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Boards and Fundraising

How Professional Help Can End Board-Member Burn-Out … and Keep Your Organization Alive and Well

Jeff Brooks is facing a problem — one that’s outside his area of expertise. He doesn’t know what to do, so he turned to the amazing Simone Joyaux for help. We thought you’d enjoy listening in on their conversation….

Jeff: Help me, Simone! I’m on the board of a small nonprofit. We are a community orchestra with an annual budget of about $100,000. Almost everything we do is done by volunteers, and the majority of the volunteers are board members. It’s always been this way. But board members are getting burned out. We’ve dropped the ball in serious ways a number of times. And we are so busy, we have little energy for actually doing the leadership role of a board. It’s stressful and discouraging. I want to escape! And I’m not the only one!

What can we do?

Simone: First, know that you’re not alone! This is a very common problem for board members of nonprofit organizations.

Board members are always volunteers in nonprofits. You go to meetings and have lots of discussions and make decisions. Then someone carries out the work. And oftentimes, that “someone” is volunteers. And sometimes those volunteers carrying out the work are also board members.

For example: Bob is an orchestra member. He also serves on the board. He has agreed to be the board treasurer. That means he is the lead board member on the governance work for finance. Bob also pays the bills, handles deposits, balances the accounts, files tax returns and other duties that would be done by the finance manager – if you had one.

Jeff: Simone, you have exactly described our treasurer! Are you a mind reader? Our “Bob” is super busy all the time with those finance director duties.

Simone: I’ll tell you something else about your Bob. He’s often confused. Because he’s wearing two different hats, and he probably doesn’t realize it.

There are two kinds of work to do in any nonprofit: governance stuff and management stuff:

  • “Governance” refers to discussion and decision-making done by the board of directors – together at board meetings. You set policy and oversee the work.
  • “Management” refers to what is typically done by staff, whether paid or unpaid. Like pay the bills, talk to vendors, etc.

So, which hat are you wearing when you’re doing what? That really matters. Clear distinctions between governance and management are critical. Everyone in the organization has to understand the distinctions and be very clear which hat to wear in which situation.

Jeff: Okay, I can see how that’s important. And honestly, I’d say all of us on the board have governance and management completely muddled in our minds, so your “two hats” rule will make us smarter about our jobs. 

But we still have to do so much work. It’s exhausting! Many board members cut and run the minute their term is up, and it’s hard to get new board members, because apparently they tell their friends not to join because of the workload! Is there anything we can do to change that?

Simone: I get it, Jeff. I see this all the time in nonprofits. Let me reiterate: First, you must recognize and apply the two-hat rule. That’s the first and ongoing forever thing. It really will help everyone if everyone does this!

Related to that, it really helps to be very, very clear about what the organization is asking someone to do. Distinguish between board member (governance) and volunteering for management activities. Be reasonable in workload expectations.

Tell each board member that the orchestra expects her to do governance and, at least for now, specific management-type duties as described in their job description.

During the recruitment process, tell prospective board members the same thing. They’ll be doing governance plus specific additional duties. Be specific! And do your best to match these duties to people’s skills and talents.

But wait! How about this? Suppose you’re talking to someone about being on the board, and she’s being hesitant about it … then you find out she’s a very good writer. See if you can get her to be your volunteer donor newsletter writer. And not be on the board! She might be ten times happier with that arrangement, and you’ll end up with a better newsletter — and one fewer burned-out board member.

Jeff: Wow, that’s interesting. In fact, we have a few people like that already. They refuse to join the board, but they do a great job at specific volunteer duties! We just need more of them.

Simone: That’s right. Diversify your volunteers. You want board members. You also want volunteers who are not board members, who will take on tasks. Wouldn’t it be wonderful to have bunches of volunteers – so none are so overworked that they cut and run and tell their friends to avoid serving your orchestra?

Jeff: I’m feeling better already. But I’m also feeling kind of burned out. I love making music, but I hate being on the board — even though I know someone has to do that so we can make the music. Is there anything else we can do to fix this?

