Strengthening Our Community of Champions: Reflections from the 2019 Global Development Network Learning Trip

Christian Wolf, Teach First Deutschland Manager, Partners & Donors
Global Development NLT participants joined by representatives from DHL, SAP, Accenture, Fritz Henkel Stiftung, and Schöpflin Stiftung

Teach For All brought together partner staff members and CEOs who lead development efforts in their countries to the 2019 Global Development Network Learning Trip (NLT) in Berlin, Germany from May 20 to 24. Co-hosted by Teach First Deutschland, participants discussed how to deepen and re-energize relationships with donors, champions, and supporters based on a common vision for systemic change. Teach First Deutschland Partners & Donors Manager Christian Wolf shared his reflections from the week, broken down into what the NLT made him think, feel and know. 

Think: When I first heard that Teach For All was planning to bring network staff and CEOs to Berlin to talk about fundraising and development issues my first thought was, “What a strange idea! Who wants to talk about money all day long?”

However, my first impression quickly turned out to be rather one-dimensional, because after all, the objective for fundraisers is not only to raise money. The greater challenge is to cultivate strong and lasting relationships between donors and our organizations, and build strong movements for education quality and equity. Every relationship is unique, and every relationship is important to an organization. Easier said than done.

Feel: I had mixed feelings when I arrived at the conference on the first day. I had started my job at Teach First Deutschland merely a year ago and this was my first job in fundraising and organizational development. I was a little intimidated to step into a conference with experts from all corners of the world.

It is part of the Teach For All culture that conference participants talk in small groups or peer-to-peer. At Teach First Deutschland, we also cultivate this approach, and this is one aspect that makes my job such a great pleasure. Getting the opportunity to learn more about the other attendees made it quickly clear to me that I was not the only newcomer to development work, but also that all organizations face numerous but similar challenges in cultivating relationships with donors. Sharing these experiences was a wonderful asset, and it was a big gain for my own daily work. Something that stood out to me was a principle that Ulf Matysiak (CEO, Teach First Deutschland) introduced at the beginning of the conference: “Don’t preach – but listen.” To me, this is crucial in order to become a great steward for donor-relationships, a key goal of the conference. Also, Ulf’s notion that the end of a donation does not necessarily mean the end of a partnership gave many of us confidence and helped ease the pressure that we oftentimes feel in maintaining or establishing these relationships.

However, the conference did not only involve the exchange of the challenges in a fundraiser’s daily work and in our relationships with donors. On the second day, we visited different schools in and around Berlin to focus on the impact that such an experience could have on our donors and partners. We tried putting ourselves in the position of a sponsor to get an idea for what they might feel and think. What expectations do sponsors have for a school visit? How does it feel to visit a school or classroom? What kind of feelings will last after the visit? What experiences can we gather after the visit and how can it deepen the relationship with the donor? Are there any means to measure the impact of such a visit?

Many participants in my group for the school visit had no idea what to expect from a German school and its students. However, what we learned during the visit and throughout the week was that many of the day-to-day challenges children face are similar across the world, and thus the solutions to these challenges can be shared.  

Know: The last day of the conference offered us a priceless opportunity to learn from each other’s success as all the participating organizations were called to present highlights and innovations from their own work with donors and champions. These innovations really demonstrated that, although  we have different approaches to stewarding relationships, creativity and ingenuity bring us closer to our shared goals.

Teach For Austria, for example, highlighted their partnership with the Swarovski Foundation. The "Shine Brighter Challenge" is a campaign designed to bring creativity and innovation to classrooms in a similar way that Swarovski does in their business. Fellows and students can submit proposals for how they would use the “glittering waste” from Swarovski diamond production to create art and the five best proposals will  compete for a sponsored class trip. Overall, this partnership is an example of a great corporate volunteering project that addresses several issues at once, and allowed Teach For Austria to renew their multi-year partnership with the Foundation for the 2019-2021 cycle.

From this and many other innovations I learned not to shy away from developing creative ideas, something I know I am going to hold on to for a long time to come.

As if the innovation fair wasn’t enough, on the final day we also invited the main donors of Teach First Deutschland to join the conference to openly and honestly discuss the challenges in stewarding relationships. It was an incredible experience, that not only inspired everyone through the openness and trust in the conversation but also made it obvious to everyone that Teach First Deutschland could not exist without the support, honesty, and guidance of these champions. 

The insights I gained throughout these three days, the general exchange about the challenges we face in our everyday work, and the new perspectives I was exposed to showed me that there are different ways of accepting and dealing with my own personal challenges as a fundraiser. Many ideas, mechanisms and innovations were exchanged, but for me, the biggest benefit of this conference was  the readiness in facing challenges and the willingness to change things together.

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