Let’s Not Call It “Fundraising”

by Joan Garry

There was a very specific moment in my career that completely altered my view of fundraising. It’s connected to Don King, the boxing promoter. And it changed everything.

I am a fundraiser because of Don King, the boxing promoter. True story. I was hired by a large nonprofit, as its executive director, with zero fundraising experience. So I come into the interview, and I have to come up with something, so I talk about my work at Showtime, and my work to ensure that Don King, the boxing promoter, you know, yeah yeah yeah, boxing promoter, big hair, paid us what was due in owing every quarter.

I developed a really nice relationship with his team, and I managed way better than most people. I was able to get Don to take a crowbar to his wallet, and lo and behold, I had myself a fabulous, new, low-paying job, a job in which I was not a fundraiser. I was the fundraiser. How was I going to get tons of people to take a crowbar to their wallets? I was nervous.

So my development director, Julie, first she said, kind of like in a Cher voice, like Moonstruck, “Snap out of it.” Then she said something important. She said, “Remember, it makes people feel good to give to causes they care about. You just need to invite them.” There it is. I’m sharing it with you. My biggest fundraising aha moment, and now it’s yours, and you can share it too.

Nonprofit leaders are in the invitation business. Whether you are the office manager, the board chair, your most important job is not directly about money. It may very well lead you there, but I don’t want you to think about this work as if you’re taking a crowbar to somebody’s wallet. I want you to consider yourself a host. Your job is to tell people about this remarkable place that does this remarkable work. Invite them to be a part of it. They might say no. They might lose the evite, but as with any invitation, you cannot control who RSVPs. You can only control who you invite.

So, tell your potential guests that you feel so lucky, proud, to have been invited here, and that you would love for them to join you there, as a volunteer, a board member, or a donor, and with that invitation, tell them a compelling story about this remarkable place, and they will feel lucky too. And you will have done your job as a nonprofit leader and an ambassador, because you are in the invitation business.

If you know someone who is experiencing anxiety about fundraising, do me a favor. Share this video with them. It may just be the antidote they need.