Simone: Yes there is, mon frère! Drum roll, please. Here’s probably the most important thing you can do: GET MONEY. 

Jeff: Wait a minute. I’m constantly saying that. You’re turning the tables on me!

Simone: You work with a lot of different organizations. Tell me the truth: How often do you tell nonprofit organizations that they have to spend money to make money?

Jeff: About three times a week… or more…

Simone: So you already know what I’m about to tell you about your orchestra and getting money!

Jeff: Okay, that’s embarrassing. I know what you’re going to say, but it’s advice I don’t feel ready for.

Simone: Don’t feel bad! The thing is, it’s hard to think clearly about money when it’s your own organization’s money. That’s true about you and me and everyone who’s reading this!

So what I’m telling you might be easy in theory when it’s someone else’s money, but a hard truth to grasp for your own organization.

Here’s that hard truth: You should contract with a successful fundraising consultant to provide advice and counsel. Maybe one day a week, three days a month — something. That’s how you can get over this barrier that’s making life difficult. (By the way, be sure you’re paying a flat fee or an hourly wage. Never, ever should you pay a percentage of money raised. That’s highly unethical.)

Jeff: But … but …

Simone: I know what you’re going to ask: How can you get money to hire that professional? You must distinguish between building your organization’s capacity and supporting your organization’s mission.

What’s capacity building? Developing the skills to govern, manage, fundraise, and market your organization well. The good news is, some foundations give grants to build capacity. These foundations understand that just funding programs is a dead end. The foundation wants to help the organization build its own capacity to operate a highly effective organization.  Some community foundations fund the first fundraising position. Some foundations fund consultants to teach an organization how to fundraise, do governance, whatever.

Or you might bring together several donors who understand the value of building an organization’s capacity. Ask them to put together a fundraising salary for a couple of years. Or ask several donors to put together a year’s worth of consulting assistance to build capacity. You might even borrow money to build your capacity… to hire an experienced and knowledgeable fundraiser or consultant.

Doing that will bring a fundamental change. It takes money to make money!

Jeff: What type of person is that professional? 

Simone: In my experience, small organizations don’t have separate fundraising staff. They typically have a highly effective executive director who is knowledgeable in governance, fundraising, general management, and finance. This executive director needn’t be an expert in your mission.

So find the money to hire someone to do that job. That is your best way forward!

But one last thing, and you might find this depressing, but I have to tell you. It’s possible your organization won’t survive what you’re going through right now. Maybe you can’t create the critical mass to ensure that the management work can be done by paid staff.

That’s the challenge of practically every single nonprofit organization: Do we have the money to pay for expertise to build our organization? If we hire a highly knowledgeable professional, can she help us build our orchestra? Even if she is marvelous and great, is our orchestra sustainable in our marketplace?

Just because you and I – or a few dozen or a hundred of us – think something is important… That doesn’t mean that there are enough people willing to give money and buy orchestra tickets.

Jeff: Yikes!

Simone: I only say this because it might be the case. Not every organization has a sustainable future.

But to circle back to your original question, you don’t really know if you are sustainable until you really get the management and governance of your organization right. And that means paying for professional help!

Nonprofit or for-profit… It’s all about the body of knowledge and experience and expertise. That’s what you need to keep in mind to run your organization for maximum impact… and maximum joy!

Jeff: Thank you Simone. We have some serious discussions in front of us!

Become a member of The Fundraisingology Lab by Moceanic and get access to Simone’s amazing workshops, Fundraising and Your Board: the Right Stuff — along with many other courses that can transform your fundraising life.

Related posts:

CFRE Points:
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Boards and FundraisingCoronavirus

VIDEO: What Your Board Should Do During the COVID-19 Crisis

Simone Joyaux knows nonprofit boards.

She travels the world to meet with boards and help them be their best.

And now, with a crisis raging that threatens the mission — even the existence — of some nonprofit organizations, boards need Simone!

