The Verities – What Makes a Great Fundraiser?

born_to_raiseIs there a “fundraising type”?  Outgoing, people-oriented, backslapping, extremely well organized, goal oriented, brilliant.  This magnificent creature probably doesn’t exist.

It’s really hard, perhaps impossible, to know what makes an ideal fundraiser.  If you were designing the perfect fly-catcher, you probably wouldn’t design it to look like a frog!

Once a week, one of 63 Fundraising Verities will be posted below from the best selling book, Born to Raise by Jerold Panas.

Verity #59The Most Successful Fundraisers Recruit the Strongest

Great fundraisers build the most effective people around them. Not only staff, but volunteers.

Particularly with volunteers, they recruit those who are leaders in their field. They recruit men and women who are driven by the passions and qualities that make one successful. It is amazing how much you can accomplish by learning, listening, and following great leaders.

The successful ones know that if you don’t care who gets the credit, you will be able to accomplish unbelievable achievements.

Si Seymour, perhaps the most all-time exalted professional in our field said: “It is worth repeating, I think, that the layman takes the credit, and the professional takes the wrap. That to seek credit is to lose it.  And that to avoid credit usually results in getting more than you really deserve.”

The strongest in our field recruit the strongest to work with. You can always tell the caliber and character of a development officer by the people he or she recruits.

If the volunteers are weak, you can almost be certain you have a weak development person. If the volunteers are powerful and devoted, you have a high voltage staff person.

The “amateur” in fundraising is more necessary than ever. By “amateur,” I refer to the Latin meaning of the word: lover.

Find, seek, recruit the strongest volunteers. You will find, like any good lover, they give back in return much more than they receive.
 

Verity #58 — No Pain, No Gain

Among the successful fundraisers, there is a willingness, even an eagerness and expectation, to pay the price— whatever the cost. They understand that to be successful in this field, there has to be sacrifice. No pain, no gain.

It requires intense motivation. Long hours, long days. There are days when there seems to be no end.

There is the mental stress, the emotional anguish, the physical strain. It is a never-ending contest.

But that’s not what they experience, not the great ones. Somehow there seems only the joy and exhilaration. The adventure. The excitement of great achievements.

The great ones are nuts! They seem to be willing to pay the price. And they love it.
 

Verity #57 — Details are the Rudder that Directs Your Work

“God is in the details,” said Mies Van der Rohe. To be successful, you understand how essential details are to achieving the highest level of excellence. That’s what gets the gift.

But you also understand that details don’t mean the minutiae and mechanics of our work. To you, details mean having most everything in place that provides the optimal opportunity of securing the gift. But you don’t drown in the fiddle-faddle.

Being successful does not favor the lucky. Serendipity is God’s way of remaining anonymous and quiet.

Nothing is left undone. Nothing is left to the imagination. You understand that spontaneity and poor planning are your enemy.

You prepare. You prepare as if securing the gift depended on it. It does.
 

Verity #56 — Surviving the Fundraising Challenges

You understand that just being able to survive can at times be challenging in our profession. Never let yourself get between a dog and a lamppost! That should be our credo.

The reward of energy, enterprise, and success— is surviving for another year. At times, there can even be a pink slip— even if you’ve had a great year. Our tombstone should read: “I was expecting this, but not so soon.”

You understand about survival. At times the secret of keeping your job is to keep the five guys who want to fire you away from the five guys who haven’t yet made up their mind. But something constructive is always born out of adversity.

It doesn’t seem fair at all, but no one said life was fair. “Nothing so focuses the mind,” says Dr. Samuel Johnson, “as the knowledge that one is to be hanged the following morning.”

Even if you achieve your high objectives one year, you are measured by the next year. Board members remember the past, but they relish the present gifts and cherish the future fundraising.

Victor Hugo tells the story of the sailor who is commended and given a medal for extraordinary heroism in securing a cannon rolling around loose on the deck of his warship. Then he was hanged for his negligence in allowing the cannon to become loose from its moorings in the first place.

You may not be pleased with this day-to-day surveillance. But you understand and you accept this type of accountability as part of your work. You are expected to meet high objectives, most often each new year more than the year before.

It is imposed and impressed on you. Every day you perform agir di morte (an act of death) on the high wire. And without a safety net. That makes the dare worth the doing.

Keep in mind that when the Chief Executive Officer tells you, “Don’t worry about what others are saying about your work,” start worrying.
 

Verity #55 — The Successful Ones Relish High Objectives

They reach for the moon. They know they might not get there, but they will grab a star on the way down.

They are goal-driven. They are blessed.

Your work must rely on concrete, quantifiable tasks and objectives. The most successful do not resist demanding goals that can be measured and monitored.  Otherwise, it’s like playing tennis without a net.

Lee Iacocca says that nothing is better than a life and death struggle to get your priorities straight. “I love objectives that I have to stretch for. It keeps me going. It keeps me focused. It reminds me that a lot depends on my reaching my goal.”

Decide what you want to achieve:

1. Write it down.
2. If you can conceive it, you can achieve it.
3. Be willing to pay the price.
4. Prepare.
5. Make your objectives time-bonded.
6. Don’t let anyone dampen your dreams.

Without daring and ambitious aspirations, you will be uninspired, without destination or destiny. Objectives are dreams— visions with deadlines.
 

Verity #54 — The Great Fundraisers Practice the Principle of Ready, Fire, Aim

Some in our field are guilty of spending all of their time preparing for an ask or a campaign. Or they spend all their time analyzing the most effective way to call on a prospect— instead of making the call.

I know some who keep asking for more research and information. “I need more analysis, more exploration. I need to know more.”

These folks never seem to have time to actually go out and make the call for a gift. They are joyously busy spending their time analyzing and assessing. I call this grave disease Analysis Paralysis.

There is only one cure. Leave the office and make the call.

There are some you call on who are ready to make a gift now. It’s your job to determine the state of their readiness. There are times that you may end up with a gift of $10,000 because you hadn’t done sufficient cultivation. You were hoping for more. But with the proper stewardship and celebrating the gift, that $10,000 is the first step in getting a much larger one next time.

I call on a lot of development people who tell me that they still need to make a couple more cultivation calls. And it’s true.  You can’t sell a vision in 45 minutes. But I find that the successful ones practice the principle of ready, fire, aim.

I believe Emerson had the answer for us. “Be filled with zeal, fired with enthusiasm, then proceed with haste. Go beyond what you feel is impossible.”
 

Verity #53 — Great Fundraisers have the Desire to Win

In today’s world, to say “impossible” always puts you on the losing side.

The great fundraisers feel that coming in second sucks. They do everything with the throttle all the way down.

Every problem is an inspiring opportunity when pursued with the vigorous belief in the possible. A challenge is a dream put into action.

The wayside is filled with brilliant men and women who start with a spurt. But they lack the stamina and fortitude to finish. Their places are taken by those with resolve and fortitude. They never know when to quit.

What drives them on, these successful fundraisers, is a stubborn resolve. A resolute inner-drive. There is an irrepressible streak to get ahead. To break their own records. To outstrip their yesterday by today. And to do their work with more will and zeal than ever before.

That’s it. Unwavering determination. High voltage drive. The soul on fire. To win— that’s the objective.

Words and dreams are over-abundant. The drive to win can change the world. There is no such word like, “almost.” The prize goes to those who win.
 

Verity #52 — Seeking Perfection May Not Produce Happy Results

There is a significant difference between striving for excellence and attempting perfection. With the proper attitude and determination, the first is attainable, gratifying, and healthy. The latter is virtually impossible and frustrating. Perhaps even neurotic. It also happens to be an extraordinary waste of time.

