Often when someone finds a penny you hear the phrase: Find a penny, pick it up and all the day you'll have good luck. It wasn't until I was about 12 and walking with my mother that I heard the second part of that phrase when she found a penny. As she stooped to pick it up I was saying, find a penny, pick it up and... She waited until I was done, smiled her beautiful smile as she gave me the penny and said: Yes, but find a penny, give it to a friend and your luck will never end.
My mother really filled that phrase with meaning. I grew up in a family of five children and like most such families, there wasn't extra money for much of anything other than the necessities of life. But as my mother sat down at her desk to pay the bills every week, she made it a very important practice to give $2 every Sunday to the church collection. So important was this that when the steel industry went on strike and we had very little money, she wrote a letter to the church indicating she couldn't afford to give right now but would make up for it when my father was working regularly again. And she did.
In some ways, that was the birth of my interest in philanthropy. My mother found it to be very critical to life and she was a great model.
As a development professional, I have viewed fundraising as something that helps other peoples' lives. Not only does someone make a gift that will advance the mission, but they feel good about it at the same time. Once a donors makes a gift, if the development officer follows-up along with others in the organization, it becomes very easy for the donor to make another gift at the same level or perhaps larger. Philanthropy is about deep inner feelings rather than the intellect. It helps the donors fulfill their dreams. It makes them feel involved. And that's the key to donor relations...ensuring meaningful contact which is reinforcing to everyone, making everyone feel they are part of a team.
I have a special client who founded an organization that makes a major difference in the lives of people of all ages by providing them with the education and skills they need to step out of economic risk and into a work environment meaningful to them and the economy. He is a natural at donor relations. When something interesting happens with the organization, he is immediately letting his donors know about it, sending personalized notes and ensuring that he keeps touching base meaningfully.
He does this naturally and with no prompting from anyone. When he hears or sees something that is happening in his donors' lives, he also touches base, and this time it is really about them. This further demonstrates to donors that what this gentleman is building is a genuine relationship of importance. For him, this is not just a fundraising transaction. The result is that everyone feels solidly about his program and one can watch the base of donors becoming more committed with each passing day while the base also continues to broaden. This is all remarkably reinforcing for every participant.
Particularly satisfying for him is that his major donors call him, invite him to special dinners with special chefs, they provide him with opportunities for funding that even he is not expecting...in other words, they demonstrate that they like him, as well as the organization he founded. Now, that's what is called "real development."
In the final analysis, a development professional's job is to give people what they want: the opportunity to support a very worthy cause. One in which the fundraiser is really excited and one that has a note of urgency associated with it. A donor wants to feel the passion for a mission--your passion, for sure. It has to be clear that the organization really does change lives. I have always felt that my success came from my earnest zeal...while the mechanics of the job were important and the mission was crucial, I truly believe that I am saving lives and making the world a better place for those who live here now. And that urgency--it spurs me on every day and all of my life it has given me great satisfaction.
Fundraising is a real privilege. There is never enough time and even on bad days my spirits never waver--and I was lucky enough to have my mother show me how that's done. Next time, give the penny to a friend and see how wonderful life can be.