Fundraising with Joy Interview Series – Sarah Matsushita

Sarah Matsushita, Communications and Network Engagement, Ontario Nonprofit Network

Sarah Matsushita HeadshotI only met Sarah about three months ago, but it feels like I have known her much longer. She is a communications and development professional recently back in Toronto and she is excited to be supporting community nonprofits across her home province for the Ontario Nonprofit Network. Sarah worked in Thailand and Japan for many years doing communications and advocacy for women’s human rights. As you can imagine she has some amazing stories to tell and a unique perspective on philanthropy. Over tea, we have had great conversations about work and life experiences, social justice, and the broadening of a view of philanthropy. She has also introduced me to cool things like Creative Mornings Toronto. I have so appreciated getting to know Sarah through our conversations and her blog, “A do-over – Sustainable Social Change” which can be found at

Follow Sarah on Twitter @sarahmatsushita

Janice: What made you choose a career in the social profit sector?

Sarah: As a public relations student, I had fundraising internship and was very lucky to be placed with Ken Wyman & Associates, doing prospect research for his consulting company. There I was introduced to the sector, and social justice and philanthropy. Ken was working with really interesting clients and I got to see some inspiring stories of impact. I wanted to be part of it.

Interestingly, I stepped away from the sector for a few years teaching and training in Japan. But I felt something was missing. Luckily I learned of an opening on the board of a refugee aid organization. That changed everything for me- I was excited about my work again. And working on refugee issues sharpened my focus on social justice and advocacy.

Janice: What does philanthropy mean to you? Has your definition changed over time?

Sarah: After working for seven years in the sector, doing all kinds of development roles, my thinking was pretty engrained in the Canadian and US style of philanthropy- building strategic partnerships with major donors, companies and foundations. But I realized now I assumed everyone knew what philanthropy meant and why they should give. But in Asia there isn’t the same idea. The concept of giving a donation is kind of strange. Of course there’s a traditional community spirit there to look out for one’s neighbours, but it’s expected that government takes care of social issues.

There’s that telling story when Bill Gates and Warren Buffet organized a dinner to discuss philanthropy with 50 of China’s super rich. RSVPs were slow to come because they didn’t understand expectations, and some of the businesspeople didn’t necessarily want to copy the U.S. charity mode. They saw their civic responsibility as keeping successful companies going, paying taxes and providing jobs- not making large donations to charities.

I remember going to a big fundraiser in Tokyo where a well-known American charity leader flew in to speak to guests. Guests were mainly Japanese- with a small contingent of international expats- something I didn’t often see at these fundraisers. In other countries the CEO would have been a huge draw, but when he got up to speak he wasn’t able to quiet the room, despite being in a normally polite and orderly culture. I was surprised, but I realized that despite being “internationally-minded”, the Japanese guests were there for other reasons. They bought their ticket, maybe bid on some silent auction items. It was a party for them- the philanthropic part was secondary. So, it was a good lesson not to assume my view of philanthropy and how it “usually” works was shared by other cultures.

I’m also seeing young professionals adding their fresh perspective and being early adopters of innovative models to get to the roots of social problems. For many years, dialogue on philanthropy has been on traditional models of giving, and from a small, almost exclusive group doing the talking. Yet I’m seeing more and more people who are from outside the sector bringing different ways of addressing issues.

Janice: How does your organization’s mission connect to your personal values?

Sarah: From my last job, I got to see the power of social movements and that awesome energy when people and organizations join forces to tackle a greater social issue. It was powerful training for me to bring to my current organization and connects to my belief in movement building. Operating in silos limits broader and sustainable change. Plus my interest in such a variety of nonprofits and charities may have seemed random before, but my role ties all of those interests together and helps me understand where these organizations are coming from.

Janice: What brings you the most joy in your work?

Sarah: Meeting people who are passionate about social issues, or hearing a great story about how a seemingly simple act impacted someone deeply. I also love seeing that spark go off in people’s eyes when they feel a part of something big.

Janice: Your job focuses on cultivating relationships and supporting others, what do you do to recharge your batteries?

Sarah: I spend a lot of time on the computer and online for my job, so unplugging is key. I love exploring neighbourhoods, so a walk or a bike ride around an area with interesting architecture and markets or shops really helps to relax. I also love going to the movies and getting lost in other people’s stories.

Janice: Research shows that philanthropy and volunteerism are proven ways to increase happiness. How have you experienced this in your work and life?

Sarah: Volunteering has changed the course of my career and led me to places I never knew about. It also helped me build a fantastic network of friends and colleagues, a network I likely wouldn’t have working in another sector. Connecting to like-minded people and having my ideas challenged in a good way brings a lot of satisfaction. It also feels good to choose my favourite causes and make regular contributions to them.

Janice: Our work in the social profit sector allows us to make a contribution. What is the lasting impact you want to make during your career?

Sarah: I hope I can help change the way people think about making impact. I think many people don’t see themselves as having impact unless they work in the sector or make big donations. There’s also the sense of waiting for other people to take action. Yet they don’t see their own regular activities as community building- like coaching their kid’s soccer team, supporting community theatre, collecting warm clothes for the local women’s shelter. It’s not just about making six-figure donations to a university or hospital. I want to be part of pushing that idea that everyone can have real impact.

© 2013, Janice Cunning. All rights reserved. You are welcome to share this posting if you include my contact information. Please contact me if you wish to reprint any portion of it in any periodical or on a website

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About Janice Cunning

As a certified coach and fundraiser, I am passionate about partnering with people and teams to increase their personal and professional Joy Quota.

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