The difference between excellence and perfection goes virtually unnoticed. It certainly will not cause you to lose or to win the gift. But the cost of pursuing perfection is enormous.

The successful fundraisers I interviewed all stand on tiptoes to achieve what the ancient Greeks called Arete—the highest level of excellence.

Those who make a fetish out of perfection ravage precious resources that should be allocated more effectively somewhere else.

None of the great fundraisers settle for anything short of the best they can do. Excellence is their standard. But they don’t waste time, either, worrying if it is not sheer perfection.  Striving for perfection is an impossible and debilitating state of mind in an imperfect world.
 

Verity #51 — You are Hard to Please

You are not easily satisfied. Only the very best will do.

You are built for fight or flight. On a regular basis, you review your objectives and achievements. Like everyone else, you enjoy praise and recognition. But that’s not what motivates you. There is an inner-reward that keeps you going. It comes from either outside sources or within. But it comes.

There is, however, another group in our profession. Those who are willing to accept good production rather than great outcomes. For them, there is no change. Content and complacent, they are pleased with their state and status.

No matter how great the motivation, there are those who are satisfied with ho-hum work and weary professional lives. If they are comfortable and content with vapid and uninspired professional production and are willing to settle for so-so results— they will not be among the great fundraisers.

David Ogilvy was one of the greatest public relations minds of the 20th century.  His firm was one of the largest in the nation. He said, “If one of my staff prefers being home and tending the roses, I feel that might be the correct priority for him. But he will not do well with our firm and he will not end up being one of the great ones.”

The successful fundraisers live in a constant state of dissatisfaction. You want to win. You feel it down deep. You understand that to be a good loser is to be a loser.

You are driven by your goals and objectives. Higher. Higher still.

The motivation comes from within. You combine momentum and passion. You find life fulfilling. Filled to the brim and overflowing.
 

Verity #50 — It Must Benefit the Donor

Donors give to what they want to give to. It may not be what you want.

It’s easier to sell a program if you are benefit-oriented. That should be your entire focus.  Buck Rodgers (yes, that’s his real name), the marketing guru of IBM, said: “At IBM, we don’t sell products.  We sell solutions.”

Few people are willing to support programs they’re not interested in— no matter how altruistic they might be. Not if there isn’t some inherent benefit and appeal for them.

When you think about it, even the highest level of altruism is selfish to a great extent. It provides heart, spirit, and joy to the donor. It gives them the satisfaction of knowing they have given to a great cause— and helped change lives and save lives.

You help the men and women you call on to understand that it is impossible to take with them what they don’t give away.  Andrew Carnegie said that if a man dies rich, he has died in disgrace.
 

Verity #49 — You Pull Up the Roots to See if the Flowers are Still Growings

In fundraising, patience is not necessarily a virtue. You are seldom satisfied with the progress.

You have a very low tolerance with the pace of your program and the progress. You are itchy by nature.

You do not suffer easily standing still or treading water. It’s the race you savor. And most of all, the winning of the race.

Your console only knows two speeds! Fast. And Faster.

All of my great fundraisers are driven by nature. Impatience is the force that ignites the person and electrifies the spirit.  It assures growth and vitality. It forges through the past to unlimited barrier-breaking opportunity. This impatience moves mission into motion.

Not everyone might agree. But patience is not an ideal or a worthy attribute. The great ones have a raging determination and drive. There is an undisciplined fervor for the fray and fire.
 

Verity #48 — The Successful Fundraisers Have Focus

To them, the definition of focus is knowing exactly what they want to be today, tomorrow, and the end of the fiscal year. And the future.

You never deviate from the plan. Consistency and focus become your credo.

Once you see, touch, and feel your objective, all you have to do is put all of your drive and strength behind it. You will hit the target every time.

In order to be successful, you need to break through old barriers and tradition. You consider status quo to be treason.

This requires a refocusing of the present and seeking new ways in the future.

What comes first, the compass or the clock?  For the successful ones, it’s the compass— that’s their focus.

Harry Emerson Fosdick said: “No steam or gas ever drives anything until it is confined. No Niagara has ever turned into light and power until it is tunneled. And no objective is ever reached until it is focused.”

That takes dedication and discipline. Zest. Exuberance. Ardor.
 

Verity #47 — Embrace Mistakes

As successful as they are, the great fundraisers seek men and women to pattern their life and work after. They search for role models.

In one of Martin Burber’s books, he speaks of the saying of a wise Rabbi of the first century: “The good Lord has so created man that everyone can make every conceivable mistake on his own! Don’t ever try to learn from other people’s mistakes. Learn what other people do right.”

The great fundraisers look for those who do things right. They become their heroes. Their mentors.

There’s the story of the second grader who wrote an essay on the life of Socrates: “Socrates was a philosopher. He went around pointing out errors in people and the way things were done wrong. They fed him hemlock.”

Learn from what others do right. You will be establishing your journey on the road to success.

Adopt an error-embracing mode. Make errors your friends. Embrace them and learn from others.

Follow this dictum. I promise you that even your errors will be remembered someday with pleasure.
 

Verity #46 — Common Sense is a Prime Requisite

There is a major difference between the non-achiever and the peak performer. It’s common sense.

The latter has mastered the art of applying the obvious. Common sense is essential. Sine qua non.

As far as common sense is concerned, nothing succeeds like excess. You can’t have enough. You can’t have too much.

Good common sense is perhaps one of the leading factors in winning the gift. Intuitive vibrations.

It enables the fundraiser to analyze a very complex situation. Somehow a solution and a design are developed which cut through the fat and get to the very nub of the situation.

It turns out that common sense is not so common at all. It’s the ability to discern the facts from the fancy.

To be a great fundraiser, high intelligence is admirable. Common sense is decisively critical.
 

Verity #45 — The Elusive Characteristic

It’s almost impossible to define. My fundraisers were tall and short. Thin and not so thin. Of all ages.

There is something, however, they all have in common. It’s difficult to define and almost impossible to describe. When I wrote my book, I said it was as fragile as an angel’s breath, as fleeting as a soft summer breeze, and as elusive as a moonbeam.

What I’m talking about is this quality I call style. All of my great fundraisers have it. They exude it.

Style provides the badge of individuality. It separates stunning quality from mediocrity. Style is of unparalleled consequence because it gives witness to the person’s strength, character, and audacity.

The world stands at attention for qualities which set a person apart. Today’s sophisticated public scrupulously evaluates and assesses the fundraiser. They seek to work with a person of distinction and grace. Style makes the discriminating difference.
 

Verity #44 — It Takes Hard Work

The difference between winning and losing, and being the best and being the near-best, is hard work. It is important to dream. But it is sublime to dream and work.

Faith is important. But faith focused with work is mighty. Desire is important. But long hours welded to desire is invincible.

There’s a certain nobility about hard work. It’s not hard work at all to the enthusiast. It is intoxicating. The long days and long nights. All are worth the price, and the price is always worth it— results and success.

Lee Iacocca, former head of Chrysler Motors, told me during a visit with him, “I don’t like my job.  I love it.  I tell my staff they only have to work a half day. And I don’t care which half it is— the first 12 hours or the second.”

The great fundraisers tell me they believe a person gets in life what they want. They tell me they respond to hard work by piling on more.

Success depends on how much you want it. And how much you are willing to dream, plan, and work. High resolve. Unrelenting effort. Purposeful direction. Hard work.

 

Verity #43 — Your Creed is to Grow or Go.  It’s in Your DNA

Peak performers live with high uncertainty and constant change. On a high wire without a safety net. They somehow seem to take it all in their stride.

