Fundraising Confession: Bad Experiences (and What to Learn From Them)
I write this post in a restaurant at 12:08 p.m. I had this lunch meeting scheduled and confirmed the day before for 11:30 a.m. As is my usual style, I was there at 11:15 a.m., fully prepared. With each passing minute, my hopes faded for my colleague’s arrival. I actually sent a text and an email, and called two phone numbers to see if the individual was alive. In every case, there was no response or voicemail. In one case, the voicemail box was full.
It is now 12:22 p.m., and I am eating my lunch alone. I thought about leaving but decided I needed to eat. I wish I could say this never happens, but it does from time to time.
When you have been in the nonprofit business as long as I have, you have seen everything. I have been to countless meetings, lunch appointments, seminars, dinners and various events. In the nonprofit world, you typically react to someone’s act. We all strive for the end result—whatever that turns out to be in the long run. I can wait forever if, in the end, it results in large quantities of time, talent or treasure for the institution I represent.
In my church, we have confession during the Lenten season. Since I already have had my church confession, I will confess to you several events that we can learn from over time. I know I need to let it go, but I am human.
Here are a few examples throughout my career that gave me pause:
- A wealthy donor, who said he was going to serve as development chair for my volunteer committee, wasted my time. He literally spent a full day on the job with me. He wanted to hit the ground running and be the best development committee chair in the history of the organization. The next day, I received a call from him saying he reconsidered and was resigning not only from the development committee, but also from the board. I still cannot figure out the reason for the complete 24-hour change of heart.
- I received a call from my president full of excitement. She said a famous celebrity was grateful for his surgical procedure, and we would be getting a check for at least $50,000 the next day. Sadly, tomorrow never came. I received a terse call from his attorney, saying the celebrity changed his mind. He is a millionaire. I can deal with many things, but lying is not one of them. I hope he didn’t contact any other organizations (and get their hopes up, too) while in such a giving mood.
- I was working with a rich family on a capital campaign for a building that I was directing. They had made a seven-figure pledge to the project. We were thrilled. Then, for some reason, I got a call to meet with the family. Without explanation, they decided to immediately reduce their pledge by more than 50 percent. I still do not know what triggered that event. This act hurt our campaign very deeply. It brought a mortgage into play when we thought the building would be paid off. I guess I am just the messenger. Their finances were just fine.
- I have worked with countless volunteers who have accepted but not fully committed to their volunteer agreements. They underperformed and didn’t care about their responsibilities. They never walked the walk, and their involvement was a waste of everyone’s time. My feeling is you either fish or cut bait. I am certain this scenario has happened to all of us in the profession.
As for my luncheon friend, we never connected that day. The good news is: I get over being irritated very quickly. Life is too short to carry ill feelings. It is never personal but professional in nature. As long as you are working, there always will be another day for those you missed the first time.
Part of my job is to constantly recruit, train and replace non-performing volunteers and donors. Unfortunately, I have had a great deal of practice doing this in my career. I also have had the joy of working with hundreds of excellent volunteers and donors along the way. Sometimes you get the lemon and other times the lemonade.
In every case, learn from both the good and bad of human behavior. The ups and downs are part of our career experiences. Remember to survive and thrive in this business, and to always look at the bright side, and not the dark side, of the moon.
Duke has extensive experience as a nonprofit practitioner, author, lecturer and consultant. He has been a contributing author to NonProfit PRO for the last 11 years. He has been a long-standing member of the Association of Fundraising Professionals where he was previously named the AFP Indiana Chapter Fundraising Executive of the Year and has held the CFRE designation for many years.
He received his doctorate degree from West Virginia University with an emphasis in education administration, master's degree from Marshall University with an emphasis in public administration and a bachelor's degree from West Virginia University with an emphasis in marketing/management. He has also completed post graduate work at the University of Louisville.
He is currently executive director of development for The Salvation Army Indiana Division in Indianapolis, Indiana. Contact Duke at email@example.com or 317-224-1029.