Get Busy! Fundraising Can't Wait
"Right now, all I want is to get my lights turned on," the woman said to the nun. The woman had snapping black eyes and sat perfectly erect in her chair across from the nun's desk. She was small and thin, but not the fashionable kind of thin. Her stream of black hair was carefully combed but had lost its luster.
The nun turned to me. "Being poor is complicated," she said. "She," gesturing toward the woman, "grew up dirt poor but was working her way into a pretty decent life. This is very hard because when you start where she started, you first have to work your way up to where the 'level playing field' just begins for everyone else.
"She had done that. She had a decent job and just made a down payment on a trailer. But then her mother died. A week after that she was diagnosed with cancer.
"Now, you can see how small she is from being undernourished as a child. So the chemo is too much for her. She stays so sick from it, she can't work anymore. Now she's got nothing. The side panels are falling off her trailer, and one of the windows is broken. And now the power company has shut off her lights."
The nun was small too. But driven, intense and full of energy. She had agreed to let me sit on a few interviews so I could better understand the needs at the organization we were raising funds for.
She talked fast, as if she needed to get you squared away so she could hurry on the next person who needed her. Which was true. The waiting room was full, and it was clear this interview was talking longer than she wanted.
This is the nun's life work. Every morning she talks with people like the woman in the room with us. Each one needs something you and I take for granted. Groceries on the shelf. Electricity to run the hot plate. Shoes for the children. Water.
The nun doles out money, negotiates with utility companies, persuades doctors to settle for the pittance the government is willing to pay and so on.
She opened a notebook and looked at her dwindling budget for the day. "I can give you a hundred dollars," she said. It wasn't enough. The power company was demanding $500 in past due bills, late fees and service charges. "And I'll call the company and see if they'll waive at least some of the fees. It's all I can do."
That's when I thought of you.
Because I knew that, right at that moment, another woman, miles away, was filling in her credit card information on the back of a reply device. She had no way of knowing she was replacing the money Sister had just given to Shelia.
She was sending the money in response to a letter she had received in the mail. The letter had been written so compellingly, and with such passion, that she felt inspired to help and was now sending in $100. She couldn't know that she, in essence, was replacing the $100 the nun had just handed out.
The letter that moved her so deeply was written by you. Or someone like you. I mention this because, as we head into a new year, it's important to remember what we're really up to when we go to work each morning.
Fundraising is about a lot more than just raking in the money for your client or organization. It really matters. So pat yourself on the back, because you're doing the work of the angels.
But then, consider this: As I was leaving her office, the nun turned to me and said the words I'm now passing on to you: "You can see how it is," she said. "These people can't wait around for help. It was nice to meet you. Now, go back to your office and get busy."
Willis believes in expressive writing, exceptional fundraising, and exuberant living.
Willis Turner is the senior copywriter at Huntsinger & Jeffer. He was an experienced writer and creative director in the traditional advertising world for more than 20 years before making the switch to fundraising nearly 15 years ago. In his work with nonprofit organizations and associations, he has written thousands of appeals, renewals and acquisition communications for every medium. He creates direct-response campaigns, as well as collateral materials and communications, that get attention, tell emotional stories, and persuade people to take action or make a donation.