Sunday, August 24, 2008

Fundraising as War -- or Dance?

"Fundraising is War." The title of a recent PhilanthroMedia post caught my eye as my own board-related development experiences flashed before me.

As one of those board members who has always cringed at the "F" word, and a one-time development officer charged with supporting a fund-raising board, I'll admit that one early response was, "oh, yeah..."

But the reader counterpoint posed in the first comment was what caught my attention: "What if we said that fundraising is music or dance or something more uplifting than the ugliness of war?"

How different is the giving experience for everyone if we frame it in a more uplifting and inspiring way? How many of our boards see fund-raising as a grin-and-bear-it task that we 'had' to slog through to get to the good stuff? How would their approach, and their attitude, be different if they saw it as a privilege?

My old friend, Chuck Jerden, offered one of the best definitions of nonprofits that I've ever heard, one that has guided my teaching and work over the years. He said that nonprofits serve one of two purposes: their either change lives or save lives (If they're lucky, they accomplish both).

How does that simple and beautiful definition fit within the 'war' metaphor? How could it lead to a more inspiring and fruitful vision of our fund-raising responsibilities? How could it impact the outcomes of our development efforts?

As I think back to this year's Snowy Range Nonprofit Institute, and particularly the inspiring talks by representatives of two remarkable and visionary foundations, I can't help thinking of the opportunities to create beautiful partnerships with donors, finding that perfect match between donor and nonprofit missions. 'War' doesn't seem so fitting, as I think about the way they described the privilege of working to fulfill their donor's wishes. A far more appropriate and inspiring vision of that relationship, in my mind, is a lovely dance, one where partners move in harmony to create something new and fresh.

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