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.

Individual and Institutional Fundraising

Over the past six months, a greater proportion of the fundraising I’ve been doing has been institutional rather than individual. By “institutional” I mean fundraising from people who have been charged with donating somebody else’s money – whether or not it’s a formal, recognized institution (e.g. a large private foundation, a corporation, etc.).

In both individual and institutional fundraising, there’s a strategic element and a people element. The strategic conversations are around goals and outcomes and what success looks like. The people element is around what motivates a person to take action – the story and the emotional elements that move people to act, as well as the interpersonal dynamics that are always at play.

The one thing that is missing from these institutional conversations, which easy to miss if you’ve not experienced it directly, is a deep, personal element. In my experience, real, substantive conversations about real, substantive philanthropy nearly always get personal: they touch on motivations, hopes and fears, aspirations, and legacy.

These conversations require something different from the person doing the fundraising: a comfort getting into that murky space where they, too, are more open, honest, and vulnerable than would ever be expected in a purely professional context.

My hunch is that the reason most people don’t wade deep into individual, big-ticket fundraising is either because they don’t understand how deeply personal these conversations have to be, or they are unwilling or unsuccessful at going there. This means that if you have the courage to take that leap, along with openness to do the real work that this leap requires – to learn about yourself, to understand your own motivations for doing this work, to help people talk about their own purpose – you’ll soon be part of a very small group of people willing to take it to another level. This path is a heavy lift, a long walk that requires emotional labor and has the potential for a serious personal and professional payoff.

Of course your other option is to sit safely at a desk replying to yet another formal request for proposal, hoping that your program will be the one out of 1,000 that’s picked out of the pile.

This is one of the greatest blend-in or stand-out opportunities in the nonprofit sector.

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.