Fundraising isn't about what you get; it's about what you give.
Fundraising done right is one of the kindest, most generous things you can do.
A few years ago, a young couple was going through a hard time. Both of them had difficult health problems that cost a lot of money to treat. Both of them lost their jobs at about the same time. In no time at all, they were out of money. They couldn't afford food. They received an eviction notice from their landlord.
About the same time, my wife and I bought a new house. We were holding onto our old house and it was standing vacant while we decided what to do with it. We offered to let this young couple live rent-free in our vacant house while they got back on their feet. We even paid the utility bills for them. By far, it was the most expensive thing we ever did for someone else.
Why did we do it?
My wife and I enjoyed helping this young couple. We enjoyed it from a deep, deep place in our souls. We got a sublime satisfaction from sharing our abundance with someone in need. We felt more alive, more connected, more human, more meaningful, more real.
This is what giving did for us deep down in our souls.
Many years ago, I was catsup-on-crackers poor. That means I couldn't afford to buy groceries and I was making meals out of whatever I could scrape together. I was also feeling ashamed of myself for some of the decisions I made that got me to that low point.
About that time, my car broke down and I got really sick. I could not afford to fix my car or my lungs. I didn't know how I was going to make it.
Some friends of mine, Kay and Mark, gave me $500 out of the blue. I objected...strongly. I wasn't going to be a charity case. I wasn't going to let my problems become their big expense.
They politely corrected me. They weren't giving out of a sense of guilt or obligation. They were giving out of their abundance and their love for me. I'll never forget, Kay said: "You're not taking anything from us; you're giving us a gift. You're giving us the gift of doing something for you. We feel so much joy at being in a position to do something for you. Please don't take that away from us!"
Why do I tell these two stories?
To demonstrate that giving--not getting--leads us to the deepest, highest, and widest sense of joy and meaning as human beings. Nothing makes life more worth living than giving.
Giving is what Abraham Maslow calls "self-actualization" and it is the tip-top of Maslow's famous "Hierarchy of Needs." That is to say, what we need most as human beings is the opportunity to give of ourselves.
How does that change the way you think about asking people for anything of value?
For me, it means that asking is actually giving. I'm giving someone the gift of giving. I'm giving someone an opportunity to self-actualize, to experience joy and meaning deep in their souls. I'm giving someone the opportunity to be their best selves, to live life on purpose.
Who doesn't want that?
Who isn't looking for that in this world that shouts so many promises that it can't keep? We help people cut through the clutter and find something good, something real, something true that makes their souls sing.
This is what fundraising is to me.
It's not really about money. We just talk about money because money is the most convenient measure.
But what we're really doing in this business is helping people get in touch with their neighbors and with themselves. Sometimes, we're using money to do that. That's when we're fundraising.
So as you think about fundraising this Giving Season, forget about what you want to get out of your donors. Instead, think of what you want to give them. How can you make your connection with them one of generosity and kindness? How can you give them the gift of joy and meaning?
This is not an abstract exercise and it doesn't have to be complicated either.
It starts by being considerate of your donors. What do they care about? What excites them? What do they really want to support with the lives and their means?
What do your donors want their lives to be about? What stories are they telling themselves about themselves? How can you give them an opportunity to be the people they want to be?
How can you make it easy and fun for your donors to give?
Most important, how can you make sure your donors know they made a difference to someone? How can you make sure your donors know they made a difference to you?
Get your team together in a room with a whiteboard and write down specific things you will do to make sure your donors feel like you are giving them a gift this Giving Season. Again, you don't have to plan expensive stuff. A heart-felt note, a personal visit, or a phone call don't cost much, but they mean a lot.
The best part about changing your mindset to giving rather than getting?
You yourself get to experience the joy and meaning of giving.
And that's what will make this Giving Season your best ever.
Onward and upward!