Fundraising with Joy Interview – Sharilyn Hale

Sharilyn Hale, CFRE, Principal, Watermark Philanthropic Advising

Sharilyn headshotSharilyn is the Principal of Watermark Philanthropic Advising, offering strategies for meaningful giving, receiving and leading. I had the pleasure of attending a recent presentation she led on fundraising and philanthropy as a vocation. She created a space for us to explore the meaning and purpose of our work by telling stories about our experiences with both giving and receiving. It was especially powerful to hear fundraisers share their own stories of being the recipient of others’ generosity. This is just one example of how Sharilyn emphasizes and brings to life the idea of values-based philanthropy.

With 20 years in her vocation, Sharilyn has lived her values and made a tremendous impact in the community and within the profession. She is Immediate Past Chair of the Board of CFRE International and was one of the leaders to initiate Canada’s first graduate degree program in Philanthropy and Non Profit Leadership at Carleton University. She herself earned an MA in Philanthropy and Development in 2004 from Saint Mary’s University of Minnesota.

To learn more about Sharilyn, visit or follow her on Twitter @SharilynDH

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

It initially chose me, and in time I chose it! Unusual for our field, my first few jobs out of university were in fund development, although not by conscious planning or decision making. It was only when I left for a private sector position that I discovered where I wanted to be, and where my heart was. That was when I made a choice to return to this space, and more specifically to commit to service in philanthropic work.

This experience of finding my place, my vocation, was powerful and I wanted to explore it. That’s why I later did my graduate thesis on vocation and fundraising, and happily discovered that it is a topic that resonates with others.

Now I would say I choose to STAY within the sector – and work to strengthen it – because I believe it has such an important role in deepening compassion and generosity, advancing social justice, igniting creativity and innovation, and inspiring transformation. It is a dynamic place.

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

A pioneer of our profession – the late Dr. Robert Payton – offered us, “philanthropy is voluntary action for the common good.” I like the breadth of that definition, it recognizes the spirit of the action as well as the inter-dependence at the heart of community.

But also meaningful for me is philanthropy as love…love of humankind, as in caring for each other but also nurturing what it is to be human. That becomes about the donor just as much as about the recipient. And that is a root value of our profession. I wonder what our programs would look like if we more often viewed ourselves as facilitators and stewards of love!

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

Watermark Philanthropic Advising is my own consultancy and I purposely wanted to reflect my values through it and the service offerings. “Meaningful giving, receiving and leading” implies a thoughtfulness and authenticity in those activities, which goes beyond the easy default of transaction. When organizations, fundraisers and philanthropists intentionally reflect on their values and then express them through their giving, receiving and leading, they are active agents in creating new meaning and impact. That’s my orientation, and that of Watermark.

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

So many things! There is the satisfaction of knowing I’m actively participating in something bigger than me. There is the enjoyment of working with philanthropists and volunteers at a time when they want to do something wonderful…that’s an honour. I’ve also loved my staff teams, delighted in working alongside them, seeing their passion and commitment, and then observing their growth and development in their own leadership.

My greatest professional times of joy however, have been those special moments when everything has come together and everyone sees what they have done collectively and that it has actually made a difference. Our work at times is aspirational, but when aspiration becomes reality, it is inspiring for everyone…including the fundraiser!

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

This is an important question for those who work in our sector. It can be demanding work – physically, intellectually and emotionally. Self-care can be overlooked when you’re focused on saving or changing the world – but we do the world no favour when we’re exhausted, resentful and overwhelmed.

But going deeper than a battery re-charge, there have been times when I have needed to reconnect with or redefine my sense of vocation and purpose…the key things that motivate and intrinsically drive me. This personal work often requires more than a good night’s sleep. Perhaps it is taking a sabbatical or leave of absence (which at one point I was fortunate to experience), going on a retreat, or sharing in a deeper way with colleagues in a similar place.

This personal work is not always relaxing – it can be difficult, disorienting and uncomfortable, and can demand to be done at inopportune times and under less than ideal circumstances. But doing it is immensely important to our authenticity and growth as leaders, and our revitalization. I think organizations in our sector need to acknowledge and support this form of renewal.

My dear friend and colleague – Patricia Thompson – as a Metcalf Foundation Innovation Fellow spent two years exploring the topic of vocational renewal among nonprofit leaders. I heartily recommend her two resulting papers on the topic, posted on the Foundation’s website.

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

Absolutely! When I talk about my “work” I usually mean both paid and unpaid activity as both bring me tremendous satisfaction and happiness.

My greatest volunteer experience was with CFRE International, where I spent seven years on the Board of Directors. I found the testing and psychometric aspects to CFRE’s work to be intellectually stimulating, but even more exciting…and fun… was being able to develop a global perspective on our profession!

With CFRE I worked closely with our colleagues at AFP and AHP and more than 20 partner associations around the world. I engaged with fundraisers in Italy, Brazil and Australia, and visited professional communities in the UK, East Africa and Asia. In different countries, and different languages, I discovered a passionate and shared commitment to effective and accountable fundraising practice with the goal of making the world better.

I will always be grateful to CFRE for these experiences as a volunteer leader.

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?

I suspect that lasting impact can only be assessed in hindsight, and who knows if it ends up being what we had anticipated! But there are two key areas where I’ve been focusing my attention.

First, I’m particularly engaged by how our fundraising profession and practice are growing and evolving globally, especially in the developing world, and how we can best prepare people to do this work. As such, I’ve been active in projects that train, equip and support sector leaders, and which advance our collective body of professional knowledge.

Second, is advancing philanthropy within organizations and among those who work within them. Many organizations (large and small) have inspiring programmatic missions but lack understanding of their philanthropic mission, which extends beyond just needing money. This means they and their donors are missing out. It can also make it challenging for them to fully benefit from the skill and spirit of even the most talented fundraiser. Of course, a fundraiser with their own framework for philanthropy can more effectively provide the kind of philanthropic leadership our organizations need. This is a thread that weaves through my work.

There are many challenges and opportunities within our sector today which require our attention, thoughtfulness and leadership. It can be daunting. Reinhold Niebuhr wrote that, “nothing worth doing can be completed in a lifetime”. And in Consulting as a Calling, Geoff Bellman wrote, “We make a difference…and it is not that important.” Both are humbling yet refreshing reminders for all of us…and what a relief!

© 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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