6 Things I Wish I’d Known 20 Years Ago

They are simple but also powerful. And oh-so-easy to forget.

I’ve been working for more than 20 years, and sometimes I wish I could go back to my younger self and share some hard-won wisdom. How lovely it would be to whisper in my young ear the knowledge that would save a lot of mistakes, tears and frustration. The only problem is, I wouldn’t have any of that knowledge without years on the job and life experience spent regularly, sometimes spectacularly, failing. I had to mess up and age in order to learn the lessons in the first place.

While I can’t share the six things I wish I’d known then with myself, I can give them to you. Here are the six lessons I have learned over the years — and find myself learning over and over again. They are simple but also powerful. And oh-so-easy to forget.

1. What I wish I had known about fundraising: We’re in the happiness business. Giving makes people feel joy — and brain science proves it. The act of contributing to charity activates the pleasure centers of people’s brains. When we give people the opportunity to help our wonderful causes, we make them happy. Remember: We’re not in the business of taking away money; we’re in the business of giving joy. What a great job we have.

2. What I wish I had known about marketing: It’s not about us; it’s about our audience. This insight may be marketing 101, but it’s also gold. Every time I find a message underperforming or a partnership flailing, it’s inevitably because the work being done does not resonate with the other party’s priorities, values and perspective. I have to remember to channel my energy into understanding my audience above myself and speaking to my audience rather than to myself.

3. What I wish I’d known about communications: Feeling first, facts later. There are no exceptions to the rule that we must awaken the heart to arouse the mind. We have to move people emotionally before they will take in information — or act. We can’t spout information until we touch the heart. Speak to the soul so the facts have a fighting chance.

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