To give (at all) or where to give?

When you’re talking to a philanthropist about giving to your organization, you’d better know what question they’re answering for themselves.

Are they deciding whether to give above and beyond what they had planned to give (…this year …in their lifetimes) or are they deciding where to give money that they’ve already (psychologically) pre-allocated as philanthropic money?

Because a conversation about a philanthropic allocation is very different than a conversation about overall level of giving: the allocation conversation is more straightforward, but also a lot more bounded; the conversation around total giving is much deeper, more profound, more personal and protracted, and potentially much more powerful.

Your organization is probably much better at one of these than at the other.  Both can work, you can excel at both, but first you have to know which conversation you’re having and which conversation you’d like to have.

The emotional chasm

“Fundraising is all about relationships,” we say.


And then we churn through lists and count the level of activity for members of our team (how many calls, how many meetings, etc.), because actually measuring relationships and whether they’re being created is really, really hard.

Of course you must churn through the list.  You must reach out more.  It’s non-negotiable.  You don’t get to hide behind “I’m a relationship-builder so I don’t do proactive outreach” because the two aren’t mutually exclusive.

But you’ll be churning through lists forever, with the same disappointing effort-to-outcome ratio, if you don’t get more of your relationships to cross the emotional chasm.

You know it when it happens – those people with whom you made a genuine connection, those people who touched you as much as you touched them.  You know it because you understand these people in a different way – and they understand you in a different way – because you have shared something genuine about who you are, deep down in your soul.

I know.  It’s uncomfortable to actually say that kind of thing out loud.

But we’re in this because we actually want to make the world a better place, right?  There’s nothing more real, honest and vulnerable than that.  That’s why this job is so hard when you’re trying to protect yourself and keep things at arm’s length, and why it becomes natural when you allow real human connection to happen, even if just for an instant.