5 fundraising lessons I learned from causing a stir

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Sometimes I equate my blogging schedule to SNL. SNL doesn’t go on air because it’s ready to go on air. It goes on air because it’s 11:30.

Similarly, I post a blog every Wednesday. I do it because it forces me to write on a weekly basis. I do it because I think consistency in a blog is important. I do it because I believe there are some readers out there who really value what I write, and I appreciate that, and don’t want to let them down.

Sometimes I’ve spent weeks of careful thought on my post, and sometimes it’s a quick post in the morning based on something that I was recently inspired to think and write about.

Case in point: last week’s post — What if we are the problem?

I wrote this post quickly the morning I posted it. Not to say I hadn’t thought about it, but I didn’t carefully choose my words or re-read it a million times.

When I clicked “Publish”, it didn’t occur to me that this post would start a conversation, only that it would make readers think.

In fact, I was a lot more worried about a post I wrote a few weeks ago — #donorlove has its limits. I thought that one might cause a stir.

But lo and behold, I get into the office Friday morning (two days after the post was published) and I get a message from John Lepp letting me know that my post has started a conversation on the Facebook group, Fundraising Chat. A conversation that, for the most part, is very much in disagreement about what I wrote. Then my boss gets into the office and she’s apparently been given a heads-up from another fundraiser who spotted the Facebook thread. So I caught up on the thread and inserted myself in there, too.

At the end of it all, it was a very fruitful conversation, and an interesting one, to be sure. Also, it was a conversation I’m proud that my blog post initiated, even if my ideas were argued against.

In retrospect, I would not have done a thing differently, and I’ve learned some lessons in the process that I can apply directly to fundraising.

Here they are:

#1 – Done is better than perfect

If I hemmed and hawed about every post I wrote, trying to perfect every word, make every thought complete, and ensure it was critic-proof, I’d (a) never post anything, and (b) write really boring posts.

Similarly, sometimes our donor communications go through so many hoops and levels of approval that they end up sterile and totally uninspiring.

Sometimes what we write – for readers or donors – is better a little bit messy. If I had defined every term in my post and been more careful with my ideas, it might have never started a conversation.

#2 – Words matter

That being said, words do matter. If it had ever occurred to me that the word “asset” could be defined so differently by readers, I would’ve chosen a better word, or done a better job defining what I meant by asset.

We can’t expect our donors to give us the benefit of the doubt or interpret what we mean if we aren’t clear enough, so we do have to sit back and consider some critical messages we’re conveying, and make sure it’s clear what we’re trying to say.

#3 – Be part of the bigger conversation

This experience reminded me just how glad I am that I converse with so many amazing fundraisers around the world. Sure, in this instance, they were arguing against what I was saying, but that doesn’t phase me. What I loved was that I was part of a bigger conversation, one that had people debating and challenging each other and sharing new ideas.

At the end of the day, this conversation strengthens our work as fundraisers. Hearing different opinions, participating in debates, connecting with different people, learning about fundraising trends in other countries… this all makes us better fundraisers. We can’t stay in a little bubble. We’re better together.

#4 – Have fundraiser friends

Although I wasn’t personally hurt by disagreements with my ideas, I was buoyed by the fundraiser friends I have out there who gave me the benefit of the doubt and interpreted my blog the way I meant it. There were some great people that I respect who spoke out on my behalf in the conversation and I was so grateful.

Like with #3, it’s important to build relationships with other fundraisers – from different organizations, sectors, and places. These are the people you can vent to, talk through ideas with, gain inspiration from, and more. Again, we’re better fundraisers when we have fundraiser friends.

#5 – Just because someone disagrees with you, doesn’t mean you have a bad idea

Like I said, I wouldn’t have done anything differently. I learned some things as I’ve shared above, but the disagreement and the conversation that was started doesn’t make me take back what I said. I still think my point was sound; people didn’t like the word “asset” and that’s OK. I still think it works!

And that’s why we have to have thick skin as fundraisers and sometimes charge through, even when others are in disagreement. There are a two outcomes – your idea could work and lead to great success! Or it fails. And who cares if it does?! Surely you learned something along the way. I did last week!

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Written by Maeve Strathy

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

Connect with Maeve via:
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Why I love what I do: reason #2

I’m reminded of why I love being a fundraiser in an educational setting every day of the week, but occasionally someone will engage me in a conversation about certain aspects of what I do, and a fire is lit inside me.  Just as I discussed in my first installment of “Why I love what I do”, it gets me excited to talk to people about how passionate I am about fundraising.  Getting excited about sharing with people what I love about what I do makes me even more excited to do it.  It’s a very happy cycle to get caught in.

So what’s another thing I love about what I do???  The fact that what I do seems to combine my passions together into one field of work.  For one thing, I love meeting new people and getting to know them – one-on-one (I’m an introvert, after all) – in a meaningful way.  I get to do that a lot as a fundraiser / alumni relations officer, and it’s a pleasure every time to chat with an individual about what they do now, how they stay engaged with their alma mater, and how their experience at my institution was.  Every story is unique and wonderful to hear.

I studied English in university and wasn’t sure if it’d be my BA that counted in getting my first job or my English degree, specifically.  Turns out it’s both!  A degree is important to get you in the door of the job you want, but I find my English degree – both in regards to my knowledge of writing and language, and my general critical thinking skills – is specifically valuable.  Plus, more than just knowing about writing, I love to write!  It’s my favourite and most efficient way of expressing myself, my thoughts, my intentions, and my ideas, and there are a lot of opportunities for writing in fundraising – whether it’s writing an appeal, writing a web article about exciting alumni news, or writing a customized proposal for a major gift prospect.

Secondly, I love words and language.  Word choice is an integral part of fundraising, both in spoken and written forms.  Sometimes it can come off as jargon (click here for an jargon-related, industry-specific laugh), but the truth is that the right word or phrase can evoke emotion, and emotion has so much to do with fundraising.

And that brings me to another thing I love about fundraising, I love the psychology of it.  It’s not just a business matter – although some donors prefer it to be that way – but instead an exchange of passion, emotion, nostalgia, and more.  In educational fundraising, a prospect’s memory of their time at the school, perhaps an opportunity made possible for them through a scholarship or bursary, can evoke such a strong sense of desire to give back.  If they see a current student who is only able to attend the school with the help of financial aid, they might reflect back on their own experience, and feel a need to contribute in order to provide this student or other students’ with the opportunities they once enjoyed.

Like I said, it’s not just a business matter or a transaction of money – it’s an experience.  An experience where a donor aligns his or her passions with their resources, matches their emotions up with their fortune.  And that’s another thing I love, it’s a feel-good industry to work in.  These aren’t static numbers on a spreadsheet.  I can see the look on people’s faces when they’re reflecting on the difference that they’ve made, and it’s magic.

This is once again a moment to share the perfect and eloquent simplicity of a child’s definition of philanthropy:

“Because if you help other people, you’ll be a good person, and you’ll feel good inside.”

And that’s another reason why I love doing what I do.

 

Written by Maeve Strathy

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Maeve is the Founder of What Gives Philanthropy and has been working in educational fundraising for the past 6 years.  Click here to learn more about Maeve.

Connect with Maeve via:
Twitter | Facebook | LinkedIn | Email