They continue to learn. For the great ones, it’s a continuing process of “grow or go.” They live in a constant state of self-renewal.

The great fundraisers have the capacity to acknowledge errors. They seem to relish them. They treat them as learning experiences.

They are curious and learn from everything.  Even failures. They keep trying.  Michael Jordan said, “The only points I don’t make are the shots I don’t take.”

The great fundraisers are enthusiastic about their work. The zeal and commitment of a missionary.  And it is infectious. They do everything with energy and commitment.

Take a cue from the great ones— the pulse beats high and it is always the spring of life, no matter what your age. You continue learning, reaching, seeking, probing. And growing.
 

Verity #42 Follow my Rule of the Eight I's

This may seem over-simplistic, but take a look at my I's. They truly encompass all of the vital criteria necessary to be a highly successful fundraiser. It is your Magna Carta for fundraising.

If you have five of this group, you’ll be good in the field. If you have seven or eight, you are almost certain to be great. Here they are:

  1. Integrity
  2. Instinct
  3. Intelligence
  4. Imagination
  5. Intestines
  6. Irreverence
  7. Intensity
  8. Inthusiasm

You’re wondering about some of these. Integrity leads the list. It isn’t important— it is everything.

By Instinct I mean being street savvy. Having a sixth sense about what to do.

I wrote about Intelligence earlier in one of my Verities. I’m not referring to someone at genius level. Good common sense and the ability to make wise decisions and strategize. That’s what counts.

Imagination is essential. To be innovative. To think beyond your present limits. To dream. To fashion. To vision.

You’re wondering about Intestines. By that I mean (are you ready for this!) guts. You must be bold. Audacious. You do the salto mortale every day. That circus parlance for an aerial somersault performed on a tightrope. Without a safety net. It requires courage.

By Irreverence, I mean a willingness to break the status quo. The barnacle is confronted with an existential decision early in its age about where it’s going to live. Once it decides that, it spends the rest of its life with its head cemented to a rock. There it stays in place for its entire existence. You’re not pleased about staying in place. In some ways, you are irreverent about the past. You live in the future.

Intensity refers to being driven. The train is on a fast track and it is being propelled forward. You know only two speeds: Fast and Faster.

Yes, I know I reached a bit to make this last I! It takes unbridled Inthusiasm, for the job, the mission, and the people you call on. A passion that is obvious. And by the way, this passion is infectious— others catch it from you.
 

Verity #41 It's Not the Years That Count

We were doing a search for a client recently. I reviewed the credentials of a candidate who had been in the field for 17 years.

When I did some extensive checking, I find that this person has indeed been in the field for 17 years. But then I talked with references. I find that he has had 17 times the first year’s experience. He hasn’t developed, hasn’t grown, and shows no promise. He rusted in the first year.

I am convinced that experience is important. But it is most certainly not the number of years that count. It’s the quality of the experience.

There’s something more important than years of experience. What makes a great fundraiser is the magnificent combination of characteristics and skills that a person brings to the experience that makes good fundraisers into great ones.

So, what qualities do you look for? I make the case in my book that a person’s experience is to be considered, but that shouldn’t be the prime criterion.

I look for someone who is head over heels passionate about the organization and its mission. I want it to be a love affair.

I want someone who is growing and developing. That’s why experience is not important to me. If you’re green, you’re growing. Camus wrote: “Only you can make yourself what you want to be.”

In the interview process, I like someone who asks questions and probes. This is the sign of an excellent listener. And listening is one of the most important skills of a successful fundraiser.

Having a powerful relationship with donors, prospects, and staff is of primary importance. You seek a person who can quickly build positive relationships. The good news is that typically, you can determine this on even the first interview when you are doing your selection. You hope for someone who is endlessly inspirational.

And finally, I like someone who wants to win. “Coming in second sucks,” said one candidate to me. You may feel this is not the proper attitude we should bring to our field, but I must admit I rather liked the feeling that this person wanted to win.

The truth is fundraising, as they say, isn’t rocket science. If a person brings the right attributes, skills, and personality traits, the rest can be taught.
 

Verity #40 You Must Sacrifice

Our work is demanding. It may require severe compromises in your personal life.

Reaching your objectives is knowing what it is that others want.

I have worked with some who practice the concept of WIIFM (What’s In It For Me?). But to be successful requires knowing what you want. And what you are willing to give up to obtain your lofty aspirations. What are you willing to give up?

There is always the sacrifice. The best work is most often done under duress and at great personal cost. They do everything with the throttle all the way down.

When I wrote my book, Born to Raise, my Editor said that writing about the necessary sacrifice is going to turn-off a lot of people. And perhaps it did.  He wanted it taken out.  I insisted it stay in.

I wanted it to be included because almost all of the people I spoke with, my great fundraisers, talked about that along the way, in their professional journey, they had to make sacrifices.  But for them, it wasn’t actually giving up anything or yielding.

For the great ones, it was being involved in a crusade of sorts. It was doing something they absolutely loved and knowing the impact their work was making was helping change lives and save lives.

David Ogilvy is considered one of the greatest advertising leaders of the 20th Century.  His company was the largest in the country. He told me: “If one of my men wasn’t willing to work long hours, I tell them they may have their priorities right. They should go home and tend the roses. But I tell them this is the wrong company for them.”

When I started reporting the results of my study, I had someone waiting in line after a Seminar to ask a question. It’s really something I hadn’t thought about.

“That’s just fine, Jerry, for you to talk about this sort of thing. But what kind of a home life does it make and are you talking about both men and women and this sort of sacrificial living?”

The question was so on target I decided to circle back to my men and women I had interviewed— all but Father Hesburgh, President of Notre Dame.

I went to forty-nine of my great fundraisers. There were two divorces. The rest seemed to be happily married.

Two out of forty-nine isn’t bad!

But then I decided to go back to a dozen or so spouses. I started asking some questions about the marriage, the long hours, the devotion and commitment to the job.

To the person, I hear how pleased they are that their spouse is head over heels happy in their work. Another says, “I feel like I’m a partner in all of the great things he is doing.” One said, “She loves her work so much, we willingly make necessary adjustments.”

The great ones talk about sacrifice. One told me the juice is worth the squeeze. They feel they have a blind date with destiny.
 

Verity #39 Fundraisers are Resolute

One of the attributes I found in every one of my great fundraisers is that they are resolute. Determined. Dogged and undaunted.

I love the story about Roger Bannister. It was over 60 years ago that he broke the four-minute mile. It was an unthinkable feat.

But Bannister knew he could do it. “I knew that morning I would do it. I was resolute. I knew it was possible.”

Now here’s what makes this all the more astounding. In the next twelve months, four other runners also eclipsed the presumably impossible feat. Since then, hundreds have.

The explanation is that four minutes represented a mental barrier, not a physical constraint. When Bannister broke through the intellectual wall, the world’s runners realized such a time was not beyond their reach. All that was required was resolve.

The lesson is quite clear. Negative thinking limits performance.

The great fundraisers understand this. They are a determined and resolute group. Unyielding. They understand that the only failure is to not make the attempt. Even when things don’t go precisely the way they hoped, they never flag.

There’s the old Frank Sinatra refrain the great fundraisers live by, “Every time I find I fall flat on my face, I get myself up and get back in the race.”
 

Verity #38 The Great Fundraisers are Problem-Solvers

They understand that every grand opportunity is simply masquerading as a problem. It is a mystery waiting to be solved.

Father Hesburgh, former President of Notre Dame, told me about how he solves a sticky problem. That’s when it’s something he simply can’t get his arms around.

“Usually, if I don’t come up with a solution it means I don’t truly understand the problem. I explain it to someone and I listen to their response. But mostly, I listen to myself discussing it.

