What Is Your 'Acre of Diamonds'?
"Acres of Diamonds" was a speech that Russell H. Conwell delivered some 6,000 times around the world during his lifetime (1843-1925). The founder and first president of Temple University in Philadelphia emphasized one need not look elsewhere for opportunity, achievement or fortune — the resources to achieve all good things are present in one's own community.
The speech grew out of an anecdote Conwell heard from an Arab guide about a man who wanted to find diamonds so badly that he sold his property and went in futile search for them. The new owner of his home discovered that a rich diamond mine was located right there on the property.
Conwell elaborated on this theme through examples of success, genius, service or other virtues involving ordinary Americans contemporary to his audience: "Dig in your own backyard!"
A century later, noted motivational speaker Earl Nightingale made this story famous again, focusing on our untapped potential: "Before you go running off to what you think are greener pastures, make sure that your own is not just as green or perhaps even greener. It has been said that if the other guy's pasture appears to be greener than ours, it's quite possible that it's getting better care."
So, what is your "acre of diamonds"? Is it an untapped professional skill you could unlock through accreditation, a degree, or additional training for yourself or your team? Is it having the confidence to set higher goals? A staff member who is continually overlooked because he or she is never asked? Or a volunteer who presents a bit quiet but has all the ingredients to be an outstanding board member?
Maybe your acre of diamonds is a specific donor you've overlooked. We recently counseled a client concerned about donor acquisition. It turns out the organization had 40,000 donor records in its database. We told the staff members they were actually drowning in prospective donors — and wealth screening verified: 1,000 of these donors were largely untapped high-net-worth individuals.
A local historic preservation group received a $1 million gift from a longtime volunteer who jokingly referred to herself as a "bag lady" — a bag lady with a big inheritance. Or the donor who goes from contributing $1,000 annually (because that's all he was ever asked for) to making a $500,000 cash gift.
Unlocking the potential both in and out of your organization isn't easy. It takes digging, careful consideration and hard work. And many times what you uncover may need to be refined or shined up. But that discovery process may just reveal the diamond in the rough you've been looking for — right in your own backyard.
Looking for Jeff? You'll find him either on the lake, laughing with good friends, or helping nonprofits develop to their full potential.
Jeff believes that successful fundraising is built on a bedrock of relevant, consistent messaging; sound practices; the nurturing of relationships; and impeccable stewardship. And that organizations that adhere to those standards serve as beacons to others that aspire to them. The Bedrocks & Beacons blog will provide strategic information to help nonprofits be both.
Jeff has more than 25 years of nonprofit leadership experience and is a member of the NonProfit PRO Editorial Advisory Board.