On Giving and Getting

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I serve on the board of a young performing arts organization that Can, the Indianapolis Fringe. Now in our 9th year we’ve done amazing things, including purchasing our own building while rapidly growing our August Festival year after year. We are now in the midst of a capital campaign to build a new black box theatre and renovate to include proper restrooms, dressing rooms, and the like.

This week I made my largest ever philanthropic pledge, a multi-year commitment to the campaign to name a fun little corner in my own honor. A blip to the goal of course, but a very meaningful sum to me in my early years as a philanthropist. I am calling it the 40th birthday gift to myself, along with the hella-nice Hamilton watch I picked up on a recent business trip to Ireland. And a trip to California with friends over the Holidays. And…

This post isn’t about Giving – this post is about Getting.

Giving, I find, is easy, and the benefits obvious and profound. It made me feel incredibly virtuous when I emailed our executive director to share my news and to discuss terms. She was so gracious, and grateful, and the whole thing has made me feel warm and generous, and a Good Person.

Giving is the easy part with obvious and lasting rewards. Getting – that is to say Asking, is the hard part. As a board member I am committed to help with the fundraising, for opening doors, making introductions, and asking others for generous support. And I find this to be so incredibly difficult.

Really I kind of suck at it. I don’t personally know that many people with money and I am hesitant to ask personal friends for much beyond attendance at fundraising parties and events.

As fundraisers, we ask our volunteers All The Time to solicit their friends, family and work colleagues. We show them lists, expecting them to grab names with enthusiastic abandon, that all they’ve wanted to do all day is ask their friends for charitable support. And we are disappointed when they struggle, or aren’t up the task.

So I ask my fundraising colleagues, when was the last time you asked someone for money as a volunteer? It is sobering, difficult work to talk to your friends about giving. I wouldn’t care for it if someone asked me to join them at church and asking for a charitable gift really isn’t that different. It is no easy task to sit with a trusted friend, where a relationship exists, and make a pitch. It is involving yourself in another’s private business. What if they say no? What if they hate me?

And so I am very grateful for the opportunity to serve as a fundraising volunteer – we all need to be reminded about how challenging our work really is and how much patience and grace we aught to show our volunteers committed to the task.

Our volunteers need patient encouragement, training, practice, relentless follow-up, wins that are celebrated, losses that are consoled, and loving care and feeding. A good fundraising volunteer, one willing to ask boldly for things from friends and foe, is a rare and precious thing. As fundraisers we need to be reminded of how humbling this work can be, instead of constantly crabbing about our lazy volunteers and their feckless ways.

Get yourself involved with something meaningful. Take some prospect names and stumble through cultivation and solicitation. You will be a better fundraiser for the experience.

About jeremymhatch

If I could, I'd write about nothing but tacos. Alas, I am fundraising and leadership consultant in the arts, focusing on contributed revenue growth for organizations. Send me a compliment or complaint. And the location for the good tacos in your town.
This entry was posted in Fundraising, Performing Arts, Philanthropy, Volunteers. Bookmark the permalink.

6 Responses to On Giving and Getting

  1. harnessleads says:

    I heard this exact conversation in a Board Retreat I facilitated last month. Those board members who were successful at the Ask were those who could tell the powerful story of the organization. They all KNOW the powerful story, but as you mention, we all need “encouragement, training, practice, [and]…wins that are celebrated” to be able to step out of our comfort zone.

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