Member Spotlight

Sarah LyonSarah Lyon
Director, Philanthropy
Alzheimer Society of Nova Scotia
AFP member since 2014

How long have you worked in your current position?

10 years as Director, 13 years with the Alzheimer Society of Nova Scotia this August!

How did you start your career in philanthropy?

Technically, as a member of Girl Guides of Canada we sell cookies, which is a fundraiser. And you learn from that how to speak to people about where the money goes, how to budget, the impact the money raised has on women and girls across our province, Canada, and the world. From there, I was the first Chair of Philanthropy for my sorority when I was in University, learning how to plan events, work with vendors, etc. When I finished my Advanced Diploma in Public Relations and was on the job hunt, it was a sorority sister who was on contract at the Alzheimer Society of Nova Scotia in fundraising who recommended me for a permanent job as the Coordinator of Events and Campaigns. I was hired on the spot and haven’t looked back!

What would you tell fundraisers who are just getting started or looking to grow?

When you are getting started, I would say listen and learn. When I started in 2007-2008 social media was becoming popular and I met so many fundraisers from around the world through those channels, soaking up all the nuggets of knowledge they were giving in 140 characters, or live videos. I encourage you to ask questions, attend education sessions, reach out and introduce yourself to other fundraisers. To grow, I would say build relationships. It is key to what we DO as fundraisers, but has to be key in being a fundraiser. I was fortunate to be paired with a mentor when in school that I still have a relationship with. And I was lucky to have found a circle of peers in our industry who I can text quick questions to or bounce ideas off of. And now that circle is working to educate and make changes in our sector. All because of the relationships we were able to build with each other (thanks Goals Gone Wild – Marni Tuttle, Lisa Weatherhead, Liz LeClair!) And no matter where you are in your career, be part of the rising tide that lifts all boats. If a fellow fundraiser has a question about anything, answer and help. Canadian donors give to many of us, and should reasonably have the same experience with us all. That can happen if we as fundraisers, support each other.

What about philanthropy is most surprising to you?

My answer is in a question back: Are we standing up for each other, and thus, creating better work environments that will benefit donors and our organizations? We are trying to solve some big issues: protecting the environment, curing diseases, feeding families, saving animals, and so much more. None of which can be done without donors, which means we need knowledgeable and professional fundraisers. Donors have rights and deserve to be treated well by organizations, and the lead in that relationship, is fundraisers. Too often though, we are burning out great fundraisers in a variety of ways. You can watch Dan Pallotta’s Ted Talk about Overhead as a start as to the way media, online commenters, and even volunteers and donors, generalize and sensationalize outdated and unvalidated headlines about fundraising. This has an effect on our colleagues. Philanthropy, the desire to promote the welfare of others, needs to do so inwards as well; we need to be prepared to support staff mental health, create respectful workplaces, and ensure pay is not only equal, but competitive to attract and retain talented professionals, to help donors, and solve the issues we are trying to solve.

Oddest/most unique fundraiser you’ve ever been a part of?

For several years, I was part of a fundraiser that dumped 10,000 rubber ducks into the Halifax Harbour, raced them, then collected them all. Peak event coordinator when you are laying on a dock, arm stretched out to pluck out the “winning” duck from the Atlantic Ocean, during Hurricane season, while watching that a seal doesn’t pop up to fight you for that rubber duck, and a co-worker holds onto your legs so you don’t fall in. And no, wouldn’t change anything about it!