Some clos­ing remarks: more on fundrais­ing leg­end Guy Stringer

For many years the clos­ing remarks at the Inter­na­tion­al Fund Rais­ing Con­gress (the gath­er­ing of pro­fes­sion­al fundrais­ers from around the world that takes place each year out­side Ams­ter­dam, in the Nether­lands) were deliv­ered by the late Guy Stringer, for­mer­ly direc­tor of Oxfam, one-time senior exec­u­tive with a major man­u­fac­tur­ing com­pa­ny and one of fundraising’s most emi­nent and respect­ed gen­tle­men. Though he died in 2009, Guy still has lots to teach fundraisers.

Written by
Ken Burnett
January 01, 2009

He had more experience of and insight into the power and potential of fundraising than most of us will ever achieve. For many years Guy was chairman of The Resource Alliance (originally called the International Fund Raising Group), the not-for-profit organisation that runs the International Fundraising Congress.

Guy had a single purpose in the few minutes he occupied on the platform at the end of each year's Congress. As he addressed the several hundred delegates, who had just survived three intensive days learning at the frontiers of the art and science of their profession, he sought to remind them of the larger purpose of being there. Techniques and skills are limited without a clear purpose, he told them. To remind fundraisers of what it's really all about Guy used to recount some stories from his own long experience. His purpose was to send the delegates off with their spirits soaring and sights set high. He invariably succeeded, because he knew so well what makes good fundraisers tick.

With Guy's permission I'll relate two of his stories here.

Who am I?

'Surat is a town in western India and the last time that I was there I arrived by train. You come out of the station and walk across a square, up a long hill and down a lane, where at the top, on the left-hand side, there is a leprosarium. It is run by sturdy Catholic sisters, some Indian and some Spanish. I arrived late at night and was quite tired and would have preferred to have thrown a bucket of water over myself and lain down. But Sister Mary insisted that I walk round the leprosarium with her and I have found it a mistake to disagree with Catholic sisters.

'So round we went and to my astonishment there were little collections of people sitting round hurricane lamps on the ground and I said to the sister, “What are they doing?" She said that the young patients were teaching the old people to read and write. And so they were – with the children saying, “No granny, you don't do it that way but like this". The only things that Oxfam had provided were the slates, the chalk and the little hurricane lamps.

'When we got to the gates of the leprosarium I saw they were closed, but in the gloom you could see on the far side a little gang of people and the sister said to me, “Guy, open the gates". I did so and a family carried in a man. The sister led the way and they put the man on a table in the clinic. If they had put him on the ground he would have fallen down because his legs stopped at his knees. The sister knelt down and looked at the patient and she said to me, “There are worms in his wounds" and I looked and there were. Then a strange thing happened and it was rather like a camera going click, click. I could see who the sister was, she was somebody who could bring effective help to the patient. And I could see who the patient was, he needed help and badly. But who was the third person in the frame, in a Marks and Spencer sweater, size 40, do not boil. How did he fit?

'The deduction from this of course is that if you are to be concerned in trying to help the poor, the handicapped and the deprived you must be totally involved. You must try to project in what you write and say in your advertisements and public addresses the courage of the people, their determination to advance the lives of their families, their responsibility one to another and you must never at any time undervalue them.'

Flying a kite

'El Salvador has probably the worst record for human rights in the world. It is a tiny country the size of Wales, but people are murdered at night and if you wish to see your friends again you visit the city rubbish dump and there you will find their bodies. That's where they are battered to death. As a result a large number of families are in church refuges where they live under the care and defence of the church, because if they left these places they would end up, as so many others do, outside the city.

'I visited one with about 200 families and hundreds of tiny children. It was a classic demonstration of the ability of women because the place was immaculate. I would have got it in a muddle in five minutes flat. There was only one small piece of land open to the sky which was surrounded by a very high wire fence. The children congregated in masses on this tiny piece of playground – the only bit of open air to be found. And they were making paper kites with newspaper, little bits of stick and some string. But of course if you fly a kite you need wind and you need some space and the children found it extremely difficult to get their kites off the ground. The result was that the big wire fence was simply covered with battered kites.

'Eventually I left to go, walked out into the road, looked up and down – it is always wise in El Salvador to see who is about – and walked down the road to turn right at a corner at the bottom. Before I did I turned round and looked up and two little kites had cleared the fence and were lifting up jerking bit by bit into the dark blue sky. Some people would say that this is just some string, a bit of newspaper, some little sticks and two little boys, but in fact it is more than that. It is a triumph of the human spirit over the grim environment in which so many dwell.

'You came here to learn about fundraising and will have learned much about new techniques and skills in your time here. I hope you have enjoyed it, but do not forget that techniques and skills themselves are limited. What you must do is to stand up and encourage and develop a vision of a new society in which all of us may dwell in peace and harmony.'

More than a job

In quoting Guy's words I can't invoke the sincerity and passion of his delivery or recreate the emotional charge in his voice that ensured there wasn't a dry eye in the house. Guy's stories were magic. They gave fundraisers a lift and reminded us that our profession is more special than most other trades or businesses. For me, that made Guy's closing address perhaps the most important part of each year's International Fund Raising Congress.