“I make certain that I never state a problem in the same way it was originally brought to me. Studying the reverse always helps.

“I never worry about an approach that transforms one problem into another. It usually means I’m probably taking the first step toward an exciting solution.”

Einstein said: “If you have a problem you simply can’t solve, it usually means you don’t fully understand the problem. That’s where it begins. Spend more time understanding the problem.”

For the great ones, effective and exciting strategy is essential. Untangling a problem to a donor becomes an exciting and enticing dilemma. A puzzle to be solved.

They tell me that if the answer seems to be surprising or even off-the-wall, it’s probably useful. One of my great fundraisers told me that if you seem to hit the bull’s eye each time with one of your solutions, you’re either coming up with the wrong answer once in a while, or the target’s too near.

What’s really difficult, Father Hesburgh told me, is if the final decision is filled with uncertainty and exposure. I am reminded that Michelangelo believed in taking risks. Otherwise, he would have painted the floor of the Sistine Chapel.
 

Verity #37 They Love Calling on People

One of the questions I often ask at my Seminars I lead is: “How many here really enjoy calling on people?” Out of a group of, let’s say, two hundred, a sprinkling of hands will tentatively go up. I would perhaps expect this among volunteers. They can, however, with the proper coaching be very effective solicitors. And when it’s done well, they love it.

If you expect to be doing Special Events, research, and annual giving— it is perhaps not as important to enjoy calling on people. But if you wish to move into major gifts and planned gifts, and for all CEOs, there has to be the comfort and confidence of calling on probable donors and donors for their gifts.

And to really be effective, you have got to love it.

The great fundraisers enjoy most of the aspects of their work. But calling on people, confronting them with the immense opportunity to share in great works and deeds— for great ones, that’s the pinnacle.
 

Verity #36 Status Quo is an Abomination

The term is not in the vocabulary of the great fundraisers. It’s repugnant. Repulsive.

The people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world . . . are the ones who do.

For most I visited with, they are Change Agents. They want to see things happen. The great ones understand that if they have always done it that way, it is probably wrong today.

They understand that if you are still doing today what you did yesterday, the parade has likely already passed you by. Most of the great ones think in the future tense.

They also understand that one of the major motivating factors for a person who makes a gift is that there is the desire to create change. The donor wants to see things happen. It is important that they feel that through their gift, there can be consequential results. Donors and great fundraisers like the impact of the POW. Coupling a fundraiser with this attribute with a donor who wishes to make change solemnizes the wedding.
 

Verity #35 There is a Great Concern for People— Compassion, Deep Affection

The feeling is so strong, it is nothing less than ministerial in its approach and commitment.

I spent hours with Bart Giamatti. He was President of Yale University. It was a fascinating session.

“The truth is,” he tells me, “I hate being President of Yale. If I had to be President anywhere, it would be Yale. That’s not the problem. I simply don’t like the job.”

“What I want most in life is to be Baseball Commissioner. That is my goal in life.” (And indeed, he did become Baseball Commissioner.)

“I don’t understand, Bart. You’ve been President of Yale for four or five years. And you tell me you hate the job. Why do you stay?”

“I’ll tell you why I stay. It’s because I love people. I really believe this is where I belong. I know that through my efforts, I am touching the lives of thousands. They in turn touch the lives of thousands. What else could I possibly be doing that would be more important? For me, it’s all about people. It’s a love affair.”

I am convinced that those who may not have this same feeling, this love affair, may actually be in the wrong profession. You need to feel that you are really making a difference.

There should be an irrational exuberance. A joy inexpressible.
 

Verity #34 There are Twelve Characteristics Most Important to Success

I know all of the great fundraisers I interviewed for my book. I worked with all of them. I believe I know what makes them tick.

The characteristics I’m going to identify resulted from a study that George Gallup Jr. conducted among 1,000 men and women he considered to be, “the most successful in their field.” I’ve seen that list of 1,000, and I just can’t imagine I could add anyone to that roster.

Gallup says that he has listed these characteristics in the order of their priority.

  1. Common sense (note, he did not say intelligence)
  2. Special knowledge of your field
  3. Self-reliance
  4. General intelligence
  5. Ability to get things done
  6. Quality of leadership
  7. Knowing right from wrong
  8. Creativity and inventiveness
  9. Self-confidence
  10. Oral expression
  11. Concern for others
  12. Luck

But wait. Many of these correspond to my list that I uncovered in my interviews. But not all. I have some to add. Gallup said, “knowing right from wrong.” It’s one thing to know it. It’s another to practice it. Leading my list was Impeccable Integrity. That means knowing it and living it.

Gallup says, “oral expression.” I would have listed that also before I did my interviewing. What came out second in importance among those I interviewed was Listening. And now through the years, I am all the more convinced that listening is one of the major factors a fundraiser must bring to the art.

Don’t lose sight of Gallup’s list. Record it somewhere. But let me give you my list of the top twelve in the order I found them.

  1. Impeccable Integrity
  2. Being a good listener
  3. Ability to motivate
  4. Hard worker
  5. Concern for people
  6. High expectations
  7. Love the work
  8. High energy
  9. Perseverance
  10. Presence
  11. Self-confidence
  12. Common sense
     

Verity #33 The Greatest of Fundraisers They Might Have Been

They were going to be all they promised to be. Tomorrow.
None would work more effectively, you’d see. Tomorrow.

A donor of many years, one they knew
Would be glad of a contact— and needed it, too.
On her they would call, to see what they could do.
Tomorrow.

Each morning they stacked up the letters they’d write.
And work harder and harder with all their might.
Tomorrow.

The greatest of fundraisers they might have been,
The world would have opened its heart to them.
But they moved on to another job and faded from view.
And all they left when their task was through,
Was a mountain of work they intended to do.
Tomorrow.

Verity #32 —The Great Fundraisers Don’t Put Things Off

Carpe Diem is an ancient Latin phrase which means, “Seize the Day.”  That’s their credo— Seize the Day.

The great ones don’t put things off. They believe in the dictum of TNT— Today, Not Tomorrow.

That says it all. You don’t put it off. Let procrastination be considered your personal treason and treachery. Delay, dawdling, and dalliance are repugnant to soul and spirit.

Do it now. Wavering and vacillation lead to the street of by-and-by that reaches the house of never.

A Saint once wrote that the present moment is eternity. Aah! He understands life. And Seneca, who desired above all to live life to the brim, admonished us to dispose of each day in such a way that it consumes our life.

The avenue of despair and disappointment is paved with the timid and tired who don’t get things done, who won’t act. These men and women conspire with the devil of failure.
 

Verity #31 High Degree of Self-Confidence

All of the great fundraisers have a high degree of self-confidence. They are as assured, as the saying goes, as a Methodist with four aces. When they pray for rain— they are so confident, they take an umbrella with them.

Bill Bradley is a Hall of Fame basketball player and former United States Senator.  He said: “I might lose because I wasn’t tall enough.  I might lose because I wasn’t fast enough. But I wasn’t going to lose because I wasn’t ready, working hard, and supremely confident that I could win.”  The great fundraisers have that same sense of confidence.

When I spoke to Bruce Heilman, former President of the University of Richmond, he said, “The quality I look for in a great fundraiser is not necessarily presence— although I feel that’s important. And I don’t look for brilliancy— although you want someone who is savvy and has street smarts. And I don’t care if they are dazzling in their presentation.

“What I look for is a strong sense of self-confidence. I feel that is most important.”

The Talmud provides an excellent illustration of what it means to have confidence. It shows how important confidence is.

