How I became a Fundraising Leader

8th November 2019

The post: Chair of Will to Give and Fundraising Engagement Lead, Marie Curie Belfast Hospice

The post holder: Eimear McCooey

Positivity, adaptability and great communication skills are crucial for Eimear McCooey’s role in the charity sector. Here’s how she became a Fundraising Leader at Marie Curie Belfast Hospice.

Give a brief outline of your career to date.

I grew up helping out in my family shop and pub so have always enjoyed working with people, ensuring that they had great customer satisfaction and really that is what fundraising is all about – ensuring that people feel great when they donate to their most loved charity.

I started my career in hospitality management and spent my placement year working in The K Club in Kildare and a nine-month placement turned into almost eight years of employment. In 2006, I moved into the charity sector in a legacy fundraising capacity where I have worked since.

What was your favourite subject at school?

I loved geography which probably explains my constant need to have a holiday booked!

Did you go on to further/ higher education, if so what did you study and where?

I wasn’t 100% sure that I wanted to go to college never mind what I wanted to study. I chose Hospitality Management (mainly to keep my dad happy!) at Southern Area College. Our second year was placement year and I was very lucky to get a place at The K Club in Kildare. When placement year was up I decided to take on a permanent role and stayed for eight years. It wasn’t until a few years later that I returned to Dublin Business School to complete my degree.

How did you get into your area of work?

While working in the 5-star K Club I held roles in various parts of the resort working my way up from sales, to reception manager to managing and supporting the resorts property and membership portfolio. After working on the Ryder Cup in 2006, I felt like I needed a new challenge which is when I took a change of direction into fundraising and since then have worked within a mixed portfolio of legacy, community, corporate, events and major donor whilst working on capital appeals at LauraLynn House and CLIC Sargent’s Homes from Home Appeal. I have been working with Marie Curie now for five years focusing on legacy giving and fundraising engagement.

I am also the Chair of Will to Give, a group of 68 of Northern Ireland’s most loved charities working together to encourage people to leave a charitable donation in their Will.

Were there any particular essential qualifications or experience needed?

There are no essential qualifications but there are definitely skills needed which can’t always be taught. Positivity, adaptability, the gift of the gab and a listening ear. It’s really important to make people feel comfortable talking about something as personal and sensitive as their last wishes and the legacy they want to leave behind.

It does take a particular type of person to work in fundraising. You need to be organised, passionate, resilient but most of all you need to be kind. The majority of charities operating in Northern Ireland exist because people find themselves in need of support at challenging times in their lives. If it wasn’t for the kindness of the Northern Ireland public many of these charities wouldn’t exist. Fundraising is very much about paying that kindness forward, ensuring that the people who hold coffee mornings, run marathons, jump out of planes or leave a gift in their will, feel their support is valued and wishes are honoured.

What does a typical day entail?

Does anyone really have a typical day?! I work at the Marie Curie Hospice on Kensington Road, so my day often starts meeting patients, families, staff and volunteers – the warmth and kindness that exists in the hospice is incredible and that makes each day very special.

I could be doing anything from meeting with families who want to support the work of Marie Curie, speaking to groups in the local community about our services or as Chair of Will to Give working on initiatives such as Will to Give Week which is running this week to encourage people to think about leaving a gift in their Will to their most loved charities.

What are the best and most challenging aspects of the job?

The best thing is the huge opportunity I have to get involved in lots of different areas as Chairperson of Will to Give. It is so incredibly satisfying working with people right across the sector to influence positive change for everybody living in Northern Ireland. My aspirations for Will to Give are for it to continue to go from strength to strength; that the group continues to be creative and innovative in our approach. It really is a crucial platform to help all Northern Ireland based charities achieve what no single charity can do alone: make legacy giving a social norm here in Northern Ireland.

As for challenges – trying to change people’s perception about talking about death and dying. I think it’s fair to say that most of us don’t like to talk about what’s going to happen to us in the future, so it comes as no surprise that only one in four people in Northern Ireland have made a Will. As part of Will to Give week we want to change this: we plan for life’s major milestones; births, weddings, anniversaries but most of us shy away from talking about and planning for death – yet it is the one thing that is guaranteed to happen to us all! I strongly believe talking openly about the future can help ensure we have a better experience when it eventually does happen, and one of the things we can plan for is the legacy we want to leave behind.

Why is what you do important?

It’s so important because the work that we do now at Will to Give to increase the number of people who leave a gift in their Will means that the charities and causes we hold dear will still be here for generations to come. Leaving a gift in your will is the kindest lasting wish that you can leave and shows the world what was important to you.

If you weren’t doing this what would you like to do?

I really don’t know. I love what I do! I feel very lucky to work with Marie Curie and see the impact we have for so many patients and families at such a difficult time in their lives. As Chair of Will to Give I get to see this impact multiplied across all our member charities and I don’t think I could ask for anything more than that.

Describe your ideal day off.

That’s easy! I’d pack a picnic and head off for a hike through the Mournes with my other half and then stop off in Mourne Seafood for tea on the way home – the wheaten bread is ace!

And finally, what’s the key to any successful job search?

Be curious and ask the questions. If you see something that sparks your interest, then go ahead and find out a little bit more about the job rather than assume you don’t have experience or qualifications. Your future employer might just be waiting on your call.   

Are you looking for a job in the charity sector?

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