Career Path

Really making a difference

By Ella Lee

Vivien Pun, head of fundraising, Med ecins Sans Frontier es, makes a field visit in Sierra Leone

When choosing a job, most people focus on two major considerations - the monetary rewards and the prospects for promotion. What should you do, though, when you find those factors no longer provide sufficient motivation or the level of job satisfaction you expect?

If you are like Vivien Pun, head of fundraising for Med ecins Sans Frontier es (MSF), you re-examine what you really want from life and then make a change. With an MBA and ten years' experience in banking and finance, Ms Pun was already a senior manager with a top financial institution when she decided a change of direction was needed and it was time to quit.

"It was not an easy decision," she recalls. "The job was very good indeed - high pay, handsome increases every year and sometimes full-year bonuses. The prospects were excellent, but I had a vocation to contribute to society more directly and realised the best way was to move into the field of public welfare."

Moving from the world of easy money and corporate power to a non-profit making organisation required courage and determination. "I knew, though, that if I didn't try, I would regret it for the rest of my life," Ms Pun adds.

When her application to MSF in 2000 led to an offer to join the international humanitarian and medical organisation as fundraising manager, she accepted immediately.

Adjustment necessary
The position entailed the development and implementation of fundraising campaigns and Ms Pun admits that it took some time to adapt to the new environment. "The culture, style of work and ways of thinking were different," she notes. "The structure was flatter and, of course, resources were limited."

Even as a manager, she soon learned that self-reliance and versatility were key assets. For example, in putting together a direct mailing programme, it was necessary to develop the theme, write the material, select photos, work out the mailing list, and follow up with potential donors. Every single task, no matter how big or small, had to be handled with equal competence and enthusiasm. Statistical evaluation of the results had to be done later.

Such efforts obviously paid off since MSF now has a larger fundraising department. Ms Pun oversees this, along with donation services, receipts and communications with donors. Maintaining motivation among staff is another important responsibility and, to do this, field visits to an MSF project prove more effective than anything.

Another world
"It really helps if staff can understand what the organisation is doing in providing emergency medical assistance to populations in danger around the world," she explains. "To see that at first hand is valuable experience. It definitely broadens someone's horizons and lets them understand the levels of poverty and suffering that can exist in a region torn by crisis."

Visits like those also make plain the impact that work done in Hong Kong can have. Every dollar raised here can contribute to changing the lives of people in less fortunate communities. "Our work may sometimes seem difficult," says Ms Pun, "but it is definitely meaningful. The realisation that we can make things happen is what drives us on."

MSF's fundraising work involves various direct mailing and cold calling programmes to both the medical community and the general public. In the case of particular emergencies, they also advertise in newspapers, make appeals via the Internet and get funding from the government. In addition, special events are arranged and a certain amount of support can be obtained from corporate sponsors.

"Raising funds is always a big challenge," says Ms Pun. "There is a lot of competition among charitable organisations and NGOs, but at least the public has a clear understanding of our work to alleviate suffering and preserve human life and dignity." International awareness was greatly helped when MSF was awarded the 1999 Nobel Peace prize for its efforts. This honour recognised the work of MSF relief workers in more than 80 countries, over 20 of which are involved in armed conflicts.

When Ms Pun is recruiting officers for fundraising, she looks for a university degree, good language skills and general business sense. A background in sales and marketing can help, but more emphasis is placed on having the right personality. Candidates should be proactive, independent, tough and adaptable, especially as they may face difficult conditions during overseas field visits.

Because of financial constraints, MSF and similar organisations tend to maintain minimal headcounts. "If you are genuinely committed to this type of work, keep applying until a suitable opportunity comes up," Ms Pun advises.

China Opportunities

Because of restrictions imposed at national level, overseas organisations are not yet allowed to raise funds in mainland China. Nevertheless, Ms Pun believes this policy may change and that the Chinese population could potentially become a generous source of donations.

Rather than fundraising, MSF's current focus on the mainland is providing medical services, especially for HIV/AIDS treatment and care. Volunteers with relevant language skills are always considered for work on these programmes.


Taken from Career Times 26 November 2004, p. 32
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