Last year a letter arrived at my workplace. On the envelope it had my name and the address– 61 Whitehall. It took me a little while to open the envelope as I took a moment to reflect on the fact that I was fortunate to be working on one of the most historic streets in London. As I write this, I can hear a couple of my friends – fellow boarders in Ridgeway House – who would have teased me and asked whether I was still working at the branch of McDonalds close to Horseguards Parade, or perhaps, behind the bar at one of the many pubs on Whitehall. As it happens, in Autumn 2018, I had landed a dream job working for a military think tank.
I had been recruited by the Royal United Services Institute for Defence and Security Studies (RUSI). They wanted me to raise £ 9 million to meet the cost of the redevelopment of their Grade II* listed building, situated close to Downing Street. The building is in some state of disrepair, the roof leaks, the lift is unreliable (apparently Sir John Major and Henry Kissinger got stuck in it for 25 minutes) and almost all the staff had decamped to temporary offices a few years ago.
Within a few days of arriving in this new job, I found myself attending briefings, seminars and events which addressed the challenges presented by, and latest developments with, China, Russia, Iran and North Korea. There were meetings about civil wars in Syria, in the Eastern Ukraine and in Yemen. Fascinating speakers addressed issues such as the growth in cybercrime, wildlife trafficking, illegal shipping and hybrid warfare. Terrorism, Counter Violent Extremism and the impact of AI in policing, were also on the agenda.
The fundraising for the new building began and after a year’s activity, just under £ 5 million had been secured. Philanthropists had generously responded to our appeal, prospective donors made encouraging noises and momentum was created by holding a series of private, off-the-record dinners. The mood was positive and I was seriously enjoying the job.
Then, in late March, my working life changed and almost everything that was in play, stopped or got postponed. The Coronavirus pandemic meant all staff were expected to work from home. All fundraising events were put on hold, all meetings were cancelled or delayed and the fundraising momentum had (at least temporarily) been lost. In 30 years of fundraising I had never experienced a similar situation. The appeal should meet its target, but it’s going to take a lot longer than planned.
Now I spend most of my time in communication with donors and potential donors, not asking for money but keeping them updated on independent and vital research produced by my colleagues. Some of them ‘attend’ exclusive online webinars which keeps them updated and engaged. Meantime I focus on what the media call ‘the virus winners’ – people who have financially been very successful in the last ten weeks. One chap in the US made profits worth over $ 2 billion. All I have do now, is find someone who knows him (and who he likes!). You can follow my fundraising journey at: https://rusi.org/rusi-reports/61appeal
Paul J Summerfield 1977-82