Drop the Rope

The person you want to give a piece of your mind.

The argument you want to win.

The “I told you so” that you’ve been molding and honing until it’s perfectly crafted.

All of these responses are infused with an emotional energy that isn’t going to help.

The first step is to drop the rope.

Not because you are indifferent, but because you care. You care a lot. And whatever this thing is that you have to speak your truth about, it’s not the kind of thing that will have a right, a wrong, a winner and a loser. 

Not if it’s ultimately going to get where you’re so yearning to go. 

My Job

Is my job, right now, to tell you what I’ve figured out, and share my wisdom?

Is my job to show you all that I don’t know, and show my openness and vulnerability?

Or is my job simply to write half of the sentence, and let you fill in the…?

Each day, every moment, a choice.

Not-so-small talk

It amazes me how much time we waste in our effort not to waste any time.

Five, even ten minutes to understand who a person is, where they are today, now, at this moment…there’s no way that you can skip that step and hope to create any sort of real connection in a meeting.

Almost every culture in the world knows this – that you cannot start a conversation before you’ve talked to someone as a person.  Except Americans, of course.  We pride ourselves on “getting down to business.”

There’s wisdom in those old civilities of asking after someone’s well-being, their family.

Two people might be able to strike a deal, but two human beings are needed to create any sort of partnership.

Blah blah blah blah Ginger

There’s a great old Gary Larson cartoon about what we say and what dogs hear.

I wonder if we could re-title this cartoon “our needs,” as in: every time we regale someone with “what we need” we remember that all they’re hearing is “blah blah blah blah.”  But whenever we say their name, whenever we paint them into the picture, whenever we make them part of the story, they hear us loud and clear.

If you agree with the notion, rather than thinking tactically how to make this shift by “changing your pitch,” you might instead ask yourself what’s keeping you from actually seeing the person across the table as an integral part of the story….because she is.

If you don’t feel that way, she certainly won’t feel that way, and you’ll be stuck in exactly the wrong place: “blah blah blah blah blah.”

Dear (potential) donor

Dear (potential) donor,

Please, please, be careful and clear with your intentions, with your time, and with our time.  I know you don’t want any special treatment, and I know you don’t want different rules to apply to you…but they do.  (Nonprofit) folks will always take that extra, exploratory meeting with you, that broad-ranging conversation to better understand the sector, the work they’re doing, all the little intricacies that are their special sauce.  They’ll do it because they honestly want to share with you, and they’ll do it because it’s very difficult to tell the difference between a casual conversation and an active exploration of a partnership that leads to a funding decision.

(Worse than loose exploration, please, please, please, don’t make commitments that you cannot or will not keep.  There are few things more debilitating than that.)

It’s true, it really is their job – the nonprofit’s – to draw the line, to be clear, to ask you the tough questions.  But it’s a hard thing to do, and sometimes they won’t.  Sometimes they’ll talk and talk and talk, keeping that distant hope alive that sometime soon you’ll see that glimmer of what you’re looking for and decide to write a big check.  No, that’s not the only thing they see when they see you coming, but it is certainly part of what they see, and they’re going to give you more leeway than they would give to someone else.

So, please, explore, talk, brainstorm, ask questions, give advice, but also insist on clarity if they’re not being clear.  If you know you’re not planning to fund them, but the conversations are going great, you have a chance to speak up, to level set, to explain where things are and explain why you’re talking – because there are many ways to partner, and funding is just one of them.

You’ll be doing yourself and them a great service by speaking up.

Very truly yours,


[coming tomorrow: Dear Nonprofit]

Why sweat the small stuff?

Yesterday I wrote a post about making sure to get the font right in emails you send out.  The day before I reflected on responses to the simple question, “How are you doing?”

Why sweat such small stuff in a blog about generosity, philanthropy and social change?

It’s because from what I’ve seen, change happens – especially in the nonprofit sector – when the right people, ideas and resources come together to attack a particular issue.  The driving force and the glue are relationships, the ability to bring together seemingly disparate people and organizations that form strong, lasting partnerships.

Successful relationship management is first and foremost about attitude.  You have to care (or, potentially, you have to decide to care) about building strong and genuine relationships.  You have to have honest-to-goodness respect for the people with whom you’re building these relationships.  This goes in all directions (donor to nonprofit; nonprofit to donor; nonprofit to program beneficiary, program beneficiary to nonprofit; etc. etc. ), and it’s non-negotiable.  Without this attitude in place, you’ll fall short.