So I called her up to ask a few questions.

I think you’ll love what she has to say for boards. You might want to share this video with your board.

It’s a quick 17 minutes, but it could make all the difference in the world for your organization!

Want amazing quality training to strengthen your organization? Simone’s powerful online workshop, Fundraising and Your Board: The Right Stuff, is just one of the many great resources for members of The Fundraisingology Lab. Find out how you can join today!

Read Simone’s other posts:

CFRE Points:
Simone Joyaux Low Res e1585207137886

My Name is Simone Joyaux. And I win. But Not Quite.

My name is Simone Joyaux. I’m a white, heterosexual, well-educated, affluent woman. I win – except for my gender. It’s a disadvantage to be a woman in every country in the world and in every state in the US of A, where I live.

But because I’m white and heterosexual (accidents of birth) – and well-educated (thanks, mom and dad) – I “win.” It’s called unearned privilege.

Stop talking about “disadvantage!” Instead, let’s all of us focus on our unearned privilege. Try examining that angle of your life.

My life partner and I have a family slogan: “People eat, sleep, dream, and make love in languages other than English, in colors other than ours (white), and in pairings other than opposite sex. And we think that’s beautiful. We fight for that.”

Life partner…I once promised myself not to use the word “husband” until there was marriage equality in the USA. Now there is marriage equality here. But hell, “life partner” still can agitate audiences and I love that.

Thanks, Papa Georges, for raising me to recognize and respect differences – and welcome them. Thanks, mom and dad for giving me the opportunity to experience life differently through family and friends and travel to other countries and try different foods and learning another language and…

The US Constitution talks about equality but never mentions equity. Equality isn’t enough. Equality means fairness and equal rights and opportunities. Equality means treating everyone the same.

But that presupposes we’re all the same. We aren’t. Equity means ensuring that everyone has what’s needed to participate in life equally.

Ah, such great advantages because I was born white and heterosexual. I got a good education because my family could pay for it.

I do remember, however, when newspaper job postings were separated by male, female. I sure know what it means to be socialized as female and male – awful for both women and men, boys and girls.

So I fight for equity. And that means I support affirmative action because that’s the only way that we achieve equity.

I believe in justice, social justice. And that requires such enormous social change that I’m pretty damn sure I won’t live to see it.

I live in a country that has to have the Black Lives Matter movement because we’re still gunning down African American citizens. We haven’t even had a female president yet – and yes, that is sexism. And on and on and on…

I love philanthropy. I firmly believe that people and businesses have the right to choose where to give – in order to fulfill their own aspirations. One’s alma mater. The literacy organization down the street. My favorite theater or dance company. Fighting global climate change. And on and on.

But I wish that more organizations and more people actually understood social justice – and the enormous need for huge social change. I wish more donors gave through organizations to achieve justice.

My name is Simone Joyaux. I win because I’m a white, heterosexual, well-educated, affluent person. But I lose as a woman.


Image Source:

To find out more about how each of us can do more to bring about the better world we want, check out Harvey McKinnon’s course; How To Raise Millions AND Change The World. It could change the way you do your work … which will help you change the world! You can access this and more when you join The Fundraisingology Lab.

Please share your thoughts by leaving your reply below. We’d love to learn from your experience.

CFRE Points:
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Boards and Fundraising

Help! My Board Won’t Listen To Me!

I promised we would work harder to help you with the challenges you have with your board – many fundraisers who did Jeff’s survey last month identified this as their single biggest challenge.

Today we have invited our guru of all things board and author of Firing Lousy Board Members, Simone Joyaux to help you when your board won’t listen to you! I hope this helps, and please share your comments on the Moceanic Blog.  


– – –  

I thought you hired me for my expertise. 

Isn’t that why an organization hires a consultant? Isn’t that why an executive director hires a fundraising professional?

Dear colleagues, you and I have to stand up and speak out.

Fight, dear colleagues. Fight hard!

