The Art of Fundraising: Always Carry a Tissue

Blog by Daniel Billingsley, Vice President of External Affairs

Yesterday, I had the opportunity to meet with one of our long-time, major gift donors for lunch. Joining us were our CEO and a past board chair, another long-time major gift champion. My CEO and I always do a lot of prep-work for these meetings, even rehearsing how the conversation may go. Of course, as much as we rehearse, conversations never go to plan. Needless to say, we had a great lunch, and much was accomplished.

Preparation is key for major gift meetings. But each meeting I attend, I learn something. Yesterday, I learned “always carry a tissue.” Being unusually cold yesterday, the donor asked if one of us had a Kleenex, and none of us did. Fortunately, the server brought back a bit of bathroom tissue (admittedly not perfect, but it got the job done). But then later in the lunch, after much laughter, my CEO – who recently lost her own father – got just a little choked up talking about his services. And then, even I began sneezing at one point. You get the idea – a few tissues would have been a good addition for the table.

Many fundraisers treat our practice as a science. I have plenty of colleagues who are whizzes at spreadsheets, data dives, segmentation and retention analysis. It is true that we need to have these skill sets at hand to be effective. But the attribute of “thinking ahead and being prepared for anything” is probably doubly – maybe triply – important. Fundraising is also an art form. How do you handle a donor’s questions or objections? How do you turn a conversation somewhere else if it has gone off track (and yesterday, ours went off track a number of times – even uncomfortably at once)?

And most importantly, how to we re-humanize fundraising? I’m a firm believer that every fundraising professional should be educated in ethics, technology and the overall fundraising process. However, I also credit excellence in etiquette and good people skills in handling challenging situations. These are the lesser-known nuances of fundraising. It’s the way you push in someone’s chair, shake a hand, help someone with a jacket or coat. The board member who joined us yesterday is the quintessential gentleman and I probably learned as much from watching him and how he behaved as watching our donor. Even with all of our knowledge and preparation and good relationship skills, we can learn a little something with each call.

This is the art of fundraising.

And finally – I encourage anyone who works in fundraising to buy a few packages of tissues to keep in a purse or briefcase. You never know when you’ll need them.

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