The Happy Philanthropist

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I don’t know where I first heard it (probably during a class at The Fund Raising School) but somewhere along the line I started thinking that my role as a fundraiser was significantly different than traditional marketing or sales. I started seeing myself as a dream maker.

I also remember an experience that shaped this perception. Actually, I only remember some of it, at least the important parts. I think it was during the 1994 NSFRE conference, the predecessor to AFP, in Boston. That trip was memorable for many reasons (a panhandler, Bruins hockey tickets, a Caribbean cruise, free cable, and a job offer: ask me sometime), but I recall sitting in a plenary session during lunch listening to a speaker talk about some wealthy old guy who was getting an award for being a philanthropist and how giving had changed his life. It seemed a rather boring presentation…until he took the microphone.

I’ve long since forgotten his name or what charities he donated to, but I’ll never forget his amazing energy and vitality as he explained how important and significant it was to his health and life that he’d given away most of his fortune. While he looked rather feeble, had a cane, and needed help getting up on the stage, as soon as he started talking about his giving, you could see the transformation. Here was an octogenarian who’d amassed a fortune, given most (or all, I don’t recall) of it away, and he actually danced a jig on state. That is, he jumped in the air, clicked his heals together, and landed without falling over.

He’s probably not the first to say it, but he’s the first one I can recall having said: “Don’t give until it hurts. Give until it feels good. Then you know you’ve given enough.”

As a fund raiser, as a volunteer, staff member, or consultant, I approach every encounter with a current or potential donor with the goal of figuring out whether the vision, mission, or programs of the nonprofit I’m representing might give him or her the opportunity to fulfill a dream. What is it about what we do that might connect with this person on a deep level?

For some, it’s about legacy and finding comfort in knowing they will positively affect the world for a long time. For others, it about status and recognition in this life. Or they understand that having concern and taking action to help someone in need can be life changing.

What are your donor’s dreams? Your volunteer’s? Your staff? Have you ever asked? What would happen if your organization took a genuine interest in helping them achieve their dreams, regardless of whether or not it included you? Wouldn’t that create an amazingly strong connection and relationship?

After his acceptance speech, the very happy philanthropist took his cane, hobbled to the edge of the stage, was helped down the steps, and took his seat amidst a thunderous standing ovation from the thousands of fundraisers gathered there. What a wonderful gift he received by giving his money away.

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