When the Hebrews were crossing the Red Sea, God told Moses to raise his staff and He said then the waters would open.

But, the Talmud says, when Moses raised his staff, the waters didn’t open.

Only when the first Hebrew jumped into the waters did they separate. At that very moment, they opened.

The point of all this is that nothing works unless someone jumps— and has the confidence to jump.
 

Verity #30 — There are Soaring Spiritual Values

Somewhere in the background of the great fundraisers, in their early childhoods, there was a value system. Every single one spoke to me about this.

In growing up, the values that were instilled in them were both stringent and joyful. It drove their lives, as the Psalmist says, “giving voice as crashing cymbals.”

Church and prayer were a part of their early days for most of them. But not all. Not all of the great fundraisers were “churchy” people. But all demonstrate spiritual values that infuse others with trust and confidence.

Emerson said it all. He wrote that a person with spiritual values is, “filled with zeal, fired with enthusiasm, and always go beyond what they thought once to be impossible.”
 

Verity #29 It Takes Rigorous Discipline

For the great fundraisers, there is a huge reservoir of will, drive, and determination. Most of all, there is discipline. Meticulous attention to details is the discipline floss to being a successful fundraiser. You may not like it, but you know it’s good for you.

Having the discipline provides exciting standards. At times, it means knowing you will have objectives you have to stand on tiptoes to reach.

With discipline as your mantra, you reject the mediocre. You accept the constant and unyielding demand to go further, to do better, to reach higher.

Discipline focuses on every detail. It always leads to unconquerable and unlimited success.

For the great fundraisers, there is discipline in all they do. There is time, priority, and attention to the myriad of details that make a successful program and solicitation. Discipline propels dreams, visions, and actions into success.
 

Verity #28 You are Results-Oriented

Your entire focus is on the strategy, the solution, and the outcome. You struggle. Just like every tree that struggles to reach the sky. You come from the Try-Harder School.

Most of all, the great fundraisers focus on setting high objectives— and reaching them.

I think of e e cummings. He was an innovative poet who became very popular in the 1950s. Cummings was known for his lack of style, rhyme, and structure. To him, spacing, punctuation, and grammar were wildly eschewed.

Robert Frost was asked by a reporter why he put himself to the trouble of writing in meter and rhyme instead of doing like e e cummings who was extremely popular at the time.

Frost’s response was, “It’s not fun to play tennis with no net.” That’s how I feel about raising funds with no objectives and results that can be measured.

The great fundraisers understand they are graded on many factors. But the greatest of these are the outcomes and production. That’s what counts.

It’s the results that constitute the final Report Card. Otherwise, you’re playing tennis without a net.
 

Verity #27 Memory is Monumental

Most of the great fundraisers I interviewed have extremely well organized offices, a clean desk, and work by rigid schedules.

There is something else, however. El Dorado is Spanish for, “Place of Riches.” Time is the great fundraiser’s El Dorado. And there’s never enough of it.

But what stands out most is their remarkable memory. They all exhibit this attribute.

They never forget anything. Especially regarding prospects, donors, and everything to do with the raising of gifts.

The great ones bring together a glorious combination of energy, hard work, a sense of history, and exceptional powers of evocation. And most of all, a magnificent and unfailing memory.

Memory is a muscle. And like all muscles, the more you exercise it, the better it gets. To join in the league of the great fundraisers, you exercise your most important muscle— your memory.

Listen. I preach the Gospel.

Memory is like a tuning fork. It is available for you. Ready to vibrate when properly struck.
 

Verity #26 The great fundraisers are charged with energy

There is vigor and vitality that is undeniable and indefatigable. The great ones seem to be able to endure a staggering workload, hour after joyous hour.

Forget everything you learned in high school physics about the definition of “energy.” In fundraising, the definition of energy is, success. Energy breeds success.

Energy is a rare quality, but available to all. Each of the great ones I called on seems to have it in abundance. There is an unlimited reservoir which seems never to ebb.

One physician I spoke to about energy tells me that it has something to do with the genes. I agree with that— but only partly. I am convinced that exercising and proper diet are essential ingredients. And enjoying work and life.

All of my great fundraisers exhibited boundless energy. All were like tightly wound wire ready to spring.

Kinetic energy— it is a person’s main circuit board, from which flows the electricity that gives illumination and vision to the probable donor.

Energy may perhaps be the major ingredient in the extraordinary mix that provides presence. Energy begets enthusiasm. It is a first cousin to charisma— that divinely inspired spark that ignites a blaze.

Every day, all of the great ones play at Centre Court at Wimbledon. They play, whether they are up to it or not. They play to win. And they win.

People seek those with energy. They respond to them. It’s infectious.

Energy is the pump from which flows the miracles and magic. It provides the power for all great action. It creates invincible potency and invigorates and inspires all around you.
 

Verity #25 Research is important, but action prevails

Knowing precisely the proper strategic approach to a major potential donor is not at all a tidy process. The great fundraisers understand that.

It takes an intuitive sense and feeling, it takes common sense, and it takes all the research possible.

But you mustn’t suffer from analysis-paralysis. You move forward, even if you do not have all of the research about a donor you feel is desirable.

Actually, at times, you can be strangled by facts and research. It is a prime example of Herbert Spencer’s famous warning that, “the murder of a beautiful analysis and execution can be caused by the drowning of a brutal number of facts.”

You depend on research, but you are not dependent on it. You shall move, persevere, and succeed. You know that research alone will not get the gift.

The great fundraisers understand that there are three major ways to get research. One is to have a research person on the staff. That can be extremely helpful. But not everyone has a researcher on the staff.

Another way is to have a board member or someone close to the organization who knows the person you will be calling on. Have them tell you everything they can about the prospect.

The third and most effective way, however, is to actually call on the person. You probe and you listen. You gain common ground. When you gain common ground, you achieve a higher ground.

I know of one institution that has a glorious research component and staff. It has been gathering detailed data about probable donors for years. But it has yet to make any major calls. It’s been getting ready for war, but hasn’t yet waged it.
 

Verity #24 There is never enough time. Never!

Even though I don’t know you as well as I would like, I am aware you have a serious problem. It gnaws on you every day. It’s unrelenting.

You don’t have enough time.

All the great fundraisers fight the incessant tick of the clock. It is their enemy.

How is this possible? What’s going on in life?

There are new methods and tools to make life easier. Computers that can supply information faster than you can absorb it or use it. iPads and iPhones with over 400,000 applications. Twitter and e-mail. E-mails by the dozens. By the hundreds. Unlimited channels and no television.

It’s a roller coaster ride. And you can’t get off. High achiever fundraisers would like to spend much more time just sitting with their feet propped up on a desk, and thinking. But they can’t. There simply isn’t enough time.

The great fundraisers crave more time for planning and just plain dreaming. But life and the demanding schedule is too filled for that.

They carry the heavy burden of feeling there is so much to do and so few hours in the day to do it. Their ocean is so big. Their rowboat is so small.

Like you, they abhor procrastination. You consider it the art of keeping up with yesterday. You remember some wag saying, “I would procrastinate, but I don’t have the time for it.”

The great fundraisers are jealous with their time and guard it with their lives. What they want most of all, the greatest present possible, is to have 27 hours to the day, and 8 days to the week.

They understand how to use their time most efficiently and gift-effectively, like packing a suitcase— small things in small places. They have read dozens of articles about using time wisely. But their bag is packed to the fullest.

They understand that time is life. They need to spend more and more time making contacts and making calls. Instead, they are constantly caught up in the thick of thin things.

They are a one-person fire department, putting out blazes and rescuing the situation from dire circumstances. The concepts of working faster, harder, and smarter don’t work at all. Attempting to control the clock becomes an impossible act of frustration.

