All of us Old Fundraisers have stories and here is one of mine: 2000 was my first fundraising post as manager of Indiana University’s United Way campaign. The gig was mostly administrative in nature, organizing events, pledge cards, reporting and the like. Each of the University’s 6000 full time employees received an imprinted (kids, look it up) pledge card with their name and department.
It was that very fall semester when Bob Knight was sacked by IU for grabbing a young man by the arm and lecturing him on the finer points of salutation. And so CNN showed up for the Press Conference where Myles Brand fired the Coach and the students set fire to some things as they will do from time to time.
The sacking took place a day or so before our big campaign kickoff, and I had the thought to dig through the athletic department’s pledge cards, removing Coach’s card and kept as a personal trophy of my first fundraising campaign. I still have that someplace, and will post a photo when I dig it up. Several high level IU administrators suggested that the campaign might be delayed or less public. We went ahead anyway and raised a record sum that year, over $600,000 from the good employees of the University and I landed a terrific job with the Indianapolis Zoo as a result.
Since then, and with every annual fund campaign since, goals have been met. Sometimes on the last day of the fiscal year but nonetheless.
The last time I called my Father to share news that I was unemployed he listened to me whine for about 2 minutes before interjecting:
Jeremy, the birds sing to you when they crap on other people. You don’t land on your feet on the hard ground, you land on soft grass near something shiny and with catering nearby.
And so that has proven to be the case. One of the things I know to be true about fundraising, and perhaps life, is that hard work is almost always rewarded, directly or otherwise.
If you are making your Three Visits per Week (don’t hire me if you aren’t ready to commit) the phone will almost always ring with good news of some donor (either one of the Three or otherwise) with good news and ready to write a check.
This has happened frequently enough in my career that I quit thinking that I am simply luckier than average, despite much evidence to the contrary. We opened the Palladium a few years ago, and were looking bleak toward the end of our fiscal ($100,000+) fundraising goal despite an almighty and exhausting year of construction tours, cold calling, relentless follow up, and chasing down every last Carmel cent.
One morning, bright sunshine: A board member wants to bring in a wealthy prospect and his wife to meet us take a look at our shiny venue. An hour later, a massive financial commitment including an initial payment by June 30 and Victory on that year’s fundraising goal.
Lucky? Yes. But in that moment of fortune was countless hours of good work, of building relationships and connections, of showing the board member that we could be trusted and that introductions would be respected and advanced.
And Three Visits per Week. Try it for six months and tell me I am wrong.
Commit yourself now to meeting personally with your donors, volunteers friends, prospects, mentors—anyone who will take the time and can potentially advance a relationship or priority.
Where to begin? Start with the easy ones and work yourself up. I dislike making cold calls and so commit myself to scheduling one appointment every day. Once I lock down a visit, I can skip the phones for the rest of the day. Schedule a meeting daily, and the meetings fill up your calendar.
Good things will come your way, I promise. And stories to tell the youngsters about fundraising back in the early days of this promising Century.
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