Remember this: Your boss and board members would not question the accountant. Your boss listens to the lawyer and the medical doctor. Your boss probably even listens to a plumber!

Remember this, too: They don’t have to know all this fundraising stuff. They don’t have to understand it all. That’s why they hired you. But they do have to respect your knowledge and expertise. They do have to listen and follow you.

Related Blog: How to Free Your Fundraising from the Destructive Power of Committees

Why don’t these people listen to us?

 Oh, the list is long! For example:

  • We picked people for the board, signalling that they’re special. Often they have lots of expertise and power in their own jobs and lives — and just don’t listen to anyone else. Including you or me! Their opinions win.
  • Many board members don’t understand what governance is — and how that’s different than management.
  • So much about fundraising is strange and often counterintuitive. “What do you mean emotions rule most decision-making? I’m your boss and I make rational decisions. I know lots of donors. I’m a donor! I don’t like that solicitation letter. And by the way, there are lots of grammatical errors!”
  • Sadly, too many fundraisers aren’t professionals at any level. They don’t even know the key players in our field. They don’t effectively lead their leaders.

Related blog: Why Commercial-Style Branding Will Destroy Your Fundraising

Related blog: Why Your Boss is Wrong: Long Letters Do Work Better In Fundraising

I could go on and on. But wait.

Please. Look in the mirror first.

You can learn everything there is to know about direct mail and fundraising events and how to solicit gifts face-to-face. You can be greatest fundraising technician around.

But ultimately, being a great technician won’t cut it. I’ve seen it over and over. You have to be an organizational development specialist, too. At least that’s what I call it.

We, fundraisers, have to understand organizational culture and behavior. That means we have to learn how and why organizations and people work well — or not. Things like:

  • Why people react the way they do — and how to facilitate conflict and its resolution.
  • How to anticipate barriers and manage them before those nasty barriers come out of the woodwork and ruin everything.
  • Developing your own competencies as a leader. Read and apply leadership theory.
  • Of course, understanding governance is central to good fundraising. Then you can help communicate boundaries and limitations between the board, board members, and management.
  • Great fundraisers design conversations by asking questions that engage people. Together you learn and only then can change happen.

How to persuade them

There aren’t any secrets or silver bullets. But here are some more tips:

  1. Be honest, genuine, authentic.
  2. Trust others and demonstrate your own trustworthiness.
  3. Learn! Read everything. Study and follow the research. Don’t tell me that you don’t have time. Make the time. That’s your choice. That’s what professionals do.
  4. Nurture a relationship with your boss. Nurture relationships with staff colleagues. Remember a relationship is two-way. Engage with them. Learn about them and their jobs. Share yourself and your job.
  5. Listen to your colleagues. Hear their stories, worries, and experiences. It’s not enough to be a good storyteller, you have to be a good listener.
  6. Share stories that illustrate good fundraising. Remember, people, learn through stories, not through facts and PPTs! Illustrate the things you want board and staff to know with recognizable and understandable vocabulary, anecdotes, and stories.
  7. Invite people in the organization to complain and whine about fundraising, and then show those same people a good, even better, way to do all that fundraising stuff.
  8. Share curious fundraising tidbits in all the right places … in staff meetings, at the board’s development committee meetings … at board meetings.
  9. Build allies — at both the board and staff level.
  10. Volunteer any time you can in your organization — on staff task forces; to help another department do something; to help the CEO.
  11. Meet regularly with the CEO. Insist on it!

And if you can’t persuade them…

Then you leave.

If you’ve tried and tried and no matter what you do they still don’t choose to learn… don’t choose to do the right stuff… don’t follow your guidance and leadership…


You deserve better.

No one can tell you when that moment is. Mostly no one can tell you if you’ve tried hard enough. However, talking with colleagues and testing your expertise and experience and asking the advice of others can help you decide.

No matter what a great organizational development specialist you are…. No matter how much you know and know how to apply and keep trying to bring others along…

Sometimes change won’t happen.

