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Have a Problem with Rich People? Here's How to Get Past That and Be Better at Fundraising

Kathy LeMay

CEO

Synopsis: To be great at fundraising, you have to face your own feelings about money- yours and others- can and will impact your success as a fundraiser. It's your choice if that impact accelerates you, or holds you back.

April 10, 2018 — 

Have you ever walked into a donors' house and had any one of these reactions:

 "Please don't let me break anything."

 "Did I just walk into MOMA?"

 "This bathroom is larger than my Honda."

 "Wow, it must be nice."

I don't know about you but I didn't quite grow up in a house with walk in closets. Ours was more "hand me downs I keep at the bottom of my bed." I came of age in the 1970's, in a rural New England town where yarn mills were still open for business. My family was what is now referred to as the "the working poor". I don't know how many there were of us in 1974 but according to the UC Davis Center for Poverty Research there are now 46 million poor Americans. Of these, 10.6 million are working poor Americans.

Philanthropists and fundraisers both want to make a difference.

“If you didn't come from the kind of money you're now surrounded by you're going to have a whole lot of feelings about it. These will rage from anxiety, fear, and inadequacy, to envy, resentment, hope, and possibility.”

This means there is income but not much else. It's not abject poverty like you see for the good people enduring the war in Syria or as I saw firsthand in Bosnia in 1994 during the siege of their country. What it is though is fatigue, lack of opportunity, and being nearby resources but not able to access them. It is emotionally and psychically draining. It is feeling like the other. You work all the time. You never get ahead. In many cases- with the advent of high-interest credit- you recede. The tide comes in and cascades the sand. Then, within seconds it's gone.

For us it was government cheese, a donated Christmas tree one year and ornaments we made from tinfoil. It was a consistent state of worry. It wasn't wondering if we'd ever be rich or ski in Vail. It was wondering if just for a moment the water would steady and we could wade in a still modest pond.

Today I have a modest pond because of opportunities, many of which were made possible by philanthropists whom I never met. Scholarships by caring people who wanted to help level the playing field. I'm here because of my family's love and support, free public libraries, being a white lady, and the good will and generosity of complete strangers. My success is because others didn't judge me for my lack of resources but for what I had to offer. 

I became a global social change fundraiser to widen the field of opportunities. I wanted to move money to those who had been denied access. Money to me seemed to have a function: to be vibrant and fuel opportunities, not to be stalled and static in banks with ever-changing owners. A few times I got lucky. I didn't want luck to be the basis of an economic system. I became a global social change fundraiser to level the playing field and to see if a few new fields could be harvested. In the process I learned not to judge based on resources but instead what someone had to offer.

What does this have to do with walking into homes with chandeliers and fireplaces that light up with a flick of a switch? And how on earth can this help you raise more money?

If you didn't come from the kind of money you're now surrounded by you're going to have a whole lot of feelings about it. These will rage from anxiety, fear, and inadequacy, to envy, resentment, hope, and possibility.

 To be great at fundraising, you have to face and address these. Your own feelings about money- yours and others- can and will impact your success as a fundraiser. It's your choice if that impact accelerates you, or holds you back.

 Here then are the 5 steps you can take that will help you make peace with the range of resources in the world:

 1. Write down your money story. 

What kind of money did you have growing up? How's your money today? You won't automatically be a better fundraiser if you grew up with money nor a struggling fundraiser if you grew up with less, nor vice versa. Great fundraising is seeing your value and not your worth. You're moving money for the greater good. This doesn't require a certain balance in your bank account. It requires conviction, passion, and belief. It requires that you don't let the world that was given to us be the world that defines you. It's a state of mind that comes from saying, "I belong here as much as anyone else."

 2. Focus on similarities, not differences. 

You walk in a house and realize the couches cost more than your state college education. Think of how lucky you are that you get to sit on such soft plush couches and then let it go. Think about what you have in common. You share similar values, hopes, and dreams for the world we can create. Great leaders focus on the similarities not the differences.

 3. Read. 

When I first started fundraising, I had no idea what a donor meant when they said they'd be selling G stock to make a gift, or needed to find out the balance on their offshore account and from there pull the interest. I'd sit there thinking thinking, "Huh, people have something other than a paper check balance register from the bank? Who knew." I read up. I learned. Not because it would likely my reality, but because I am a curious person and I wanted to serve the donors' philanthropic interests to the best of my ability.

 4. Share what you have to teach. 

I don't know about you but I have gads of knowledge about interesting topics. When I start sharing what I know with philanthropists and we engage in a thoughtful and thought-provoking conversation, the limoge china becomes a dish and the Van Gogh's become art I can ask them about. It is my job to manage if I've ever felt intimidated or small or nervous. When I move those to the side and say, "You know I watched the Roosevelt documentary the other night and am really struck by something I'm seeing play out in these elections that's similar to when Teddy Roosevelt ran...", the insecurities lift and I am building a great relationship.

 5. Don't assume you're the only one struggling to find your place in this world.

When I first started really talking to donors- despite the model I learned from that was oddly formal and detached- they started sharing with me: their hopes, fears, feelings. I had thought I was the one of the two of us who was trying to find my way. Turns out most of us are. It was a little bit of arrogance on my part that I thought I was the only one who was seeking. In the early days, I assumed if you had that kind of money you didn't have a care in the world. Completely misguided assumption. Each of us is trying to find our place, to make a difference, to matter.

 Open your heart and your humanness to the donors you're lucky enough to know and you'll be surprised at what you didn't know you didn't know. You'll experience your shared values instead of your net worths.

 


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