There is very little that is heroic about fundraising. And that’s sad, because there should be.
And by heroic, I don’t mean:
- Commendable, touching, or really cool;
- Successful (i.e., raised a lot of money);
- Heart-wrenching (i.e., generates an emotional response).
- Heart pounding;
- Changes the very identity of the giver;
- The stuff of legend;
Dan Pallotta, whose Harvard Business Review stuff is always a good read, blogged about that this week in a piece entitled, When Your Goal Is The Impossible:
For two years before I saw the film [Alive, the story of plane crash survivors hiking out of the Andes], I’d had this idea for a 600-mile bicycle ride to raise money for AIDS but was too intimidated to do anything about it. Walking out of the theater, some voice that didn’t seem entirely mine said, “That’s it, we’re going to build the AIDS Ride.” And the next day my staff and I began trying to figure out how to get 500 people to bicycle from San Francisco to Los Angeles. It seemed impossible at the time. It hadn’t been done before. But a little over a year later, 478 heroic people of all shapes and sizes, most of whom hadn’t been on a bike in years, finished the 600-mile journey, netting a million dollars for AIDS.
As we rode into West Hollywood together, I couldn’t stop crying.
I would cry at dozens of these kinds of closing ceremonies over the years as tens of thousands of average people completed long journeys after raising large sums of money for urgent causes — both things they never thought they could accomplish when they started.
Why in fundraising do we say that an activity is successful if it raises money and is generally ethical? Isn’t that an exceedingly low standard? Why can’t we say that an activity raising money is a necessary but insufficient condition of calling it a success?
Then we would be doing more than fundraising. We would be doing, you know, development.
As I think back over my development career so far, I find that the most successful campaigns I have been involved in so far have done more than transfer money into a nonprofit’s bank account.
They ennobled people. For a brief moment, people truly became heroes.
They didn’t just get called heroes. And it wasn’t because we stroked them and said, “You are really a hero!”
People became heroes.
- If you can describe your fundraising activities and only get choked up by the brochure or PowerPoint and the “take” for the night, not the heroics of those in the moments in the middle…
- If your fundraising doesn’t make your donors better, more capable people…
- If people who participate in your fundraising activities don’t reminisce about them and tell other people about them and describe them as life-changing moments…
…then it’s no wonder that you don’t like the job of fundraising, that you see it as a necessary evil–a vile means to a noble end–rather than a mutual adventure of discovery with your weird and very cool donor friends.