There are truckloads of books about “fundraising” these days, but few that I’d call insightful. Here’s an outstanding exception: Ron Schiller’s Belief and Confidence: Donors Talk About Successful Philanthropic Partnership.
As Pam wrote a few days ago, it’s always a pleasure to discover a kindred spirit — and to amplify their voice in whatever ways we can.
All the more because Schiller’s insights align so closely with what I’ve seen in my work with philanthropists and civic leaders, as well as with development professionals and other social sector leaders.
It’s his focus on philanthropic partnership that most caught my attention.
Without belief in philanthropic partnership, internal leaders lower their own ambition. They develop strategic plans and set goals based on past fundraising performance, rather than take the risk of dreaming with the donor about what might be possible. They plan within the confines of what they consider achievable, missing opportunities …
Lowered ambition and fear of engagement with donors also combine to lead, sometimes inadvertently, to gift proposals that are fully developed before the first conversation with the potential philanthropic partner. Presenting a shiny, four-color brochure with every detail finalized may seem like proper preparation and due diligence, but it is highly likely to backfire, except in transactional, lower-level fundraising, conveying to potential major donors that there is no room for anything other than their money. …
Every day, in organizations throughout the world, staff members and even volunteers sit in prospect strategy sessions, crafting cultivation and solicitation strategies, and often arguing over who gets to ask a donor, how much they get to request, and what giving opportunities should be presented. Everyone who’s sat in on such a discussion knows which voice is usually missing: the voice of the donor.
The human costs of a less enlightened approach were brought home to me, once again, when I read an Amazon review of the book.
After reading many other books on raising money, a nonprofit leader had concluded they “either needed to change [their] personality or abandon” raising money for their mission. But after reading Schiller’s book, they saw the potential in the “beautiful process of partnering with others.”
I’ve heard the same from many who’ve studied with me over the years — discouraged by the more common practices in the profession, then relieved and energized to find a more authentic and human path (that’s also more effective).
Over and over, I’ve seen the people most suited for this kind of collaborative, facilitative work — which is exactly the kind of “fundraising” that’s called for in these times — repelled by much of what’s taught in the profession.
How much potential is being squandered?
How much good is not being done for the world?
Or as Pam said to me yesterday, “I was thinking earlier today about how WRONG it is that ‘nice’ people often don’t feel they fit in the profession. That gets my dander up.”
So the big question is: How do we grow more success and effectiveness for that certain kind of person I’m talking about? Those who have a bit more humility and sensitivity, who refuse to objectify others — and would rather leave the field than become “salesy” or manipulative.
If this is resonating with you … maybe putting into words what you’re troubled about … I want you to know that you can get support for how you’d rather work with people. That’s what we do around here: give you ideas, insights, and experiences so you know how to do this as well as it can be done.
On a personal note, all of this reaffirms my return to being visible in the field again. This call has gotta be answered.
Now, go get the book.
P.S. If your first reaction is “$45 for a 150-page paperback?” … remember it’s not how much you send in, but what you take out — that’s what counts.