6 Things I Wish I'd Known 20 Years Ago
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.
4. What else I wish I had known about communications: Nothing beats a good story about one person. That includes a good story about two, 20 or 20,000 people. Research is clear: If we want to spark someone's empathy and inspire a donation, we must tell the story of our cause through one person (or animal). We must give our mission a pulse, and save the abstractions and statistics for another day.
5. What I wish I had known about the message: Messengers matter. We can have a stellar message, but if you have the wrong messenger, it won't matter. We're in an era where faith in traditional spokespeople and marketers is at a historic low, so people are turning to trusted friends, family, independent authorities and peers for their recommendations. That means we're best off with messengers other than ourselves. Who can speak for us? What champions, leaders or community members can reach out on our behalf? They matter more than our own words.
6. What I wish I had known about life: Be generous when you're hungry. Some of the best advice I ever heard was from author and marketing guru Seth Godin, who said: "It's difficult to be generous when you're hungry. Yet being generous keeps you from going hungry. Hence the conflict."
I try to remember this every day. Here's the refrain I created for myself: Generosity inspires generosity, so I'll give when I'm hungry. It's not what I need; it's what I provide. I'm in the business of giving, not extracting. I'll focus on the resources I have, not those I lack. I'll care about relationships, not transactions. True partnership creates prosperity.
OK, so maybe you think I've gone all new-agey. But I absolutely, positively swear by this mantra. If you are focused on what you do for others, you become a great marketer, a fabulous fundraiser and an all-around nice person. Money starts flowing, and people feel fulfilled. Where you get into trouble is when you shrink into the space of your own need and hit people up for money. Everything and everyone become scarce. Hungry leads to hunger. Own the great space of what you give rather than the tiny territory of what you need. The former is a much more fertile place to make a life. FS