There is an answer. My great fundraisers all talked to me about it. First of all, no matter how time-avaricious they are in their work, they must leave room for a personal life.

Secondly, they must simply accept that fact that it won’t all get done. It never will. Accept it . . . and get on with life.
 

Verity #23 Wait to Worry

It’s probably the best advice you can follow in life— from both a personal and a professional standpoint.

The great fundraisers are concerned about everything in their professional life. The quality of their work. Their relationships with donors and prospects.  And meeting high objectives.

Concerned, yes! But not worried.

Here’s what I know. Most of the things you worry about simply never happen.

Worrying is the single most unrewarding of all human emotions. It tears you down.  It tears you apart.

And worst of all, it doesn’t accomplish anything. If you’ve come across a problem with a probable donor, you have to deal with it.  Head on.

Worrying won’t solve the problem. If it doesn’t look like you’re going to be able to meet budget, worrying won’t help. If you’re not going to make the campaign goal, worrying won’t help you reach it.

Life is like a grinding wheel. It can break you into pieces and chew you up. Or it can polish you to brilliancy. The decision is yours.

What is required is some creative problem solving. And in most cases, wrapping up your sleeves, getting out of your chair, and doing something about it.  Worrying won’t help. Let your spirits soar.
 

Verity #22 You Work Hard

You work hard, think big, listen carefully. Ben Feldman says there are only three things that count in being successful. He should know!

There are more than 1600 life insurance companies in America. Ben Feldman, by himself, has written more insurance than a thousand of those companies.

He has been the leading salesman for the New York Life for more than two decades. And he has done it all in East Liverpool, a little town on the Ohio River. And not one of the most vibrant cities in the nation.

What he says is at the very core for all of us in fundraising. His three secrets for success are: work hard, think big, and listen very well.

Let’s just take one of those— think big. What I want you to do is to step out of the box. Reach out.

Aerodynamically, the bumblebee shouldn’t be able to fly. But the bumblebee doesn’t know it. So it goes on flying anyway.

You don’t know what can’t be done. You think big.

I love the story of the Bishop of Seville who said to his congregation in the early 1500s: “Let us build a cathedral so beautiful and so great that those who follow us will think us mad for having made the attempt.” And that beautiful cathedral still stands 500 years later.

They believe in the credo of the big, hairy, audacious dream. The word “impossible” is not in their vocabulary.

I am one with Wernher von Braun, who said: “If all possible objections must first be overcome, nothing will ever be attempted.” The great fundraisers, they go for it. They seek and they secure.
 

Verity #21 You Are an Innovation-Machine

You are an innovation-machine. An incubator of ideas. A problem solver. A game changer.

You understand that you cannot increase the size of the gift without enhancing the planning and the decisiveness of the strategy.Planning, innovation, and implementation are the seeds from which winning takes root and grows.

There are actually times that to gain, you must yield. In developing strategy, you look into the future through a rearview mirror. For instance, you read a book from the beginning to the end.

But you develop a fundraising strategy the opposite way. You start with the end, the objective you wish to achieve— and then you work backwards. You do everything you must to reach your objective.

Admit it! At times you feel like the little boy with a big dog— waiting to see where the dog wants to go so he can take you there. Doing the research for a top probable donor is sometimes like looking for a black cat in a dark room. It’s not easy to see your objective.

It can be frustrating. You have to break the bonds of custom and restrain.

Developing a strategy for making the call on the top probable donor is like looking for that black cat. And you understand that at times, there actually isn’t even a black cat.

Our work is a continuous exercise in creative problem solving. To be truly creative, you lose your fear of being wrong. You find your great joy in the zest of high adventure and of victory.

You view every situation as if you were looking through a kaleidiscope. A little jiggle here, a joggle there, a wiggle up and down— and you look at everything in countless, wondrous, and magical ways.

The other day, I watched two elderly men in Chicago’s Lincoln Park. They were playing chess. Totally immersed and deeply absorbed in their match. At one point, after staring at the board for several minutes, the one man got up and walked behind his opponent. He wanted to see the chess board from his opponent’s perspective.

At times, to be truly creative and successful, you have to look at how the other person views things. Think outside the box. Does the rooster crow because the sun rises? Or does the sun rise because the rooster crows?

The good news is that because of your innovative strategy and approach, you will get the gift. At the hoped-for level. And to the great joy of the donor.
 

Verity #20 You Must Stand on Tiptoes

The great fundraisers reach for the stars. Their sights are lofty and soaring. High expectations impel and drive their action. There is the enthusiasm, the inspiration, the passion. But always the drive to achieve high expectations. The joy and exhilaration of the challenge.

When you set towering expectations, nothing can prevail against you. You will win. It is a case of the human soul on fire.

Excellence is never an accident. It is achieved only as a result of an unrelenting and vigorous insistence on the highest standards of performance and reaching high.

They stand on tiptoes, these great ones. It demands unyielding commitment and a tenacious dedication. And thinking audacious dreams. It’s a never-ending process of striving and searching.

It’s a state of mind put into action. It is exhibited in all of my great fundraisers. It provides the fortitude and resolve to reach new horizons and break all barriers.

The great ones don’t reach for what they can. They reach for what they cannot.

The good news is that because of your innovative strategy and approach, you will get the gift. At the hoped-for level. And to the great joy of the donor.
 

Verity #19 You Are Intrepid

For the great ones, there is no goal they can’t achieve, no mountain they can’t climb. Nothing is a roadblock or a problem. The great ones understand when they come to a roadblock, they simply take a detour.

They understand that a challenging objective is like strenuous exercise. It makes you stretch. The great fundraisers aren’t afraid to think beyond their dreams. They understand that if you can dream it, you can make it so.

The great ones see a towering objective as an opportunity to be tested and reached. An exciting hurdle. A fence to be climbed. They have the zeal and spirit of a missionary.

They are willing to bite off more than they can chew. And chew it. The great fundraisers understand that every bold accomplishment begins with the decision to try.

In the Meditations of Don Quixote, José Ortega y Gasset wrote: “The hero is someone who is in continual opposition to status quo, willing to risk it all, to dare.”
 

Verity #18 — Be a Positive Thinker

I’m flying high. I had an opportunity recently to meet with Larry Ellison on behalf of a client. Ellison is the founder and genius behind Oracle.

He told me it wasn’t always easy for Oracle. He said at times, it still isn’t.

During its darkest days, some of the people closest to him doubted the company would rebound and survive. But Ellison is a roaring optimist. His resolve never faltered, never wavered.

I asked him what made the difference. What he told me is a powerful lesson for everyone who raises funds. All of my successful fundraisers exhibited these three qualities:

1. Always have a bold vision.
2. Be passionate about what you do.
3. Act confident, even when you’re not.

There was one thing more. He said, “You must be an optimist. If you believe that you can achieve something, you can. If you believe you can’t, you won’t.”

You are the major player in the most important and effective organization in the country. You are directly involved in changing lives and saving lives.

Have confidence, as Ellison told you. You are the spark that ignites the blaze.
 

Verity #17 Great Fundraisers Read

The great fundraisers read. They read everything in sight. They read incessantly and compulsively.

Sadly, when I talk with many of my clients and when I give Seminars, I find that too many development people don’t read. Part of the problem is one of having enough time. The other part of the problem is they don’t take the time.

The great fundraisers read everything they can get their hands on. There are magazines common to them— The Harvard Business Review, Harper’s, and Forbes. And then, just to get a feeling for what’s going on in the circles of some of their donors, there’s Town & Country, The New Yorker, and Vanity Fair. And plenty more.

