My Charity Career – Susan O’Dwyer

Charity Chats Border centred

Monthly career interview with professionals in the not-for-profit sector

Susan edited

1. What is your current role and how long have you been working in it?

My current role is Chief Executive of Make-A-Wish in Ireland. I started in Make-A-Wish in 2006 as the Development & Fundraising Manager and in 2008 became the Chief Executive.

2. How did you get to where you are today and what influenced this decision?

From a very early age, all I wanted to be when I grew up was a Montessori teacher. After leaving school, I trained in St Nicholas Montessori College in Dun Laoghaire and loved every minute of it.  However jobs were difficult to find and I went back to studying, doing a language, business and secretarial course and ended up working with KPMG as the Alumni Coordinator.  I moved to London for a couple of years and on returning to Ireland in 1991, I literally fell into fundraising and have never looked back. I had found my passion, I love it.

3. What do you love/enjoy most about your job?

Very simply it comes down to the difference we make. To see a child smile or hear a family state that the wish is a memory they will cherish for a lifetime is truly incredible and ensures you feel rewarded in the work you do. Working in this sector is not easy and raising funds is challenging especially when your organisation receives no government funding, but when you get feedback from a child or their family, I know that each and everyone of us who works in Make-A-Wish wants to do that bit more.

4. And what are the most challenging parts of your job?

Fundraising is always a challenge, but having an ability to communicate, network or indeed the ability to ask without fear, you can overcome the challenge.

5. How do you relax?

Switching off entirely would not be one of my key talents! However, I love walking, catching up with friends and have recently taken up boxing which is incredible and I would highly recommend it. You can channel all frustrations and at the end of the session you are beaming – great fun.

6. What skills and personality traits do you think are essential for a job like yours?

A passion for the cause you are working for is key. If you do not have a passion for the mission, you will not feel the rewards. I have often stated that the day I lose passion for this sector is the day I have to leave. It is not a 9 – 5pm job, you have to be flexible and of course the biggest skill of all is a brass neck and not being afraid to ask.

7. What’s your advice to anyone who wants to pursue a career in the same field?

Do your research. Ensure it is the charity for you. Be aware of where the charity is on the “triple lock” journey. Governance and transparency are key aspects for every organisation in this sector and as a potential employee you should be knowledgeable. I love working in this sector but equally I understand it is not for everyone. If you can find the right charity for you and have a passion for their mission, it will reward you tenfold, like me you will become hooked and never want to leave this incredible sector.

8. What’s the best advice you’ve ever been given?

I have been given some real pearls of wisdom over the years.

  1. Never be afraid to say no
  2. Never be afraid to ask for help
  3. Believe in yourself because guess what you can do anything you set your mind to!

9. What has been the best moment of your career so far?

I have a couple of  best moments: a) winning my first big pitch – the feeling is incredible b) granting some of our incredible wishes

10. What are your career aspirations?

I love what I do, sometimes I would say it is the best job you could ever have. So I have no intention of leaving the sector, I just want to do more, achieve bigger and better results.