Fundraising is more than a job. In the right hands, it is a powerful force for change and while that change is under way it should be an inspirational beacon of hope. Fundraisers have good reason to be proud of their profession.

As reported by Ken Burnett, April 1992, abridged from Relationship Fundraising (

From an earlier version of the Resource Alliance website.

'Guy Stringer has, without doubt, had more influence on fundraisers and fundraising than anyone alive today. Despite this, many fundraisers are probably not even aware of his name.
'Whilst at Oxfam, Guy constantly promoted the role of fundraising as connecting the donor with the cause. As such, he was the founder of modern fundraising and inspired a whole generation of fundraisers, including, among others, Ken Burnett, Stephen Lee, Ian Ventham, George Smith. He visited overseas projects and brought back compelling stories of what donors' money achieved, and used this to inspire them to give more. As Director of Oxfam, he would personally telephone anybody giving more than £500 to thank them, and connect them further with Oxfam's work.
'As President of the International Fund Raising Workshop in Holland, Guy would always give the opening address, making all fundraisers who heard him feel proud of their membership of the profession. Guy Stringer CBE is a veteran of World War II and the Korean War. He joined Oxfam in 1969 as commercial director, becoming director in 1982 and remained in the post until his retirement four years later. Whilst working with Oxfam, Guy saw the charity's income increase from £2.5m to £51m. Guy has also dedicated a great deal of energy and inspiration to the work of The Resource Alliance since its inception. In recognition of his contribution, Guy is a Chair Emeritus of The Resource Alliance and in March 2002 The Guy Stringer Development and Bursary Fund was established to further the work that he believes in. Since his retirement, Guy has been a trustee to many charities, including The Prisoners of Conscience Fund.' – From an earlier version of the Resource Alliance website

What his contemporaries have said:

'He inspired fundraisers like no other person I know, always emphasising that fundraising is not about money but about urgent needs that must be met.'
- Per Stenbeck (UNICEF)
'My most vivid and enduring memory, is of one of Guy's closing speeches at the International Fundraising Workshop in the early nineties, when, as ever, he opened his speech with those memorable words “Friends! I want to tell you four stories...", he went on to enthral us with memorable vignettes of the impact of charitable activities worldwide. He ended by saying, “as fundraisers, you, ladies and gentlemen, have the power and the privilege to change the world for the better." I suddenly realised, for the first time, that fundraising was not about money, but about passion and about connecting donors to needs.'
- Ian Ventham (RNLI)
'My stories of Guy probably mirror many others in terms of the impact of his wisdom and approach. A favourite is when he rang a female donor to Oxfam at home. She'd sent a big cheque and when her husband answered the phone and Guy breezily said “I'm the director of Oxfam and want to thank your good wife for her £500", it quickly became clear that the husband was less than pleased. Guy learned a useful lesson about speaking directly to the donor.'
- Ken Burnett
'I think what has always impressed me, apart from the extraordinary integrity of the man, was his hands-on, no-nonsense fronting of Oxfam's work in the field. Some of the stories he told me about taking personal charge of getting aid into Cambodia when things there were at their roughest were quite heroic – not that he'd acknowledge such a thing. And he is a very humble man. On the first evening of the IFRW, he would always ring Mary to tell her how his opening address had played. We always seemed to have adjoining rooms and Guy was one of that generation who thought an international phone call demanded extra speaking volumes. “I think they liked it" he always told her. Liked it? He always left them truly inspired!'
- George Smith
'Guy first initiated the idea of Oxfam buying handcrafts from producers in the developing world and selling them in the UK through the shops. He got the idea from a pincushion he was handed by a Vietnamese refugee in Hong Kong. Oxfam Trading sold millions of pounds worth of handcrafts on behalf of poor producers over many years. Eventually these kinds of ethnic merchandise were widely available through high street stores, and Oxfam's trading had to change tack, but you can see this as really the origins of the Fair Trade movement today. We wouldn't have Cafe Direct if it wasn't for Guy's pincushion. He has an incredible ability to tell stories, to move an audience to laughter, then to tears, then to laughter again. He never boasted, he'd say – “So there I was in this camp and all these people were looking at me thinking what's the old chap with the red face and greying hair doing here? And I have to admit I was thinking very much the same thing myself".'
- Simon Collings (Resource Alliance)

Guy Stringer was awarded a Lifetime Achievement Award at the 2005 National Fundraising Awards organised by the UK's Institute of Fundraising and Professional Fundraising Magazine. He died in 2009, aged 88.

About the author: Ken Burnett

Ken Burnett

Ken Burnett is author of Relationship Fundraising and other books including The Zen of Fundraising, (Jossey-Bass Inc, San Francisco, USA). The Tiny Essentials of an Effective Volunteer Board and Storytelling can change the world, both published by The White Lion Press, UK

In 2021, he wrote and published a book about campaigning fundraising, The essence of Campaigning Fundraising in 52 exhibits and 199 web links.

Ken co-founded SOFII with his late wife Marie and served as a trustee before retiring from the SOFII board in 2022.

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