Your questions grow up with you

Do I want to be a superhero or drive a firetruck?

Do I want to be a teacher, a doctor, a lawyer or a veterinarian?

Do I want to be a salesperson, an entrepreneur, an investment banker or a professor?

Goldman or Morgan? TFA or Robin Hood? Charter school or public school? Facebook or Google?

Until, eventually:

What kinds of problems do I want to solve?

How much direction do I need?

And how much do I want those around me to need?

What kind of approval do I seek?

Do I like creating new things or polishing others’ great ideas?

Do I work best with people who are highly structured or more free form?

Do I thrive or crack under pressure?

Do I want a workspace that is quiet or loud?  Open or closed?

What happens when I’m in the spotlight? What should?

How do I manage my time to be most effective?

How hard can I work in a sustained way?

Am I a starter or a finisher?

Do I process information best alone or in groups?   In conversation or in writing?

How important is culture to me?   Values?

What does leadership mean to me?

How do I make others shine?

Just you

A number of years ago I bumped into an old family friend, a senior partner at a law firm, on the 7:30am Delta Shuttle from New York to DC.  For me, catching that flight was always a discombobulated mad morning dash of stuff and stumbling through security (shoes, belt, bag, computer…) and grabbing a few newspapers for the flight.

As we were going down the aisle in the plane I noticed he had nothing with him – no briefcase, no suitcase, nothing.  I asked him about it and he said, “They asked me to come down to DC for the day, so I’m going.  What they asked for is me and that’s what they’re getting.  Nothing else.”

It was said tongue-in-cheek, with a smile, but I liked the point he was making.

At some point you need to strip it all away, the busyness and the stuff, the laptops and the schedules and everything unnecessary, and realize that in the end it’s just you, laid bare.  What you have to offer, the clarity of your insights, what you, unadorned, bring to the table.

Clean, simple, no additional baggage.

What do you want?

It’s actually very easy to communicate what you’d like someone to do.  The NY MTA does it simply, with a bigger box.


Of course this applies to web design, IRS tax forms, etc.  But it also applies to how you fundraise.

The most subtle, ever-elusive dance in fundraising is between relationship-building and “closing the sale.”  I find that, by and large, new fundraisers have to learn to invest more in building relationship, providing value to others, and being ambassadors within their organization for potential donors.

At the same time, you always have to be ready to answer the questions: “What’s most important to you?” or “If I’m ready to donate, what should it be for?”  There’s almost never any harm, even at the outset of a relationship, to be very clear about what your priorities are and how someone can be most helpful.   That’s not trying to close the sale too early, it’s knowing what your priorities are and giving someone clarity.  That’s never a bad thing.

If you don’t let them know (or worse, if you don’t know) what you hope they’ll do, how can you ever expect them to figure it out?

And if you’ve ever gone into a fundraising meeting without your top priority ask in mind, you’ve broken this rule.  I know I have.

Who are you looking for?

The James Caird is the 23 foot-(8m-)long whaler in which Sir Ernest Shackleton and five companions made the epic open boat voyage of 800m (l,300 km) from Elephant Island, 500 miles (800 km) south of Cape Horn, to South Georgia during the Antarctic winter of l9l6. Source:

What do your job postings look like?  Do they look anything like this one placed in a British newspaper by Antarctic explorer Ernest Shackleton, looking to hire crew for his Nimrod expedition to reach the South Pole (he never succeeded):


Pretty clear what you’re signing up for, huh?

Everything we do is a function of who is on the bus, the hands we have pulling together towards our common goal.  We may not be attempting to reach the South Pole, but we’re going somewhere important, and we need the right people to get us there.  People who share our values.  People who share our commitment.  People who are there because they are meant to be one of us – we just haven’t found them yet, nor they us.

Yet we punt on the opportunity to state who we are from the get-go.  We write bland, generic job postings, copying and pasting from the one we used last time and the time before that and the time before that.  We say things like “we are looking for self-starters who work well in teams, with strong attention to detail and a collaborative mindset.”

Huh?  It’s the hiring equivalent of mission statement blah-blah-blah: “we deliver excellence to our customers through uncompromising pursuit of top quality and belief in our stated values of trust, performance, and team.”

Please, please, please, stand for something in everything you do – especially in how you hire.  Instead of being afraid of writing something that some people won’t like, make SURE you write something that some people won’t like – because that way you’ll communicate something about who you are and what you stand for to the people who love that edgy, provocative thing you’re communicating.

Say things that only you would say, as a first step towards attracting only the right people to work alongside you for the next five or ten years.  What could be more important?

*                  *                  *                  *                  *

p.s. for those who noticed/didn’t like the two grammatical mistakes in the title of this blog post, I was being ironical.