It’s not you failing! It’s them. They’re choosing not to learn and change.

You deserve better. I hope you are able to leave.

Simone Joyaux

P.S. From the Moceanic team… The more you know about fundraising, the better equipped you’ll be to lead your leaders. Make Moceanic your source for learning the ins and outs of fundraising! And you’ll want to find out more from Simone too.

Please share your experience by leaving your reply below. Simone, the Moceanic team, and our community of smart fundraisers would love to learn from your experience.



CFRE Points:
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Boards and Fundraising

Your Seven-Point Guide to Ensuring Respect for Fundraising

These days I work with boards, CEOs, CFOs (and North American equivalents like VPs) as much as I do with fundraisers. These people rarely have a fundraising background. The success of the organisation tends to depend on whether these non-fundraiser leaders, who have responsibility for fundraisers, respect their fundraisers and recognise the gaps in their own knowledge.

I am also on the board of two charities – ChildFund New Zealand and WWF Australia.

sean wwf 7 points

This Panda wasn’t as excited as me when I became a WWF Australia board member this month.

Unlike law, accountancy, medicine or other professions, fundraising DOESN’T tend to command the same level of respect, and many bosses think they know how fundraising works when, put bluntly, they don’t.

For example, imagine a senior management or board meeting…

  • A legal issue comes up. In the meeting, the group asks management and the relevant specialist pertinent questions. An agreement is reached.
  • A financial process issue comes up from management. In the meeting, the group asks management and the relevant specialist pertinent questions.  An agreement is reached.
  • A research project issue comes up from management. In the meeting, the group asks management and the relevant specialist pertinent questions.  An agreement is reached.
  • A fundraising issue comes up from management. In the meeting, the group asks management and the relevant specialist pertinent questions. They then all disagree, add lots of ideas like ‘we need younger people’ or ‘we should mail less often’ or ‘I don’t like these long letters’. Everyone seems to know how to fundraise. The fundraising staff must go away and reassess their plans.

Does that sound familiar?

As fundraising professionals, we need to be challenged and pushed – but we are also working in a job that has its own body of knowledge with plenty of best practice, test results, books, magazines and training available.

How do we fundraisers fix this?

My Seven-Point Guide

1) Know your skill gaps.

Make sure you, dear fundraiser, know what YOUR gaps are. Acknowledge what you don’t know.

Do a list. Here’s what to do if the list of what you know is bigger than what you don’t: Add in the what you don’t know list “I really don’t know how much I don’t know!” No credit to Donald Rumsfeld but I know there is more you don’t know than what you do know!  It is the same for all of us.

2) Don’t make fundraising up.  Fill those gaps.

Read, go to courses, webinars, and conferences.

Fight for training budget – and if you fail two budget rounds in a row to get the training you need, quit because your charity will not meet its beneficiaries needs effectively. If they are not investing in you, you are in the wrong job. Even if you are a volunteer or for a small charity, your cause MUST invest in learning.

3)  Demonstrate the body of knowledge.

Demonstrate that if people want to argue, they are not just arguing with you, but many other experts too.
Please DO NOT interpret this to mean you shouldn’t be challenged! Just show what you have learned.

In papers, proposals, budgets put in references to bodies of knowledge.

For example, from a digital strategy fundraising paper:

‘Our fundraising creative needs to demonstrate need, clearly and immediately. We cannot be portraying nice and happy pictures all the time – we have to show the truth (See Jeff Brooks, Sean Triner, Tom Ahern…)’

4) Circulate learning to those who make decisions about your budget.  For two reasons.

  • Because while it would be good if they did watch / read something, if they don’t at least you can counter with ‘I do appreciate you are busy, but the video/book/magazine I sent a couple of weeks ago summarises it. Would you like to meet out of this meeting and I can take you through this?(This will help – but only if you don’t come across as arrogant, with a ‘don’t challenge me’ attitude – personal skills are important!)

5) Constantly demonstrate there is a body of knowledge.

