Hawker Assistant to Visionary Fundraiser
Richard walks in with an air of quiet confidence and calmness. He takes my hand and gives a firm handshake, then flashes me a signature, light smile. I feel like an old friend already.
Richard is a leading fundraiser in Singapore who has spent more than a decade spearheading numerous successful fundraising and marketing campaigns for charities and business owners and held several key appointment roles in renowned universities, private and non-profit sectors locally. Today, Richard has left his highly paid corporate job to fulfill his calling in philanthropic work. He founded the Rainmakerz Pte Ltd in 2017.
Richard shares that he has been working in corporate fundraising for several years, yet he had always longed for greater freedom and flexibility. With an innate entrepreneurial streak, Richard never enjoyed the organizational constraints that a typical 9-to-5 office job entails. Taking a leap of faith to leave his stable corporate job meant that he had to adjust to a different routine where being self-disciplined became crucial, and his personal motivations and resources mattered more than ever.
There’s a glimmer in his eyes as he continues, “Even as an employee, I never see fundraising as ‘just a job’. I see it as something I own – how can I make things better? How can I be more innovative? It’s only when I started Rainmakerz that I truly evolved.”
Rainmakerz is an exclusive business growth and fundraising advisory firm servicing organizations, business owners, investors and entrepreneurs in Singapore. In January 2018, Richard was appointed Goodwill Ambassador for the Singapore Red Cross (SRC) for his expertise in raising funds and managing donor relations, having raised over half a million dollars for SRC to date. At his book launch last October, ‘Fundraising Among the Giants: How to Attract High Net Worth Individuals and Major Donors for Good’, more than 400 attendees graced the event – an impressive testimony of his wide network and clientele of donors. All proceeds were donated to Singapore Red Cross.
Juxtaposing Richard’s achievements to his less affluent childhood presents a stark contrast. It brings to mind the hard work of a young boy and the rags-to-riches tale of a man with a big vision and a bigger heart to serve the community. Born into a family of seven to hawker parents who ran a seafood and steamboat stall, money was hard earned with long hours in the grime and heat of a coffee shop. His parents toiled to make ends meet and Richard started helping out at the stall as a young boy. It became part of his routine until he enrolled in the university.
With nostalgia, Richard shares how while he worked in less than stellar conditions to make ends meet, his peers were partying and enjoying themselves. There were even customers who thought he had dropped out of school and was working full-time with his parents. His university dreams came true when he realized he would be eligible for a bursary; he emphasized that he never knew he was eligible for financial bursaries because “… poor people do not recognize they are qualified – they merely think they are not good enough”.
Richard met people from all walks of life when he helped out at his parents’ stall. There were gangsters, rubbish collectors, taxi drivers, high flyers, low-income families and etc. While serving the customers, he felt invisible, and thought others saw him as a lowly errand boy, which did take a hit to his self-esteem. There were exceptions though, people who had empathy to recognize the hard work of a young man.
“When you are nobody and people come up to you and make you feel like somebody, you begin to feel loved and touched. These are honorable people who genuinely want to know more about you, even though you are just a service staff. Often times, these are people who hold key positions in society. One example is Mr. Khoo, a high court judge. People in the middle income tend to be less tolerable…”
As he interacted with people in the low-income bracket, he realized poverty inevitably has an impact on people’s attitudes and lifestyles. Some come from broken families, while others are either divorced or estranged from their partners due to financial issues. That’s when the thought occurred to him – he wants to narrow the gap between the rich and the poor. At that point of time, he did not have the resources and means to donate, but now that he is leading a more comfortable lifestyle, he allocates a certain budget from his monthly income for charity, aside from his day job as a fundraiser.
“When I chance upon opportunities for those who truly need help, I will donate. I will try not to say no. Because I think as a fundraiser, we should walk the talk. As I go around asking for money to support my causes, I don’t feel good rejecting people when I have the means to give. It is hypocritical to ask for donations, but you have never donated a single cent.”
Fundraising as an Art and Science
What makes Richard successful in what he does is his tenacity, he shares. “It’s easy for people to critique what I do, but actually getting out there and doing the work is a different story. People always assume that fundraising is easy. It’s like being an audience seated offstage and giving all sorts of nasty remarks about a speaker. Simply imagine you are the one on that stage, the ball game changes. Likewise, some people actually think raising a million or two is so simple.”
Richard explains that many private bankers deal with clients with hundreds of millions of dollars net worth and assume they will make effective fundraisers. These bankers are constantly headhunted by institutions thinking they could leverage on the HNWI contacts. But in the end, they are not able to raise the funds because they fail to realize that fundraising is both an art and science. Being able to manage relationships with your donors is an art. When clients put millions of dollars in the bank, they expect certain monetary returns. But fundraising is different – the money that comes out of their pockets is money they won’t ‘see’ again. Hence, how you make someone part with his money for the greater good is an art. On the other hand, mastering the hidden formula to manage fundraising projects and giving donors the results they hope to have is science.
As a celebrated champion of social causes and a trusted partner with strong networks, Richard stands by his life motto “to be yourself and be human”. To him, it’s not about the right strategy, formula or backing from a large organization. Unlike many other corporate fundraisers, he understands HNWI. He knows they too are looking for sincere and authentic individuals who add value to their lives. With so many people reaching out to them “asking for a fraction of their wealth for business or investment”, being real is what sets one apart from a hundred other faces.
