Should We Just Throw In the Towel?

The phone rang. Phil was calling. Alumnus, donor and world-class volunteer. He got right to the point as always.

 “So, how’s it going?”

 “Phil,” I told him, “it’s going great!”

 I could hear his exasperation. “You son of a b___, every time I call you tell me the same thing – it’s going great.”

 Somehow I was inspired to answer, “Phil, if I don’t tell you things are great at your alma mater, who’s going to?”


 “You know what? You’re right.”

That’s a true story. Word for word.

Whether in good times or bad, I’ve never understood why we can’t bring a wholesale spirit of optimism to the task at hand.

And to be honest, that mindset has helped me raise an awful lot of money over the last 43 years.

Yesterday a reader of The Weekend Briefing wrote:

“Thanks Rob. I am so appreciative of your support, leadership, guidance and advice – throughout the whole year and at this challenging time.

“Positivity always rings through your Sunday emails.”

I wrote back to thank her and to say,

“We ought to stay positive, don’t you think? The alternative is to just throw in the towel and we sure can’t do that!”

There’s a sense of doom and gloom among fundraisers right now. An overwhelming focus on what we can’t do. That mindset is not only sad, it’s wildly counterproductive.

Of course we have to postpone visits. Of course we have to reconsider solicitations. Of course we have to reshape or reschedule events.

I get it.

Trust me, the development shops that will succeed in the next months and in 2020 are those that focus now on what they CAN do.

Get good news, heartwarming news about your organization to your donors and to the media. Use this time to call older donors living by themselves, not once but every week, and establish the kind of relationships that lead to current and planned gifts. Get board members to ask themselves my 8-word magic question, “Is there a door I can open today?”

Watch the news. People are quickly getting over the shock and returning to that wondrous element of human nature, asking how they can help.

Phil, bless his heart, had an “aha” moment when I told him things were going great.

What are we telling our donors today?

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