Fundraising and the Allure of Sex
Warning—this article is rated "R"!
Fundraisers don’t usually think of themselves as sexy. Yet, most of the world does.
When someone to whom I have just been introduced asks, "What do you do?" I’m always a bit surprised by the reaction to my answer.
"What a cool profession." "Wow, you really get to hobnob with the wealthy." These are typical responses.
As I’ve thought about it, I’ve come to the conclusion they’re right. Fundraising is sexy. And cool.
What others see is our access to people with considerable wealth and influence. Let’s face it—what other profession allows regular Joes and Josephines such open and comfortable access to these circles?
As Uncle Max remarks in "The Sound of Music," "I like rich people. I like the way they live. I like the way I live when I'm with them." And there is something to that.
Having spent a good deal of my career in capital and major-gift fundraising, I, perhaps, have had more than my share of sexy moments. I’ve worked with clients in Bermuda, golfed at Pebble Beach, and dined at an oceanfront estate in Santa Barbara, Calif. I’ve counseled Silicon Valley tech founders, Fortune 500 executives and scions of ultra-wealthy families. There was even the time I was mistaken for Jon Bon Jovi. And no—we don’t look alike.
Admit it. We all want to be sexy to others. I can already hear the groans of the prudes. You know the ones. Those sanctimonious, self-appointed keepers of nonprofit integrity who think money is somehow dirty, corrupting everyone who touches it.
The irony is these folks are often the very ones most focused on getting it. Money, that is. Funny how moral condescension is often just a cover for envy.
I’ve had the honor and privilege of working with some of the finest people anywhere. They also happen to have considerable influence and wealth. These folks are well-motivated to use their resources to improve the lives of others. But they also are guarded. Very guarded.
Everybody’s after them. Philanthropists feel the sights of fundraisers trained on them with laser focus. With good reason. You know the type of fundraiser to whom philanthropists are referring. These guys use sex like a flyswatter. They’re the virtuosos of the quick, no-strings hookup.
These are the fundraisers who sing hymns of "relationships" all the while only looking for the next gift. Wham, bam and then on to the next conquest. Look no farther than the abysmal donor-retention rate for confirmation of the supremacy of one-night stands.
When we, as fundraisers, build relationships with philanthropists, we enter the realm of their personal and spiritual lives—as well as financial. The donors with whom I have worked have shared not only their successes but also their deepest fears and very personal struggles.
It’s these experiences that have confirmed my belief that people are people. Everyone—rich or not—is looking for authenticity. Everyone wants to trust, to find the real thing. And yet, far too many fundraisers offer precious little of either. They’re too busy looking for the money, all the while proclaiming their aversions to it.
Sex is a powerful force. Some would say it is the force driving all human interactions. It can be creative or destructive.
There are plenty of us who proclaim "relationship." It’s becoming the latest trendy topic in professional fundraising circles. That’s good news and bad news.
In the past month alone, professional fundraisers have pitched me no fewer than a half-dozen times on the importance of "relationships."
I honestly wonder the sincerity of some of these folks who have latched onto a trend. Is it just to peddle the same old wares? Will it be, to paraphrase Shakespeare, a tale, told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing? Time will tell.
Principle 1 of The Eight Principles™ is "Donors are the Drivers®." Donors drive the philanthropic enterprise with their visions and their values. Not their money. Money is the result, never the goal.
The question you must ask yourself is, are you offering the real thing or just a hookup? Are you ready to engage investors in the messiness of life? If you’re ready—and willing—success for you, your cause and the investors who support it is waiting. Go out and get it!
And oh—the "R" rating? That’s for "Responsible."
Larry believes in the power of relationships and the power of philanthropy to create a better place and transform lives.
Larry is the founder of The Eight Principles. His mission is to give nonprofits and philanthropists alike the opportunity to achieve their shared visions. With more than 25 years of experience in charitable fundraising and philanthropy, Larry knows that financial sustainability and scalability is possible for any nonprofit organization or charitable cause and is dependent on neither size nor resources but instead with the commitment to create a shared vision.
Larry is the author of the award-wining book, "The Eight Principles of Sustainable Fundraising." He is the Association of Fundraising Professionals' 2010 Outstanding Development Executive and has ranked in the Top 15 Fundraising Consultants in the United States by the Wall Street Business Network.
Larry is the creator of the revolutionary online fundraising training platform, The Oracle League.
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