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Engagement and fundraising: interview with Giancarlo Della Luna, corporate donor and Board member of the Foundation “Archivio Diaristico Nazionale”

A few weeks ago I trained a class of the Advanced training course “Talenti per il Fundraising”, run by Fondazione CRT (an Italian Foundation based in Turin), on corporate fundraising. This lesson followed another one, a couple of weeks before, dedicated to “Board and fundraising”.
Preparing the lesson on corporate, I was looking for case histories able to provide practical examples: I thought it would be interesting to bring out the point of view of someone from companies, often viewed with a certain awe by fundraisers. At the same time, I also wanted a perspective that, in some way, had to do with the aspects connected to the strategy of both sides – company and nonprofit organization. And also, just so as not to miss anything, even a point of view that “demythologizes” the (alas) very widespread thought on “easy” or “impossible” causes – I perfectly know that there are more complex or less “popular” causes but this does not imply that they can not find their donors – not for this reason, at least.
This way, I thought of the “perfect case”, the one that crossed all the dynamics I had in mind and that, in my opinion, could have offered a useful perspective for those who are learning – and many more, to tell the truth.

We met Giancarlo Della Luna, entrepreneur and founder of L.A. Sistemi, an Italian company based in Tuscany that designs and develops telecontrol and telemanagement systems for technological networks, industrial plants, and local areas, during our collaboration with the Fondazione Archivio Diaristico Nazionale, as a corporate donor.
Such definition, to be honest, does not give evidence to the approach of a person who embodies many roles, all connected to the culture of giving and engagement with a cause: personal engagement, progressive awareness, interest in the development of the cause , involvement in the definition of the strategic plan as a Board member. All steps that took place over a few years and that today see Mr. Della Luna to be both a corporate donor and a member of the Foundation’s Board of Directors, embodying the idea of an “ambassador of values” which is associated – or should be – with the role of a Board member.

Here is an excerpt of his words during the abovementioned lesson: I believe that the ideas emerged can give an idea of what it means to be “on board” of an organization.
Enjoy the reading!

Giancarlo, would you tell us something about yourself, who you are and how and why you approached the Archive?
I am an entrepreneur, my company works on the design and production of remote control and remote management systems for the management of technological networks, industrial plants, the territory and the environment.

I am an active member of the non-profit organization Transafrica Sviluppo, an NGO that works Education and provides water supply to Mali and Niger, in particular by working with Tuareg families and communities.
More than 30 years ago, I met Saverio Tutino, an Italian journalist who was a foreign correspondent in Latin America, founder of the Archive of the Diaries. Upon his return to Italy he understood that history must not be made only on history textbooks, rather on “common people”. For this reason, he founded the Archive of the Diaries in Pieve Santo Stefano, close to Arezzo (Tuscany), a small village heavily bombed during)he II world war that, in stories of ordinary people, has a chance to reborn after that wound.
My fascination comes from this. My father was imprisoned in Mauthausen, and his story is the one of an ordinary man who did exceptional things for that historic moment.
Finding myself in Pieve, then, in a place of memories where these “exceptional” ordinary lives are the ones that I always heard myself being told at home, prompted me to join the Archive, the Pieve Award (“The Day of the Diary”, nda), to establish relationships with all those who meet annually at the Award, in September, and with whom I share an empathic love for the inner values that stand behind the stories as a work of collective memory.

You didn’t start as a donor of the Archive, but you got there because you felt the cause close to your life values. What was your first time with the Archive as a donor, from being a person who went to Pieve to becoming a donor?

I started involving the people I work with in the Transafrica Association, bringing them to Pieve; I also involved friends, let them know that place to which I felt so close, and they too, somehow, felt this magic.
Then I met the wonderful group of volunteers and the staff who work with passion in the Foundation. I am an entrepreneur and I know, however, that passion is not enough in the long run. So I started ask myself how these people (the Foundation) managed to move forward, how do they make their passion agree with the needs required year after year.
When you take part, for example, in the Pieve Award, you realize that it is a very emotional event and that emotions are what keep people together – the participants as well as the staff and volunteers; on the side of costs and expenses, however, there is always a kind of modesty, although the commitment it requires is evident.
In a “brutal” way, then, I asked them directly how the “economic matter” worked, how they managed to make the whole activity sustainable, given that the Archive works not only on the occasion of the Pieve Award, but throughout the year and that the budgets needed, in my opinion, a fairly massive corroboration.
I thought I wanted to help in some way.