“I constantly tell others that fundraising is about empathy. In short, it is to be a good person. Always adopt an attitude of gratitude to those who cross your paths. Don’t just see high net worth individuals as a means to an end for your transaction goals.”
Richard thinks that every single individual whom he meets in life is predestined and thus he believes in establishing strong relationships. He once tried being a GrabHitch (a social carpool ridesharing service) driver just to experience how it feels like being a taxi driver. He ferried passengers with his Mercedes and realized they would just take the backseat and holler directions at him. So when once a lady sat beside him and engaged in conversations, he didn’t charge her a single cent.
Tips for Successful Fundraising
The art of asking is important in fundraising asserts Richard, because if one doesn’t ask, the probabilities of getting what they want are almost zero. But when one has the courage to make the ask, miracles can happen. In that respect is self-empowerment in the act of taking, because actions need directions and asking is setting one in question. One such example of asking as Richard shares is an incident he had with a medical doctor for a surgery. The bill had cost him $10,000, however, he felt that the medical help he had received did not warrant the price. Though he felt it was a long shot, he composed an email expressing his concerns and displeasure. To his surprise, he was granted a partial repayment for his bad experience. His takeaway? Ask and you shall get!
Always try to give before you receive. Many fundraisers ask themselves “How much can this person give?” instead of “How much can I give towards this person?” If one doesn’t place a value on what he can bring to HNWI, such as being a friend or consultant who can share business contacts and customers and only thinks of “taking without giving”, the partnerships oftentimes don’t bear fruitful results.
Interestingly, Richard compares corporate fundraising to courtship: “It’s like today I meet a girl and tomorrow I ask, ‘Can you marry me?’ It will scare her off! Cultivation is where you establish the relationships. Subsequently, when you make the ask, as long as it’s within the person’s ability, the probabilities of a ‘yes’ are high.” His final point? “It is always important for fundraisers to understand the role of their campaign. It is important to trust in what you are asking for, otherwise, how would you be capable to convince others to do so?”
Rejections are a must – he has faced his fair share of rejections from potential donors. There is always a learning moment in failure, and many fundraisers do not succeed because they are afraid to fail. Rejections have evolved to become case studies for Richard, they have taught him the importance of distinguishing between the ‘real’ and ‘fake’ prospects. To minimize rejections it is important to learn from past failures, so always ask important questions like “Is this person, at this stage of his life, ready to give? Does he have the capacity to give? Where does he/she need to be before they are willing to give and how can I help them get there?”
Having raised more than 15 million dollars in over a decade for different non-profit organizations, he shares that we must always begin by thinking about how we can impact the people in our immediate sphere of influence. He believes everyone has the power to change the world because every member of society is in contact with someone else. Since no man is an island, then one should start by changing himself before changing the world, because we are all part of the larger society.
When inquired about his greatest achievements to date, Richard shares that most of his clientele are brought in based on his personal effort. He takes pride in raising millions by converting strangers to donors. Unenthused, he is mindful that many fundraisers simply tap on existing referrals (warm leads) that are proffered to them.
With a huge smile, he speaks about donors who give even before stepping foot in his office. “The relationship has been fostered and there is trust. I would say I am a good hunter and a good farmer. When you hunt, you go out there and find potentials. When you farm, you nurture the relationships you find.”
To Richard, rejections are not a definite no but ‘not yet’. Hence, every contact remains valuable because he realizes the importance of future opportunities.
Rainmakerz in the Future
We ask Richard what his future plans for Rainmakerz are. Albeit apprehensive, he soon spiritedly briefs me about an idea he has. Richard has thoughts of forming a philanthropic circle where he brings together philanthropists and business leaders to talk about the idea of contributing back to the community. He would wish to bestow ‘The Rainmakerz Award’ to the unsung heroes in our daily lives and to identify “the next Mother Theresa in Singapore”.
His motivation behind ‘The Rainmakerz Award’ is simple – there are so many awards out there for the rich and powerful, but what about the ones who are contributing so much but lack the financial resources to be recognized? He cites nurses, construction workers, cashiers, and dishwashers as examples.
“I have interacted with both rich and poor. To me, at the end of the day, we are all humans with the same needs, albeit at different levels. Why do people have to be segmented? It is especially unfair in a developed society. There is a great deal of divisiveness amongst us and I want to attempt to close this gap.”
What Life Means to Us All
To Richard, examining the ‘why’ is important for people who wish to be corporate fundraisers. They need to ask themselves why they want to pursue corporate fundraising, and only when the ‘why’ is strongly validated will they be able to have lasting careers in the sector. A fundraiser without the ‘heart’ for the beneficiaries he’s raising money for will come across as untrustworthy as well. This principle applies to our life too.
“Most people think they will live to a ripe old age. But the truth is, we never know what tomorrow may bring. So, make every day count by bringing joy into others’ lives. To make yourself happy, start by making others happy. My mantra in life is to always be a co-creator and uplifter. Be positive every day!”
Richard stresses: “We always have to go back to our roots and remind ourselves what made us who we are today. Think about the people who have helped us. We should never be arrogant because without the help of many others, we cannot become successful. You can be the richest man, but also the loneliest person on earth. So always be modest and accept feedback and advice.”
We end the interview on this note: “Competition is never about others, only whether you are better than who you were yesterday. There are people much younger than me who are more successful. I want to learn from them. I want to know how I can achieve what they did. So always be humble. Everyone can teach you something.”
I believe I have won a precious lesson from him as well.