As any entrepreneur who has tried to drumup capital for a struggling start-up will confirm, raising funds is not an easy business. But it’s one that Downes Murray International (DMI) excels at. Drawing its clients from the not-for-profit sector, DMI is headed by partners Jenni McLeod and Emmi Albers and has a long and successful history of fundraising. With a unique approach and a strong team of trained and passionate staff, the company combines altruism with strategy in a winning formula.
Originally a subsidiary of Response Group, a communications-based company, DMI grew from a small core of not-for-profitclients for which the group provided fundraising services. As Jenni McLeod points out, it was Terry Murray, who lends his name to DMI, who first identified the opportunities available in the South African market for fundraising within the not-for-profit sector.
DMI focuses 80% of its fundraising efforts on private individuals, not corporates or foundations, and this is something that sets the company apart from other players in the sector. DMI’s approach is not formulaic; all programmes are tailor-made to suit client-specific needs and a strategic fundraising audit and feasibility study is conducted for each new client. Thereafter, the DMI team helps the client to define strategies, recruitand train staff and put admin systems in place in order to raise funds.
“We encourage and show clients how to build and nurture relationships with their funders,” says McLeod, “but we don’t ever come between our client and their donor. All fundraising is done under the client’s identity, not ours. Our role is to provide the strategic direction necessary to point clients in the right direction.”Rewarding work and making a difference inspires passion in McLeod, Albers and their team. And it was this passion that Murray recognised when he decided to sell DMI’s shares in 1999.
“Emmi and I were groomed over many years to take over the company,” explains McLeod. A six-year payment plan was worked out during which time she and McLeod were able to forfeit profit share in order to buy the company. “We were party to everything that was gong on in the company over that period, and we were already known and trusted by our clients – this allowed for a smooth takeover.”
That’s not to say that moving from a position as employee to one of owner and leader didn’t have its challenges. “We had no capital when we started,” recalls McLeod. The pair overcame this challenge by keeping finances on a short leash and running a tight ship financially. But it is to their team that McLeod gives the most credit and her approach has always been for staff to work with management, instead of for them. “We try to choose people who are altruistically motivated,” she explains.
Intensive theoretical and experiential training is part of an orientation programme in which new recruits are mentored by senior staff members until they are confident and competent enough to handle client accounts on their own. “Our greatest assets are the people who run our programmes,” McLeod concludes.