This need to “help out” combines your interest towards the cause with your entrepreneur mindset. I find it particularly because you are among those corporate donors who are not stuck simply on projects but, in a most long-term perspective, think at how to make the organization (and its mission) sustainable through giving to cover the structural costs. Your motto seems to be “if I want to support them, I want to do it from a structural point of view”.
What determined you to focus on the mission rather than on one-shot projects?

Back to my NGO: to fund its projects, I organize events and I’m happy when I can find a sponsor and guarantee the visibility that sponsorship requires. However, these are spot initiatives that are useful, but do not give continuity. When you draw up a budget, spot revenues cannot be the only ones – they are certainly fine for initiatives like the Pieve Award, but they must be accompanied by more stable actions. Why do newspapers, for example, ask for subscriptions? Because this is what allows you to plan – and without a proper planning you can’t go on.
From my point of view as an entrepreneur, having a clear idea on costs means being able to focus your efforts, to involve other partners and try new activities – the Piccolo Museo del Diario, for example, is a project set up in the recent years that is raising up its importance as a museum. I care about how to ensure its sustainability, both through sponsorships and recurring gifts.

In your “journey” with the Archive, which I find interesting because it is linked to the issue of giving continuity to the organization’s mission, progressive awareness has made you become from “close to the cause” to donor, then a corporate donor, and finally a Board member. What is your approach to your role within the Board?

The first thing the Board had to this year was whether or not to realize the Pieve Award, in September, and how, because – for the first time in its history – the event was in doubt. We have taken on some responsibilities, but the inner spirit of being part of the Archive is this: being there, for the community.
My first objective, as a Board member, is to urge the Board itself on how important relationships are for the continuity and development of the mission. The great privilege connected to being on the Board is “making things go well” and, to do so, you need to be proper funded. My second commitment, then, is to look for donors following a peer to peer approach: I have already gone ahead in this direction so that, for example, the funds needed to arrange the next Pieve Award have already been secured; or the staff dedicated to fundraising is adequately trained and sized, so as to be able to properly develop the fundraising strategy .
Last thing: there are more than 9.000 diaries filed in the Archive; there is the need to expand and find new spaces to allocate the materials. It is an ambitious goal that can involve the whole community. It is necessary not to be afraid to go seeking for money because the Archive is a national value that must be developed more and more and this means, in my opinion, facing things with an entrepreneurial mindset.
We have a civic duty not to stop receiving people’s memories, and my job as a Board member is to “look” at the staff’s projects and seek for the money to make them happen. The Archive is an asset of the community, and this is how we have to consider the issue of development.
There is no economic advantage to staying on the Board of Directors, just the interest in doing well and showing that you can do things wisely.

Your story is what is usually told in the books – fundraising as it should be, progressive involvement, closeness to the cause, asking yourself the question of the sustainability of the cause over time, being a Board member who thinks in these terms and who personally goes to seek further resources.
Is there a suggestion that you feel you can give to fundraisers starting from your dual role as Board member and entrepreneur that look at the theme of fundraising from both sides?

On the subject that belongs to me most – that of continuous corporate supporter – we need to think about the reasons why an entrepreneur approaches a cause. Because it is a local entrepreneur who somehow wishes to make his presence felt? Or because it has affinity with these themes – in my case the theme of humanity, memory, being together?
I believe that we need to look for the “philosophical function” that brings us closer to the cause, and the fundraiser ‘s task is to understand the sensitivity of the “institutional” entrepreneur, the one that can be a long-term donor.
Go and look for what this connection is and then make sure that through it we can find a common thread, a way to go together: and this is the thing that may seem more difficult but, at the same time, is the essence of fundraising and the challenge for those who deal with it professionally.

Board in prima fila

Spunti, buone pratiche, riflessioni e strumenti utili per chiunque si occupi di fundraising e lavori insieme ai Board.