23 years ago, I started my first job in fundraising. I worked for a small non-profit in Philadelphia on the 3rd floor of a dilapidated building. We were so small, not only did I write the appeal letters, I also folded them, put them in envelopes, licked the stamps and took them down to the post office.
I got really good at stuffing envelopes…like scary good.
The one part of that job that I really miss today was opening the return envelopes. Yep, I was also the one-person caging operation. The reason I miss that task is that I was able to see and touch a tangible expression of a donor’s gratitude.
Gratitude? Yes, gratitude.
I remember opening the mail and reading the little comments from donors on the reply device about how happy they were to help. I remember looking at the scribbly handwriting on a $5 check that was surely from an old woman who wrote in the memo section, “So happy I could give this to you…”
I remember thinking how long it must have taken her to write that check.
At 23 I don’t think I totally grasped the wondrously mystical moment that really was. However, as I’ve grown older and reflect back on all this, it is precisely where I learned that fundraising isn’t really about the money at all. It’s really about an exchange of labor and values.
And, it’s about love.
What? Why are you getting all mushy about this, Jeff?
Well, think about it. When donors decide to hand you a check for your organization, what are they really doing? They are handing you their hard- earned labor in exchange for the opportunity to make the world a better place.
Yes, their labor. The same labor that puts food on their table, pays their mortgage and helps their children through college…they have decided to give YOU some of that.
Whether that is helping to feed a starving child in Somalia, saving an animal from the streets or building a new wing of a hospital, donors are handing over a part of themselves and trusting that you will steward it for good.
I really believe that at that moment there is something mystical happening in the transaction. And I don’t want you to overlook that.
I know there is a lot of pressure on you to view fundraising as just “getting the money.” It comes from all sides. Your boss is pushing you, your colleagues are passing you with their monthly goals; there’s pressure from the board. It would be easy to just go after the money.
It’s at these moments that you need to pause and reflect. You have a relationship with these donors. They believe in your mission. You have a responsibility to take good care.