Friday, July 06, 2007

Saving the Best for Last

By the tone of our recent posts, you would think that we've already packed our bags and are heading home. But actually, we're still working pretty hard: running the English Discussion Club (you can see our most recent lesson on confronting social problems by clicking here), helping the new director transition into her job, wrapping up our various assignments, and more. I also had a fascinating new opportunity this week: to teach fundraising at a large nonprofit conference here in St. Petersburg. It was one of the most rewarding experiences I've had so far this year, and I wanted to tell you about it!

I was introduced to the NGO Center by a friend of ours here in St. Petersburg, Jen Gaspar. Although I'm certainly no expert in fundraising, after four years of working in that field, I love talking about it and teaching others how to do it. So, when they gave me an hour-and-a-half session at their major summer conference, I was really excited and a little nervous. There are so many cultural differences between America and Russia (duh!) and they all seem to coalesce in the classroom. But I was up for the challenge and eager to impart my meager wisdom on anyone who would listen.

Of course, while I can speak basic sentences in Russian, I wasn't prepared to lead an entire session in this difficult language. Luckily, I had taught through an interpreter before, and knew just how strange an experience it can be. On the one hand, you have time to really formulate your thoughts while the information is being translated; on the other, everything takes twice as long, and it's awfully hard to tell a joke through a translator.

The session got off to a good start right off the bat. First, it was amazing to see my bio and session in Russian...and that I could actually understand it! Then, the person who was teaching before me was also an English speaker, a Canadian named Yvette Ghattas, who is also an experienced fundraiser. She had already read my bio and was looking forward to meeting me, since she is active in the Montreal Jewish Federation and is originally Israeli. Small world, huh? She was interested in hearing about the Jewish community here, so we had lots to discuss! And she wasn't the only Jewish person I met that day: there was a fundraiser from Russian Friends of Hebrew University and (to my great suprise) the head fundraiser for Chesed Avraham, located right here in YESOD!

Of the 120-or-so attendees at this conference from all over Russia, about 25 came to my session. Over the course of the session, I taught the group how to set up a meeting, how to present a compelling case, and how to ask for money successfully. Then I had them break up into pairs, so they could practice and put these skills into action. Along the way, I enjoyed learning about some of the non-profits in the room. They represented all sorts of causes: fighting HIV/AIDS, saving SPB's historical landmarks, helping children with Down's Syndrome, preserving parks and green spaces in the face of expanded urban development, and even renovating the city's one Buddhist temple. In fact, the Buddhist lady invited me to come and tour the temple, but I told her that Alyson and I had already been there (see, I told you we've done everything in this city)!

While I've learned that fundraising in Russia is far more challenging than it is in the States--first of all, people don't have nearly as much disposable income or free time--the participants really grasped the importance of asking people in a face-to-face manner. At the end of the seminar, I was excited to know that some of the participants were eager to go and use this important skill. In my own small way, I had helped build Russia's emerging nonprofit sector, and I was overjoyed to make a lasting contribution to the country as a whole.

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