which have made a real difference to organisations and the people they work with and left a legacy. Recently, Scottish Opera were one of only six organisations in Scotland to receive support from the Weston Culture Fund, which is enabling us to enhance the quality and diversity of our new work in response to Covid-19 so we can continue reaching audiences. Other ‘big wins’ include coming out (not unscathed) of a Heritage Lottery Fund application with almost £500k and a grant of over £150k to establish a new rural touring theatre network with community venues across Ayrshire. The fluke of encouraging a first-time donor to quadruple their initial offer to a five-figure gift is something I reflect on with utter disbelief rather than pride, however!
“Being a fundraiser[…]will inevitably involve a lot of rejection and disappointment[…] There are so many variables (hidden and public) out of your control so, as long as you are confident in the work you’re putting out, you just have to trust the process.”
Are there any special moments/fun stories that you will always remember?
Reopening the Gaiety Theatre in September 2016 after its closure for refurbishment. The team of staff and volunteers worked so hard to plan and deliver the reopening event, I think we had to talk ourselves out of doing an all-nighter! Some of us were there from 6am on the day and through to 11pm. Taking hundreds of happy faces – young and old, local and distant, first-time visitors and long-time attendees – on tours of the building to showcase the transformation and tell the history of the theatre was incredibly satisfying. Showing some supporters their brick or seat plaque led to lots of special memories for both them and I.
What advice would you give to your younger self?
To not solely measure my worth or my success in a job by the figure raised at the end of the year. Being a fundraiser, no matter how talented or experienced you become, will inevitably involve a lot of rejection and disappointment. Earlier in my career I was quite hard on myself and took each declined application or donation ask more personally than I should have, which only added to the pressure and anxiety of the role. There are so many variables (hidden and public) out of your control so, as long as you are confident in the work you’re putting out, you just have to trust the process (as us Leeds United fans like to say!). I still struggle with this at times but I’ve improved my resilience, thanks in large part to a series of very supportive and reassuring managers.