Simone Joyaux: always questioning, always challenging, always thinking

Simone Joyaux, who died yesterday, is – and will be remembered as – one of the greatest figures in fundraising. 

The testimonials have rightly poured in for Simone. They have said how she was a rebel, a thinker, an advocate for justice and change. Many will also remember how she challenged us to ask cage-rattling questions.

As the first chair of the Centre for Sustainable Philanthropy, Simone had been involved with Rogare since its inception, supporting us and championing our approach, which, considering we are both about asking questions, was hardly surprising.

So while there is so much that Simone thought and achieved that marks her out as a role model, for Rogare, this is one of the things that I valued about her the most.

Simone was not afraid to ask questions and she challenged us to ask questions all the time – those aforementioned ‘cage-rattling’ questions.

Now, anyone can ask questions about other people’s beliefs and philosophies – that’s easy.

But Simone challenged us to ask those same questions about our own deeply-held beliefs. And that’s much harder, because if we do that robustly, we might not like the answers we get.

What marked out Simone as an outstanding thinker was not just that she was not afraid to ask questions, but that she wasn’t afraid of what the answers to those questions might be.

Simone was ready to believe she might be wrong. 

Of course, as a passionate and committed person, she often thought she was right – a lot of the time. And she would argue passionately for what she thought was right.

But here’s the thing: you could argue with Simone – argue properly by debating, discussing, having a conversation – about the thorniest, trickiest, most nuanced, most challenging issues, knowing that you were both trying to find a better answer to the question than the ‘answer’ you brought to the start of the conversation.

At the end of that conversation, your position might have shifted; or hers might have done. We’re not talking about a total volte face, but just a small shift here and there in what you previously thought to be unambiguously and incontrovertibly right.

That is the mark of a great thinker – not just trying to shift other people’s opinion; but being ready to shift your own too.

And that – among many other reasons – is why she should be a role model for everyone in this profession.

In honour of Simone, let every fundraiser now ask of themselves one of those cage-ratting questions. And don’t be afraid of what the answer might be. 

Ian MacQuillin, Director, Rogare – The Fundraising Think Tank

Simone Joyaux at the first board meeting of the Centre for Sustainable Philanthropy in 2014.

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