I’ve noticed over my last six years of fundraising how different new relationships can take different paths – often self-reinforcing.
Sometimes, despite everything you do, it’s just hard. I remember a few years ago one donor who, no matter what I did, I seemed to mess things up. I’d reach out for a meeting and it would be the only day he had to be out of town. I’d invite him to an event only to be told that he’d told someone else on our staff know that breakfasts never work for him. I’d write an email and misspell his wife’s name.
And then other times it’s easy, it flows. From logistics to the flow of the conversation to each step in building the relationship, it feels like everything is just working right and is easy.
The trick is figuring out what part of this is substance, what part of it is you listening or not, and what part of it is just luck.
In mid-2012 I was preparing to head out of town for a major fundraising meeting that I’d worked months to schedule – at least 20 emails and careful cultivation before and along the way. And then, an an hour before I was to leave for the train, I got a migraine (one of 3-4 I get each year). That was eight months ago and I still haven’t managed to reschedule the meeting.
Seven months later, it came full circle. I had another out-of-the-blue introductory meeting that I knew little about going in, but it looked like it had potential. As I sat down for the meeting I thought another migraine was coming on. It was bad enough that when I sat down with this person I’d never met before, I said, “I’m sorry, I may just have to leave in 10 minutes because I think I have a migraine coming on, but let’s start our conversation.” He rolled with it, so did I, and we jumped in. Thankfully I didn’t get a migraine – and instead we have, since then, been building a great, new relationship that is already going from strength to strength.
If you’re just starting out as a fundraiser, you might not have the experience or the pattern recognition to decipher what’s what or to see that you can’t control each and every situation and how it plays out. All you can do is keep at it, do your best, and continue to listen and to be present.