Once you’ve got this right, though, relationship-building and relationship management is a skill that can be learned.  Like any skill there are big pieces and small pieces; there are people who are born naturals and people who learn along the way.  There are a million ways to get this right and probably even more ways to muck it up.

So posts about how to write emails, or posts about the first impression you make when someone asks “how are you?” are part of the mountain of little tweaks that I’ve found help me get better at this every day – things I’ve seen, things I’ve messed up, things I’ve learned from others.  One by one they pile up, until one day, to your (or my) surprise, you’re in a totally different place.

Fundraising tip

Silence is your friend.

When you’ve shared the great work that you’re doing, when the person across the table from you is clearly excited and ready to jump in with both feet, and when you’ve asked them to make a significant donation…then be quiet.

They probably feel a little uncomfortable at this exact moment.  You probably do too.

If you’re an empathetic person (which you obviously are), you’ll be dying to rescue them from being uncomfortable, and you’ll do it by filling in the silence.

Don’t do it.

If the partnership is the right one, and the funding decision is the right one, then the kindest thing you can do is stay quiet.

Let them fill the silence by saying yes.

Scarcity, urgency, and a sense of accomplishment

Here’s how a great bebopper on the subway was selling his CDs.

“We started today with 100 CDs and we’ve sold 48… we’ve got 52 to go.  They’re only $5 each.  If you stand up and buy one you’ll create a cascade of other buyers!”


Let’s parse that pitch:

–          “We started today with 100 CDs and we’ve sold 48:” these things are good and they’re selling fast.  Other people have decided that they’re good already.  You’re joining that crowd when you buy one.

–          “, and we have 52 to go….” we’re getting towards the finish line, and you can help us….

–          “If you stand up and buy one you’ll create a cascade of other buyers!” your actions are bigger than just you.  A lot more is going on here than you giving us $5 and us giving you a CD.

Without a doubt, it’s almost always better to create scarcity, a sense of urgency (a deadline) and a feeling of accomplishment on the part of your buyer (donor).

And no, it doesn’t always have to be “act fast time’s running out” (though that’s usually a good thing…but then again it’s not true each and every time).  But there’s a lot more you can do than describe just the thing that you’re selling and how much you’re selling it for.

Help people understand that you have a limited number of seats (scarcity), where the finish line is how they’re helping you get there (urgency), and how their actions can and will influence others for great impact (sense of accomplishment).  And then take the concrete steps that allow you to keep each of these promises that you’re making.

Don’t do me any favors

Building on last week’s post, some more thoughts on how to ask for things.

A friend and experienced public speaker recently shared that for any speech she thinks about an audience full of friends – people who want to see her succeed (different from a room full of clones of my inner critic…)

It’s the same with asks.  Go through the world acting generous and expecting generosity in return, and make asks with this mindset.  This will affect both the way you make asks and what you ask for:

  • the way you ask because in expecting generosity you will ask unapologetically, which inherently makes your ask stronger;
  • what you ask for because as a generous person you won’t fall into the trap of asking without giving back, nor will you act like you have nothing of value to give (of course you do!).

But “favors” are another thing entirely.  “Favors” to me feel like one-off, I’ll-go-out-of-my-way-this-one-time sort of things.  That’s absolutely fine when what you actually need is a favor (“help, I’m totally stuck, can you bail me out?”), but most of the time you don’t need to be bailed out.  Most of the time you need help from someone who’s on your side, who has the same goals, who is part of building what you’re building.

I see this dynamic play out a lot when someone at a nonprofit feels like they’re approaching someone more high-powered than they are – a major donor, a board member, etc.  With the mindset of asking for a favor, the donor is treated with kid gloves, the nonprofit staff member is sheepish and apologetic, and awkwardness and a “we/you” mentality ensues.

Ask for help, give help.  Leave favors for everyone else.

I owe you

A good friend was recently working on a freelance job on a very short deadline. She did a bang-up job, made her client look great, and sent in her bill for the hours she worked. The client responded: “I don’t think you billed us enough for this job.”


Most business relationships have an adversarial undertone: we’re going to be collaborators and co-creators, but let’s duke it out over the contract first, and then let’s make sure it’s under budget because that will make me look good. I win when the project makes me look like a star, and you’ll get what we agreed upon in the first place. That was our deal.

It’s so easy to go back to the contract, to explain to yourself that your hands are tied and that you’re being fair. But there are times when you know you owe someone, when you know you got a great deal.

Go ahead, step up and say, “We made a mistake. You didn’t charge me enough for what you delivered. I owe you.”

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