Pictured above: Samuel back row, third from right – Fundraising Magazine’s 25 under 35
We caught up with Samuel, Special Events Manager at Freedom from Torture to talk about his recent accolade, his top tips for planning a successful fundraising event and how he got his dream job in the charity sector.
Congratulations on being named one of 25 under 35 outstanding young professionals fundraisers by Fundraising Magazine, an amazing achievement and well deserved. What does the accolade mean to you?
It was a real surprise – but an absolute privilege to be listed alongside such an inspiring group of young professionals. Freedom from Torture is a small charity in comparison to many of the others on the list, so it’s really cool to be recognised for my achievements. My mother was proud!
One of the many events you are at the helm of for Freedom from Torture is biannual the Drawing a Line Under Torture auction which you held at Bargehouse in 2015 and 2017. Can you tell us about the aims of the event?
All of the events I organise are inspired by the people we help – refugees who have suffered torture in their homeland and found safety here in the UK. Our Art Auction is inspired by the incredible work produced in Art Therapy at Freedom from Torture. The aim of the event is to bring together some of the world’s leading artists, illustrators and sculptors, and showcase their pieces alongside artwork created by survivors of torture.
With a week-long exhibition and a big auction, people can bid for paintings by Quentin Blake, drawings by Antony Gormley or Cornelia Parker, along with pottery created by a survivor from Afghanistan, or a watercolour by a survivor from Sri Lanka. It is beautiful to see it all come together.
How has the event grown year on year?
The first year we held the event at The Bargehouse we smashed our target of £80,000 and raised a record-breaking £115,000! An achievement I was especially proud of as it was my first event working at Freedom from Torture.
The second year we managed to beat all records again, raising over £145,000 and attracting high profile media coverage, featuring on BBC Radio London and a huge billboard at the Imax.
What makes Bargehouse the right venue for this kind of an event?
The versatility of space is perfect. As a charity, we never know what artwork will be donated by the artists and studios that support the auction. The last few years we have had some huge sculptures and giant paintings, and having the flexibility of space and in such a central London location is almost unheard of! The rooms are the perfect ‘blank canvas’ to fill up with the diverse and colourful range of artwork, and being able to hang on the walls is a huge plus.
What’s your favourite and least favourite part of the event planning process?
I like it when an idea, or a concept, starts to become a reality. From the first glance of an invitation design, to a celebrity speaker confirming, that’s my favourite part. You begin to think – “wow, this might actually work!”
My least favourite is (surprisingly) the event itself. With most events we have an auction towards the end of the night which is where most of the fundraising comes from, and I can never relax until that is over. No matter how much work you put in to securing such special and unique auction lots, you can’t force people to bid, and it is always very tense.
Tell us about the latest event you’ve worked on…
My last event (in November) was a big literary auction, which brought together best-selling authors and survivors of torture from our refugee writers group. We packed out the Maxwell Library at the IET Savoy Place and our writers took to the stage to read stories inspired by the theme of Freedom – a timely subject to explore in the political and social landscape of 2018.
There were lots of tears and laughter. It was a very moving event for all involved. In the midst of canapés and wine, fierce bidding ensued with auction lots from Margaret Atwood, Lee Child and Helen Mirren. It was a huge success and we have now raised over £50,000, which I’m very proud of.
What are the key ingredients to make a fundraising event a success?
You must have the cause at the heart of your event. It’s easy to get caught up in wine tasting and paper samples, but you must make sure there is a clear theme, relevance and a strong connection to the charity. Make sure the event has a narrative and use your events to tell stories about your charity that people will want to support on the night and hold onto afterwards.
Having said that, the details have to be there too. You need to consider every step of the event from the guest’s point of view – plenty to eat and drink, engaging content, as well as creative ideas and a unique edge that will make your event stand out.
I am a meticulous planner and try to have all kit packed up and ready to go a week before. This will mean you have time to fix any issues that arise on the day, which, let’s face it, is inevitable with events.
And do you have any advice for those wanting to get into the fundraising sector?
Have a clear think about the type of charity you would like to work for, and make sure it is an organisation that inspires you. My background is in fine art and design and so I knew I wanted to work for an organisation where I was able to be creative.
Finally, we’d love to know how you got your dream job at Freedom from Torture.
I knew I wanted to work in events when I was studying at Camberwell College of Arts, organising some large events and doing an internship at London Fashion Week. I then applied for an events and marketing internship at Simon Lee Gallery, which was by far one of the best and most terrifying experiences of my life – thrown into the deep end and helping to organise a number of high profile exhibitions.
I later worked at the charity Marie Curie on their annual Art Auction at the Royal Academy of Arts. On the night of the event I was offered a full time position as Special Events Assistant and quickly worked my way up to Special Events Executive working on creative fundraising events and in an events team that raised £2.9million!
It was amazing experience working on some well-established events, but I knew I wanted to work somewhere I could have more creative control. I was contacted about the role at Freedom from Torture and on hearing about the inspiring work that the charity does, and the creative projects and opportunities which I could incorporate into events – I went for it.
I’ve now been here for three and a half years and can honestly say it is my dream job. I have managed to establish and shape a programme of diverse, unique and creative events. Hearing such positive feedback from survivors who attend our events is what keeps me motivated. With such a hostile environment for refugees at the moment, being in a room surrounded by so many generous people who care really is an incredible feeling. And smashing targets is always a highlight!
Thank you, Samuel – Keep your eyes peeled for Freedom from Torture’s 2019 events programme!
If you’re interested in our exhibition and event spaces, you can contact the team on 020 7021 1650 or firstname.lastname@example.org