My father is a fundraiser. My grandfather was a fundraiser. And just about all of my siblings and close relatives are involved in community work one way or another. I’ve made it my life’s goal to enhance the work and results of fundraisers.
Fundraisers are my people—my passion.
Several weeks ago, I wrote an article titled, “The Power of a Coach.” In it, while discussing the unique challenges that fundraisers face, I write, “Fundraising is disgusting. No one really enjoys asking other people for money. ”
Well, huge surprise… let’s just say I got mixed reviews.
Some messaged and thanked me for finally putting in print the turmoils of the role. Others, as you’d expect, weren’t so thrilled. To you, I apologize. This column is meant to have an unfiltered, direct tone that is intended to motivate and uplift people. By no means is it meant to offend or cause you pain. And definitely not belittle the job that we, myself included, hold in such high regard.
But I do want to take this opportunity to dig a bit deeper and shed the proverbial light into the motivation behind my original sentiment.
The great Hank Rosso describes fundraising as “the servant of philanthropy.” Servant. That’s a bit harsh coming from the man who devoted his life to enhancing the skills of fundraisers and invented so many of the best practices of the fundraising world. No? But I think this word choice reveals something extraordinary.
We all wish people would just give. You see someone hungry, you feed them. You see there are children not in school, you pay for their education. That’s the way it should be. But, alas, it isn’t. Therefore, an army of “servants” needs to be deployed to extract these funds from the reticent philanthropist.
So wait, do fundraisers actually add value to this “extraction”? Or are fundraisers just a “necessary evil,” because people are just too self-centered or distracted to act on their own? Do they add anything to the people they are fundraising from or to the gravitas and meaning of the gifts they solicit? Or is it just a matter of time before Amazon launches an autonomous drone-powered charity extractor, and they’ll be washed away in the annals of history, along with town criers and bowling pinsetters.
Fundraisers Are Vehicles of Universal Change
To answer this quandary, I bring you another quote from Hank: “Fundraising is the gentle art of teaching the joy of giving.” BOOM.
Sure, we “serve” the cause of philanthropy, but we are the “teachers” that enhance, beautify and perpetuate the act. So much so that if people would just miraculously give on their own, we would still be gravely missing what fundraisers bring to the table.
The nature of money is, at its core, self-serving. It feeds us and, as beasts of nature, we protect what keeps us alive. Battle of the fittest, if you will. And in this mundane existence, it is the mission of the fundraiser to be the agent of light and to teach us that we all need to take care of each other; and if we do, we will live a meaningful and fulfilling life.
Let me demonstrate by quoting a pretty good fundraiser: G-d. Not the “Higher-purpose-AA-meeting” version of G-d, I’m talking about the one from the Bible. And whether your a believer or not, the Bible is still a pretty good place to glean some life lessons. Up there with “7 Habits of Highly Effective People” and “Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus.”
When asking Her people to give to charity and promising to reward them if they do, She says: Chanuni ni NA b’zois―test me in this.
Test G-d that She will repay the riches tenfold. Test. G-d recognizes how hard it is for people to separate with their rightfully earned funds. Notice I didn’t say “hard earned.” Because even if it is not hard earned. Even if you’re a trust fund kid, your parents or grandparents worked pretty darn hard so you wouldn’t have to. So your wealth is rightfully earned and belongs to you.
G-d is kinda going all out here. She’s doing something She’s never done with any other commandment or “request.”
She is demonstrating the need to go all out! Not simply laying out the commandment like all the other commandments. G-d takes fundraising PERSONALLY. Leading by example. Being an agent.
Fundraisers are the agents that must be put in place to teach, to inspire, to motivate everyone else to do the right thing. Think of it like a precious gem or diamond. It must be mined. And the deeper you go, the dirtier you might get. You sweat. It’s sometimes difficult to breathe. It’s not always glorious work. And without miners, it wouldn’t get done.
This is true in all professions of progress. Doctors are agents of healing, artists are conduits of creativity and builders are the literal framework to civilization. Without them, we’d all be extinct by now.
And what about fundraisers? Well fundraisers are the vehicles of universal change.
Someone shared a story with me this week, which captures the essence of this point and how gravely we need these people in our lives. A new, young, fundraiser approached a well-seasoned fundraiser and community leader to ask him for advice.
This was his answer: When you ask people for money the first time, they will say no. But don’t be disappointed. It’s not them. It’s just their evil inclination deterring them from fulfilling their life’s mission.
The second time you’ll ask, you most likely will get another no, but don’t worry. It’s not them. It’s their evil inclination deterring them from fulfilling their life’s mission.
But by the third time if you give up and you don’t ask again, this time it’s your evil inclination deterring you from your life’s mission. We need the askers. An army of askers. Because if no one is brave enough to put themselves out there and ask, nothing will ever change.