What I learned about fundraising from a terrifying experience


Something really scary happened to me last night…

I was driving home from a meeting around 7:30 pm, and rolled up to a very sketchy intersection in Toronto very close to my home. The stoplight was red, and there was one car between me and the intersection.

All of a sudden, a man darted across the street. He ran up to the car ahead of me and tried to open one of their back car doors. He couldn’t get in, so he headed over to my passenger door. I hurried to lock my door but I wasn’t able to do it in time, and suddenly the stranger was sitting in my passenger seat next to me.

What happened next felt like an out-of-body experience. I calmly told him to get out of my car. He begged me to drive him, as he’d just been “jumped” and needed to get out of the area. I – again, calmly – told him I was not driving anywhere and that he needed to get out of my car. He said he was being threatened by people on the street and needed me to take him away. I said that was not my responsibility and that I needed him to get out of my car.

“Get out of my car,” I said. “Please get out of my car. You need to get out of my car.”

I kept repeating myself until finally, he opened the door, got out of my car, and ran away.

I gathered myself and drove home. Although I’m still feeling shaken, I’m OK and I’m safe.

I recounted the story a few times afterwards – to my girlfriend, a friend, and two of my sisters. Everyone seemed impressed with my calmness in the situation.

The truth is, I’m impressed, too. I didn’t urge myself to be calm in the moment. I just was.

I simply requested that the stranger get out of my car. I was calm, I was assertive, and I was serious. I didn’t scream, cry, or get emotional. I didn’t make a spectacle of it. I simply told the man what I wanted and eventually he did just that.

I don’t want to trivialize the situation that I experienced. I genuinely was shaken by it,

But when I sit down to write my weekly post on Wednesdays, I draw from experience – sometimes very recent, and sometimes unpleasant – to inspire my posts.

And so, I can’t help but think – what could I learn about fundraising from my experience last night? 

We talk a lot about storytelling in fundraising. Inspiring donors through stories is such an important technique in what we do.

But sometimes a story isn’t necessary. Sometimes flowery language, emotion, and a spectacle isn’t required.

Maybe it’s because of the ask you’re making, or maybe it’s who you’re making the ask to.

But sometimes, the best ask is one that’s calm, assertive, and serious. Sometimes you have to make the ask a few times in order for the donor to really feel the impact of what you’re asking. Sometimes they need to know you’re really serious before they consider responding to your ask.

Have you had any experiences that have inspired your fundraising lately? Hopefully they didn’t shake you as much as mine did, but maybe you learned something nonetheless.

Share in the comments below!


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Written by Maeve Strathy

Maeve is the Founder of What Gives Philanthropy and has been working in fundraising for ten years. Click here to learn more about Maeve.

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17 thoughts on “What I learned about fundraising from a terrifying experience

  1. Maeve, glad to hear you are OK. I give you kudos for remaining brave and calm. I may not have acted the way you did. Thank you for sharing as you are right, as fundraisers we need to be calm and assertive with no fluff. After all, we want the donor to recognize the impact his/her dollars can make. This will also allow the donor to trust us and want to continue the relationship. Have a great day!

    • Thanks for your comment, and for reading, Stacey! “No fluff” is exactly what I’m talking about. Sometimes a story is needed, sometimes getting right down to business is needed. It depends!

  2. Calm, assertive and serious. I love it Maeve! Please always remember to lock your doors as soon as you get into your car!!!


  3. I met with my daughters Principal recently about a concern I had and she bragged about all of her years of experience (noting a specific number of years) and talked down to me. A few weeks later there was a post on social media about her education and background for Principal’s week and it turns out she fibbed about her experience and college education in our meeting.

    My takeaway- don’t fib (or emphasize how awesome you are) to make yourself feel better. Explain the work and why its important (give the credit to your donors & volunteers) and LISTEN when people have concerns.

  4. Pingback: 5 Ideas for hosting a successful fundraising dinner - Luxeha

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