I strongly believe that to be a major gift fundraiser you don’t need a mythical natural ability but instead it is a skill set that you can learn and develop. There are many fantastic insights and lots of sound advice on how to become a better major gift fundraiser, but there certainly isn’t one set way to do it, and often the best major gift fundraisers can’t quite put their finger on what makes it work for them as they have combined all their skills and learning over time so that it feels natural and innate, even if its not.
But yesterday, at the National Fundraising Convention I went to a great session by Jhumar Johnson (www.realfuturesltd.com) on the Art of Networking. She had tons of useful tips on how to become a better networker, but the ‘light bulb’ moment for me, was when she encouraged us to be more vulnerable when building a rapport and to see our vulnerability as a strength.
Jhumar’s advice really resonated with me because I think learning to show my vulnerable side, has probably been one of the hardest, but most powerful lessons I have learnt about being a major gift fundraiser.
I began my career as a corporate fundraiser and at the time I spent a lot of effort trying (the emphasise is on trying!) to develop a cool, professional and slick persona to enable me to feel comfortable sitting in intimidating boardrooms in large glass offices pitching to lots of suits. Then, when I started raising funds from individuals I clung to this persona, believing that they too wanted a slick and professional presentation of the charity I worked for.
Little did I realise at the beginning that although I was still often sitting in the same intimidating boardrooms, I was now meeting an individual (albeit for 10 minutes if I was lucky) who I needed to connect with personally. It took me a while but over time I realised that to do this I needed to lower my professional shield and show them a little of my real personality – I needed to be a little vulnerable.
In my private life I am not a big sharer, never the first one to tell everyone about my troubles or my inner personal thoughts, so sharing some of my real personality to a prospective donor was hard. But, over time, I tested the water, introducing more of ‘me’ into my approach and allowing myself to be vulnerable – and it worked.
Lets be really clear here – I did not start telling prospective donors what I had for dinner last night or what my girlfriends and I had been up to at the weekend, but I did gradually open up about my family if it was relevant, or maybe where I grew up or where I have travelled. I also became more open about my views and interests, sometimes sharing a personal opinion or showing my vulnerability by explaining the challenges I was facing in my role or at the charity I worked for rather than rigorously sticking to my charities proposition.
And just as Jhumar suggested in her session yesterday, I started to see a real difference in the relationships I built with my donors, the relationships were more personal, more natural, more in depth and most importantly more enjoyable. Although I might consider myself an extrovert in many ways, I am still not fully comfortable being vulnerable and sharing and I still often wait to be asked questions before jumping in, but it has genuinely surprised me how powerful letting my guard down and being vulnerable has been.