Jonathan Lewis’ recent blog post and accompanying video on fundraising hits the nail on the head: “The best fundraisers don’t fundraise. Instead, they teach people to take realistic – and unrealistic! – risks in the service of a better world. “
“Teaching” and “risk-taking” in service of a better world.
Maybe if we used that language more often we would have more great people getting into fundraising, more people in fundraising with the right mindset and orientation, and more funders taking risk.
I’m with Jonathan all the way until the closing paragraph, where he says, “Infuriating indeed is the patronizing ‘don’t take it personally’…If you believe in your mission and if you are giving it your all, then it’s always personal. Every committed social entrepreneur takes organizational rejection personally!”
As I told Jonathan, I don’t think this is quite right. Of course I feel it personally when I am rejected, when someone doesn’t share my passion or, worse, when my explanation of what we are trying to do at Acumen fails to capture the imagination of someone who I know is aligned with my passion and vision (in which case, shame on me). I don’t think I would be human if I didn’t feel it; indeed, if the day comes when I stop feeling it I’d have to question my own passion and sense of commitment.
But when I let the rejection feel personal, and when I see other fundraisers do the same thing, I think that’s a big mistake.
The person I’m meeting with came into the meeting with a worldview, with ideas, with momentum in a certain direction…and so did I. I feel like my job is to listen, explore, connect, tease out alignment, and then to inspire action (aside: the “inspire action” bit is really important and not easy to get right.)
But when that alignment isn’t there and I end up feeling personally rejected then I believe I’m misdiagnosing what just went on in that meeting.
When someone says no, it could be an execution error on my part: maybe I handled the meeting poorly, didn’t listen enough, was off my game, didn’t have a real and compelling ask, didn’t tell compelling stories, or didn’t articulate how Acumen could help the funder realize their vision. Hopefully, after fundraising for nearly seven years I make fewer and fewer of those mistakes, but I’m sure I do make them plenty. When this is what’s gone wrong, I need to use a rejection to figure out how I can get better, how I can hone my craft, how I can turn “no’s” into “not now’s.” Taking these sorts of rejections personally places blame in the wrong place: I didn’t do my job well, plain and simple.
And when what I’m fundraising for doesn’t inspire a funder or align with their vision, then something entirely different is at play. That’s a question of worldview, a question of where they are in their journey. It’s about lack of alignment of vision and values and aspiration. What they’re looking for is not what I’m selling.
(Note that it’s easy to see, when I’m selling database software or consumer copiers, the difference between being turned down because the person isn’t buying anything right now, buys from my competitor, or decides to buy productivity software and a high-end color printers instead. In philanthropy what we mostly see is the person giving or not giving to us, so everything gets much more muddled).
Almost always, it’s not personal. I have not been rejected. The moment I take rejection too personally is the moment I lose forward momentum, the moment I begin to question myself at a more fundamental level, the moment I forget that real long-term partnerships happen because of a deep sense of alignment, not because someone chose to buy what I’m selling.