And then there are the books. Everything professional that will help sharpen their skills and know-how. And everything else that’s recreational.

For those who read, it creates an environment that challenges people to think in ways they haven’t before— to consider new possibilities and shatter the status quo.

William McGowan is founder and was chairman of the board of Control Data. He was a voracious reader. He could plow through books, business publications, newspapers, general-interest periodicals, and specialized newsletters.

An associate remembers when McGowan was a guest of his for a weekend visit in Florida. Soon after McGowan arrived, a box was delivered which was stuffed with magazines, reports, company memorandum, and books. McGowan perused all of these as he floated in the guest’s swimming pool.

It’s not a matter of whether you have enough time. You make the time. You read.

Verity #16 — All of the Great Fundraisers have Certain Success-factors in Common

It is the thread woven through their entire fabric.

There is high ambition, a drive to achieve, and immense inner-motivation.

I find there are high aspirations. They keep raising the bar for themselves. They are always on tiptoes reaching high. Still higher. Higher yet.

They are audacious. Faith and action. Their credo is: Decide, Dare, Do.

For the great ones, their life’s philosophy, professionally and personally, is: “I can do it.” They understand if you think you can, you can. And if you think you can’t, you’re right.

For them, there’s no such thing as a casual attempt. Try? There is no try. There is only do or not do. And in truth, there is simply no “not do.”

There is brazen belief and fiery faith in the possible. The great fundraisers understand that if you can conceive it, you can achieve it. To them, anything can be done.

They truly believe they can do it. And even more divine— they understand they must. The unaccomplished and the undone, fester like a bad boil.

There is also a very high level of optimism. They are the kind of people who go after a whale with a harpoon and a jar of tartar sauce.

I find among the great ones I work with, there is medium to medium-high intelligence. But in terms of copability and, as they say, street-smarts— they are off the chart. What’s the old saying: “A” students become professors, “B” students become professionals like doctors and attorneys, and “C” students rule the world.

(One of the most fascinating scholarships I’ve run into is when we worked at the University of Tennessee. There was a scholarship for C+ students. It was given by someone who was a C+ student who felt those are the ones who achieve the most in life.)

Another common factor is a willingness to work long and hard. When they asked Thomas Edison what was the secret of his success, he responded he was successful because he only worked half a day. And he didn’t care whether it was the first 12 hours or the second 12 hours.

The great fundraisers respond to hard work . . . by piling on more.

And finally, the great ones are self-confident. That doesn’t mean they have a huge ego. It’s simply that they understand there is a job to be done, they are working for a noble cause, and they are confident they can do the job.

Bruce Heilman, former President of Richmond University, told me he considers this the most important attribute he looks for in a fundraiser. He looks for men and women who have in place the self-confidence they need.

Verity #15 Understanding Problems as Opportunities

You understand that every grand opportunity is simply masquerading as a problem, a mystery waiting to be solved. If you don’t understand the problem, then explain it to someone and listen to yourself discussing it.

Make certain you never state a problem in the same terms as it was originally brought to you. Studying the reverse always helps.

Don’t worry about an approach that transforms one problem into another. You’re probably taking the first step towards an exciting solution.

If the answer seems to be surprising or even off the wall, it’s probably useful! And if you seem to hit the bull’s-eye each time with one of your solutions, you’re either coming up with the wrong answer once in a while, or the target’s too near.

The successful fundraiser is a creative machine. You understand that to say impossible always puts you on the losing side.

You look at a problem as you would a kaleidoscope. Brilliant, harmonious patterns. Carefully shaken into beautiful forms. A twist here. A turn there. The glass pieces and the mirrors finally fall into place. You solve the problem.

Verity #14 — Do You Have a Quality of Leadership?

Something quite distinctive is in evidence in everyone who is successful in the field. There is a special quality of leadership.

You sense it, you somehow see it, you can almost feel it. It is kindred to the characteristic of “presence,” but it’s really more than that.  Everyone spoke about it.

Father Hesburgh, former president of Notre Dame, came as close as anyone. “I’ll tell you what I feel leadership is all about. As far as I’m concerned, I bring a vision of where I want to go and I am able to communicate it. That’s what it’s all about.

“I think that’s it. Having a great vision and being able to communicate it. That’s what it’s all about. Whatever it is that I seem to do, and I’m not certain what that is, it does seem to say: ‘follow me.’

“You’ve got to lead the way and take the action. If you want to attract volunteers and dollars, you have to exhibit a quality of leadership— and people will be attracted to you.

“I am convinced that donors like to put their money on people and institutions that they really believe in. I somehow communicate a sense of leadership, and people are willing to follow me. I do not say this in any boastful way. It just seems to be what happens.”

The successful fundraisers are leaders. They motivate people to climb fences they never thought possible. The leader keeps raising the bar— and somehow others manage to reach it.

Verity #13 —You Inspire Others to Action

A fundraising program or project must be pursued with inspiration by the fundraiser.

It is important to note that as significant as it is, inspiration alone provides only passion and spirit to a program. But without unyielding action, it is lifeless.

If inspiration is the rudder, action is the engine that propels the program. Inspiration must be combined with action in 'defatigable' proportions. I call this phenomenon: Inspiraction. Add the word to your vocabulary!

To be successful, you must provide unlimited inspiraction. You are the spark that ignites the blaze.

Verity #12 —If you can conceive it, you can achieve it.

The surest way to guarantee success is to determine you will succeed. You decide. You envision it. You dream of it. You command it to happen.

That’s how you win. That’s the road to success.

I used to call on a great philanthropist, W. Clement Stone. He wrote a book called the Success System that Never Fails in which he espoused his theory of the Power of Positive Thinking. The book is powerful. Read it if you dare to be a success!

He told me one day: “If I want to achieve something worthwhile, really worthwhile, I think about it. I concentrate. It fills my consciousness. Every fiber of my body. Then, Jerry, I write it out and I tape it to my mirror.

“I see it and reread it. I know that I can think it to happen. That’s the power of positive thinking.”

I want you to be the kind of person who goes after Moby Dick with a rowboat, a harpoon, and a jar of tartar sauce!

Verity #11 —You Have an Unwavering Commitment to the Institution, and a Near-Militant Belief in Its Mission

Goethe wrote: “Until one is committed, there is hesitancy, the chance to drop back. The moment one definitely commits oneself, then Providence moves, too. All sorts of things occur to help one that would never otherwise have occurred.”

Your commitment to the institution must be unshakable. That doesn’t mean without question or constructive challenge. That would be faith without thought. But your commitment to the cause must glow and glitter for all to see.

The Salvation Army was founded by an extraordinary person, a zealot, who asked: “Why should the devil have all of the good songs?” It was Booth’s unmitigated devotion to the cause and his unbounded belief in the Army’s mission that made the growth of this organization possible.

You must have passion and enthusiasm for your institution. It shows. And it’s contagious. What you give comes back to you.

Enthusiasm comes from two Greek words. “En” comes from the Greek, within. “thusiasm” comes from the Greek word Theos, God. So to be enthusiastic is to have God within you.

Verity #10 Boldness Has Genius, Power, and Magic to It

The courage to dare, to step out—that’s what wins the contest and gets the gift. The great fundraisers are infused with boldness and courage. An awesome audacity.

There must be the willingness to brave the unexplored—and to attempt the unthinkable. The challenge!

The great ones in this business thrive on it. It is the one button to push to get them started, and running. They have three speeds: Fast, Faster, Still Faster.

There is a glowing, glorious statement about courage in Theodore Roosevelt’s The Men In The Arena. He says: “The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, who strives valiantly, who errs and comes up short again and again— because there is not effort without error.

