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Jun 29, 2024

If Only...

⚒️Some of you know that Julie and I are selling our current home and downsizing a bit. We're moving to an AirBnb in the final weeks of this chaotic remodeling effort, while our awesome Palestinian contractors complete the finishing touches.  Because of this, the audio versions of these newsletters will be a little hit-and-miss.  I'll record them when I'm away from hammers and saws and let you know when they're available!👷

In the meantime, you can listen to previous recordings by visiting The Breakthru Podcast

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Recently I was asked this great question:

❓If you could have a do-over, what advice might you give your 25-year-old self on critical leadership and fundraising practices?

I immediately closed my eyes and tried to imagine a day-in-the-life-of-J.Paul ala the mid-1990s.  There were lots of smiles… and not just a few winces😬.

One of my more cringeworthy interactions occurred something like this…Early on I fancied myself a ‘straight-shooter’.  While that’s probably a good quality for a major gift fundraiser, I might have been a bit sanctimonious in how I projected it, often waxing eloquent about not about making friends, rather simply “cutting deals for the Kingdom”.  The following story depicts a younger J. Paul and is fictionalized to protect the innocent (except for me, I guess😅):

I was sitting in the office of a new prospect named Sheila, the founder of a very successful clothing line who recently launched a private foundation.

“Thank you so much for taking time to meet,” I began, covering my nervousness quite effectively, if I do say so myself. “I’d like to discuss how we align with your giving mission and suggest submitting a proposal for consideration.”  I finally came up for air😮💨.

Sheila raised an eyebrow. "I see. And what exactly is our giving mission?”

Caught off guard, I fumbled, "Oh, um, we... you support various initiatives internationally with a focus on church planting and evangelism…”

"Hmmm,” she said gently, “that sounds a lot more like your mission than ours.”  I’m certain I turned beet red.

She continued, “Let’s try this again…Let me ask you this:  What do you think I need?”

Confused, I responded, “What do you need?”

“Yes”, she said, “what do you think I need?”

We were sitting in Sheila's beautiful corner office on the 43rd floor of the Columbia Center in downtown Seattle, with stunning views of Elliot Bay and the Olympic Mountains.  I looked slowly around her office which displayed various pictures of celebrities and famous philanthropists like Melinda Gates; there were industry awards, and many momentos from her travels to every continent of the globe.  She even had a vintage Ms. Pacman arcade game console sitting in one corner.

“Well,” I spoke with some trepidation, “I guess I’m not sure.  It looks to me you’re doing pretty good.”

Oh man.  As one of my friends sometimes says, “wrongo buffalo breath”.  Fortunately, rather than dismissing me from her office, Sheila used it as a teaching moment.  She showed appreciation and wanted to help me learn how to do better.  In the long and meaningful conversation that ensued that day, I remember most clearly these words, “One of the greatest things that people like me need is to be listened to; to be noticed for the same everyday heartbreaks and celebrations other people on this earth experience.”

So, what advice do I have for my 25-year-old self?  Focus primarily on honing your relationship-building skills rather than spending large blocks of time perfecting your technique to make an ask.  When you genuinely connect with individuals, understand their passions, and align them with your cause, the act of giving becomes a mutual exchange rather than a solicitation.

A 2018 study in The Philanthropy Journal found that donors are more likely to give generously when there is trust and personal connection with individuals who represent the cause. This trust is cultivated through consistent and meaningful engagement.  Single, polished pitches will not produce the hoped for outcome.

“What about that whole ‘friendraising’ thing?”, you might be asking.  I don’t find the concept helpful.  Fundraising is a professional endeavor which requires strategic planning, thoughtful engagement, and a deep understanding of your organization's mission as well as the giver's motivations. Friendraising, on the other hand, implies a level of personal intimacy that can blur the lines between professional responsibilities and personal relationships. When building friendly relationships with givers it is vital to maintain clear boundaries to ensure your primary intention is to advance the mission of the organization.

In a previous newsletter I took a deeper dive into this topic, explaining why it's essential to differentiate between the two. You can read more about it here.

This work we do is sacred.

Networking in the realm of fundraising is not just about meeting potential givers or partners. You are creating a community of like-minded individuals who share a sacred passion for your cause.  Model authenticity, empathy, and a genuine interest in others.  We honor the giver's journey while inviting them to be part of something greater than themselves.

Start now by employing these practices to build sacred connections:

👂Listen More, Talk Less: In conversations with potential givers, prioritize listening over talking. Understand their interests, passions, and concerns to gain valuable insights into how you can align your cause with their values.

✍️Consistent Engagement: Regular, meaningful interactions are key. Inform givers of your organization’s progress, invitations to events, or simple check-ins. Consistency shows you value relationships beyond financial contributions.

🫶Personalized Approach: Individually tailor your communication and engagement strategies. Celebrate their contributions.  Acknowledge milestones in their lives. Show them genuine appreciation.

📚Storytelling: Share stories that highlight the impact of their support. Storytelling enables emotional connection and demonstrates the tangible difference their contributions are making.

Our best effort means going beyond mere transactions to create a community of support, trust, and shared passion. Honor your givers to ensure the successful longevity of our missions.  This approach transforms fundraising into a truly sacred endeavor.

I welcome your feedback and appreciate hearing from you!

PS:  For you research hounds, here’s another study I found helpful:* 2022 study on “increasing a donor’s perceived value” from the Harvard International Review on Public and Nonprofit Marketing

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If you haven't taken advantage of some of the resources I've created to help major gift fundraisers, take a look now!  Initial calls with me are free and "no strings attached".  Sometimes folks feel like they need to wait and not 'bother' me until they have a pressing issue.  No need for that...just make the call. 🕺

Here's where you can access a lot of content for free:

* Follow me on LinkedIn - You'll get short pro-tips and reflections on major gift fundraising every day between 5-7am pacific.

* Breakthru Newsletter - As you've seen here, these are longer weekly posts (audio and written) sent directly to your email.

* Breakthru Blog - the newsletter from the previous week gets posted here each week for everyone (so email subscribers get it a week early).

* Breakthru Podcast - Interviews with high net worth givers about how we as fundraisers can get better at inviting them to the party.  And audio readings of Breakthru Blog posts.

Before getting to the PAID stuff:

My opinion is that no small ministry with a tight budget should be spending more than $3-5k (total) for major gift coaching/consulting.  Most of you will be good-to-go spending far less than that.  This was a major issue for me when I was a frontline fundraiser - major gift consultants were an expensive 'black-box-of-confusion' for me.  That stops now.

Here's the PAID stuff:

* Online Catalyst Course - This is a full brain dump of my 28+ years of experience - good, bad, ugly.  It's built around the fundamentals, the sacredness, and the fun, of major gift fundraising.  It's infused with Henri Nouwen reflections.  Many people can take this course and they will be 'cooking-with-gas' and not need any additional coaching from me on the core systems.  I'm grateful that this course has gotten *great* reviews.

* Live coaching with me - I refer to this as "brain rental".  The ROI on live coaching, as you might imagine, is extraordinary.

Finally, be sure to connect with my colleague Ivana Salloum.  She's super awesome and can help with scheduling and access to resources, etc.

I look forward to hearing about your good work!


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