How Sarah Zissler worked her way up to Head of Fundraising at GNAAS

“I’m very lucky to have grown up surrounded by strong women who always gave me the confidence to believe in myself.”

Sarah, talk us through your current role?

I am head of fundraising at the Great North Air Ambulance Service (GNAAS). This means I am responsible for a multidisciplinary team that covers a large geographic area so it’s extremely varied and no two days are the same. I often have to jump from one subject to another many times throughout the day so I have to be able to think on my feet.

Fundraising is fast paced and its important to keep up to date with current trends and opportunities. I work with a brilliant team of people who are passionate about the cause and it’s so rewarding for all of us when we speak to beneficiaries who have used the service.

What has your journey at GNAAS been like?

I joined GNAAS in 2011 when I took a temporary position as events assistant to gain some practical experience after graduating with a degree in Events Management. I observed the fundraising team with their creative and hardworking energy and soon realised that I wanted a career in this industry. I took every opportunity that came my way in terms of training and development. I kept taking on more responsibility and then jumped at the chance when I was offered a permanent position.

Despite starting in events fundraising, I have always enjoyed the variation of working across a range of income streams and as I progressed into an officer role, I focused on developing areas that I believed could make income streams more sustainable and efficient. This experience put me in good stead to move into a management position when this became available at the charity.

What was your dream job as a child?

I was obsessed with dolphins when I was really young and decided I would be a marine biologist (until I realised I didn’t enjoy science at school).

Have you ever encountered challenges in your career related to being female?

Yes, earlier on in my career I would get frustrated as I felt that I was sometimes overlooked due to being female and younger than some of my colleagues. I have been lucky in the fact that I have had a supportive manager who would provide me with opportunities to demonstrate my abilities making sure I was recognised for what I was capable of.

What do you think the biggest challenge is for women in this industry?

Sexism is common across the fundraising sector, in fact, recent research from the Institute of Fundraising has found that over 75% of female fundraisers have been stereotyped due to their gender at work.

However, I am really lucky that I have not felt the effects of this and that 50% of our executive team at GNAAS are female.

What advice would you give to your younger self, knowing what you do now?

Say yes to all opportunities that come your way, the hard work does pay off. And there is no such thing as perfection.

Do you think it’s important that we celebrate International Women’s Day?

Of course, there is so much to celebrate about being a woman. The day encourages us to share positivity and inspiration whilst also raising awareness and generating conversation and action around ongoing issues such as equality. However it would be great if this was the norm and not just one day of the year.

Who are you inspired by?

I’m very lucky to have grown up surrounded by strong women who always gave me the confidence to believe in myself. I also have close friends who support each other – they all inspire me in different ways.

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