“At best, he knows in the end the triumphs of high achievement. And at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly. His place shall never be with those whose cold and timid souls know neither victory nor defeat.”

Verity #9You Have Presence

None of the great fundraisers I interviewed indicate that presence is important. Then, when we discussed the question in some depth, most spent a good bit of time talking about how important an element presence actually is!

For the type of fundraising I’ve been writing about, being “attractive” to the donor is important. Having “the right” physical appearance is part and parcel of the whole collage which confronts the donor.

This certainly doesn’t mean being pretty or handsome. That has nothing to do with it. And it doesn’t mean having “a power handshake,” or being a roaring extrovert.

Almost all the great fundraisers interviewed said something very akin to what George Engdahl told me: “I think that the way we dress and the way we look is important. I wouldn’t want anyone calling on me who wasn’t well groomed and well put together.

“The fundraiser needs to look alive and vital. And I think they need to be terribly careful about their weight. A great deal of this is something that each person has considerable control over.”

Having presence was rated at the bottom of the list of factors of what makes a great fundraiser. It was next to the very last. No one thought it was important . . . and everyone talked at length about it!

We all know men and women— who on entering a room, make the room a little less crowded. I don’t believe that this type can make it in our field, at least not at the high level of success we’ve been discussing. Not unless there is sufficient inner-motivation to do something about it.

To have presence that fills the room is important. It attracts others to you. It helps get the gift.

Presence is one of those words that everyone talks about, and no one defines. It somehow eludes precise description. Yet, it’s one of the most important elements in our work.

I’ve tried to put my finger on what it is— this ethereal quality. If there is one single factor that explains it best of all, it would be charisma. Yes, I know! I’m sorry to use that overworked word, but that depicts it best of all.

Charisma, before the Kennedy era, was a beautiful term, from two Greek words— a divine gift of grace. The energy, the force, the vigor.

It’s not physical appearance, dress, or funny stories. The single quality that sets those “who have it” apart from those who don’t— is energy. That’s presence: Energy. Divine, invincible energy. It shows and it glows.

 Verity #8 —  You Delight in the Premise That Fundraising Provides Fulfillment to Deeds Not Words

It forces us to believe in the promise of the future. But it pays great tribute for what we achieve today.

It chastens mistakes, but it is forgiving. It pays great dividends to those who strive the most, run the race, and give the best they have in them.

And every day is a new adventure. That is the promise.

Verity #7 — You Have Decisive Resolve

Nothing significant has ever been accomplished unless some man or woman dreamed it should be done. Someone believed it could be done. And then, most importantly, someone decided that it must be done.

Verity #6 — Great Fundraisers are Winners

They have a lust and a will for winning. Their attitude is that if you want to be in second place, nobody is going to fight you for it!

You attempt nothing great unless there are difficulties to overcome. You persevere and achieve from your desire to win and from the pride you have in vanquishing all.

Verity #5 — You Have to Ask for The Order

Markita Andrew is 13 years old. She gives us the answer. She is the all-time champion seller of Girl Scout cookies— 12,000 boxes last year. She has led the country the last several years.

She says: "You can't just stand around and chat. You've got to lean forward, look them in the eye, and ask them to buy your cookies." That's it— you've got to ask for the order.

Ronald Steel wrote a biography of Walter Lippman. He asked Lippman why he gave all of his papers and memorabilia to Yale. He was, after all, a graduate of Harvard and a member of the Harvard Board of Overseers. He always assumed that Harvard would want his papers.

According to Steel, Harvard, in its usual way, assumed it would get his papers. But it never formally approached him. It never asked him.

And here's the moral for all of us: Yale asked for his papers. And got them. It even got his beloved baseball hat!

It's absolutely amazing what you don't get when you don't ask.

Verity #4 — You Are High-Touch, Low Tech

You have a great appreciation for all of the remarkable electronic equipment and software that is available. You understand, however, that the computer does not take the place of calling on someone personally for a gift– not anymore than a pencil substitutes for literacy.

Milton Murray sums it up best of all. “One of the most significant changes in our field is the new development in high technology. High-tech, low-touch is what many of our people are about these days. We have to work against that.

“We need the personal touch. If we lose that, it becomes just a business, not a ministry.”

I love the comment of Si Seymour, they great doyen of fundraising. He wrote: “You don’t get milk from a cow by sending a letter. You don’t get milk by calling on the phone. You get milk from a cow by sitting next to it and milking her.”

You understand that the techniques of the business are not important. That is not what will make you successful.

The technicians know “how.” But that’s not the heart and soul of our work. You must know the effectiveness and power of the personal touch.

Verity #3 — You Are a Communicator
 
Before his passing, Peter F. Drucker was quoted in The Wall Street Journal.  What he said about success is immediately transferable to our profession of fundraising.

Drucker says that the responsibility of an effective fundraiser is thinking through your organization’s mission, defining and establishing it, clearly and visibly. And then, being able communicate the vision and the dreams.

You must be able to tell the story in a clear and compelling way. You convey your lofty goals and the high aspirations of your organization. Its urgent priorities. You set and maintain the standards.

Donors want to know why they should give to your organization. Why should they give now? And why have you chosen me to make a gift? You respond.

Your first task is to be the trumpet that sounds a clear and dramatic sound. It must be a resonant call to action.

Verity #2 — Success is Always Coupled with Perseverance

An unrelenting persistence. It is a key element.
 
George Sand was no fundraiser. But in one of her famous letters, she wrote quite a remarkable definition of success appropriate to our field: “. . . Simple taste, a certain degree of courage, self-denial to a point, and love of work. And most important, determination and patience. Persistence and perseverance.”
 
Success is elusive. It is never fully achieved or final. Nor is failure completely flawed or total.

Several years ago, winners of the Horatio Alger awards for outstanding accomplishments in business were asked by a reporter to name the factors that contributed to their success. Their response was “faith, hard work, belief in people, and service to others.”

Then the reporter dug deeper. He found that the most important factors were— motivation, inner-drive, and persistence. They said persistence is the final payoff.

Those Horatio Alger winners, they could all have been fundraisers!

We in fundraising understand that success is a long race, conducted in inches. We face rejection and refusal head-on and respond with even greater dedication and determination.

Don’t give up. Don’t give in. I’m reminded of the Frank Sinatra refrain. “Every time you find yourself flat on your face, pick yourself up and get back in the race.” Persistence is the song you sing.

Verity #1 — You Have Great Joy in What You Are Doing

You have great joy in what you are doing.  It’s a love affair.  You are passionate about your work and your organization.  And it shows.

In one of his speeches, Will Rogers said:  “If you want to be successful, it’s pretty simple.  There are only four things to keep in mind.  It’s really that easy.

“i) Know what you are doing. 

ii) Love what you are doing. 

iii) Believe in what you are doing. 

iv) And be passionate about it. Head over heels.”

Some may think of fundraising as “the profession of pain.” Those few will not make it.

In one of her great novels, Rebecca West wrote: “Life ought to be a journey of action and adventures. Their nobility will fertilize the soul.

“To avoid passion is death. Apathy is the deadly sin. To be successful in your work, you must abandon yourself to your passion”

We in this business are one with Thoreau, joined together, and “carved out of the passion of life itself.”

I am certain that success is due less to years of experience than to ardor for the work. Less to intelligence than zeal. Less to the mechanics of the job than enthusiasm and gusto for the mission.

The winner in our profession is always the one who gives body and soul, totally and unreservedly, to the joys and passion of the task.

This is the life. True living. Passion rules. If it isn’t fun, you are in the wrong profession or the wrong organization.

 

 

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