Director of Fundraising for the internationally renowned and Nobel Peace Prize recipient, Médecins sans Frontières/Doctors Without Borders, Rebecca Davies leads the fundraising team for the Canadian arm of the organization and raises over $31 million annually (Canadian dollars). She has previously fundraised for Toronto General & Western Hospital Foundation, Women’s College Hospital Foundation, and the University of Toronto. She writes actively in the field of fundraising. Find her incredible insights here.
“In a war-zone, an MSF t-shirt can mean the difference between life and death.” Rebecca Davies, Director of Fundraising, Doctors without Borders (MSF)
When Rebecca Davies walks into her office at the Canadian headquarters of Doctors Without Borders (MSF) there’s an immediate distinction between what she is wearing and some of her hipster or mountain-equipment co-op attired colleagues peppering the office: Davies sports one of her handful of expensive suits.
Despite the fact that MSF pays its employees less than half the salary of a typical large NGO (to make sure its dollars are going to aid work not a bloated administration), and that employees are attracted for their commitment and motivation to MSF’s work and principles rather than for financial reward, Davies does her best to invest in her appearance: “But in fundraising we can’t necessarily look like we don’t make good salaries,” she explains, “I work for an NGO, but I deal with top donors.
In some cases, the reality is: you are not going to build a good relationship with top donor if you don’t look like you belong to that world.”At the same time, Davies notes that in charity culture on-the-ground fundraisers are wearing suits unnecessarily: “People think they need to act or look a certain way and that will immediately do the trick, but selling yourself and building relationships have to come first. When people wear suits all the time and for every event, it’s contrived.”
A special benefit Davies offers on behalf of MSF to top donors is a meeting with a field aid worker, typically a doctor, who shares their personal insight from the war-zones they’ve worked in: “What I offer to donors is access to a world they don’t have.”
Her challenge in this case however is occasionally to convince the field workers to dress appropriately for these meetings: “It can be a point of tension, to be told you don’t look presentable for a meeting. Doctors and other field workers are of course most concerned with being in the field, but dress sometimes really matters when meeting with donors. It’s about business development.” On the other hand, because of the relaxed dress code at MSF, Davies also says this gives the space to dress creatively and beautifully. “Some of my colleagues from all departments are the most stylish and well-put-together dressers I’ll ever work with.”
One area where the dress-code is non-negotiable however is in the field itself: an MSF t-shirt cannot be worn anywhere but in the field. In fact, once a worker returns home, their often muddy and blood-stained t-shirt is left in the field for use by the next worker. Why can’t the general public purchase an MSF t-shirt? Davies’ answer is sobering: “Because it’s our brand and safety in the field. We cannot dilute the logo, it’s what we have to keep people alive. It’s recognized and respected; it sometimes spares us from being targeted…it’s protection, a beacon for patients, it’s a negotiating tactic.”
In addition to her fashion advice, Davies has this to say to fundraisers: “You are a sales person, you have to sell yourself! Do something classy, that sets you apart…..our operations in the field and medical aid delivery at MSF, are, I believe, peerless. We arrogantly stick stick to our mandate. Demure is not interesting or effective: in the field or in fundraising:donors should be challenged to give more money.” Davies is in no way demure when is comes to advocating for the brave and outstanding work that MSF does; and like the organization she serves, she is peerless in her field.
Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) is an international medical humanitarian organization created by doctors and journalists in France in 1971. Today, MSF provides independent, impartial assistance in more than 60 countries to people whose survival is threatened by violence, neglect, or catastrophe, primarily due to armed conflict, epidemics, malnutrition, exclusion from health care, or natural disasters. MSF provides independent, impartial assistance to those most in need. MSF also reserves the right to speak out to bring attention to neglected crises, challenge inadequacies or abuse of the aid system, and to advocate for improved medical treatments and protocols. To find out more, or to donate: www.msf.ca (or www.msf.org outside of Canada).