Have actual books with little post-it/ markers in key areas and refer to them in meetings.

Offer to lend books to other staff and even board members, and try and fill a bookshelf in your board or senior management meeting room with fundraising and relevant non-fundraising books. They will browse when waiting for meetings to start.

6) Talk to donors a lot.

Don’t underestimate the power of being able to say “I was speaking with Philippa, one of our long standing planned giving donors and she said…” Anyway, you should be speaking with donors often for other reasons so this is no extra work.

7) Get an experienced fundraiser on the board. 

Preferably one from an organisation the board would respect, which usually means someone from a bigger organisation, in a similar area of work but not too similar.

Lobby your board chair / appointment committee, or if your board is elected at a members AGM lobby fundraisers to stand for election. Put serious effort into this and get your boss(es) with you. Don’t think you can’t influence this. Bring it up every time.

There are probably more than seven tips, so I would love to hear from you about others – or any stories of how you have been respected (or not) as a fundraiser in board or senior management discussions.


PS – I don’t know anyone better at understanding charity boards than Simone Joyaux. Check out her article on this topic here. A cracking read and a good book to have lying around in your board and meeting rooms is Simone’s  Firing Lousy Board Members: And Helping The Others Succeed.

CFRE Points:
Major and Mid Value Donors

Equality vs Equity

In my most recent guest blog, Simone Joyaux talks about a major donor valuing the fighting for equity. I realised on reading this, in the context it was set, that some people may not know the difference between ‘Equity’ and ‘Equality’.

So, I thought it would be useful to have a graphic to explain it. The image is taken from Google images and is a little blurry, so I hope you can read it…

Equality V Equity



CFRE Points:
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Major and Mid Value Donors

Do You Know the Right Way to Ask for Big Gifts From Major Donors?

I am on my way home after meeting lots of fundraisers in USA, Europe, and Africa.  I have learned lots and hopefully helped a bit too.

I caught up with Simone Joyaux, who is brilliant.

Sometimes she is angry, especially when inequality and injustice are around, but always she is brilliant.  Simone gave a thought-provoking talk on building relationships with donors by creating extraordinary experiences.

I asked Simone if she’d mind writing a quick article for me on my favourite topic at the moment – mid and major level donors. Specifically, I wanted to hear her thoughts and advice on how to ask for big gifts or large donations from these donors.

And here it is, some frank, straightforward advice from the wonderful Simone Joyaux:


Simone P. Joyaux, ACFRE, Adv Dip

Joyaux Associates  |  |  USA

You. Now.

Are you ready to make that big financial request of that special prospect?

Is the prospect ready to be asked?

If both of you aren’t ready, imagine the mess.

As usual, this article may not be what you expect. After all, I’m Simone Uncensored. That means I mostly take “another angle.”

A quick tip before I start: Make sure you don’t just read this article about making the big ask. Read others, too. There’s great stuff out there about specific steps and pacing and request amounts and more.

Read. Talk with experienced askers. Gather success stories and little and big failures.

Then ponder. Bring together all your readings, thoughts, and various experiences. Practice in your mind, in front of the mirror, with a colleague or pal.

Only then are you possibly ready to ask?

However, I’m not writing about all that stuff in this article. Instead, I’m sharing other thoughts, uncensored.

First…What’s the big ask?

What’s big to me isn’t big to Bill and Melinda. What’s big to your organization may not be what’s big for the prospective donor. If you’re donor-centered (and I sure hope you are!), you focus on what’s right for the donor.

Before you ask, learn lots and lots about the prospect. Make sure you know what the prospect considers to be a big gift.

Are you sufficiently familiar with the prospect’s interests to design an appropriate request? A request that brings together her interests…avoids disinterests …reflects shared values…represents a gift amount that’s likely to match the prospect’s capacity and capability?

Actually before the first…

Always remember: People give through your organization to fulfill their own aspirations, to live out their own interests, to connect to their own feelings and their own stories.

Your organization is the means by which people achieve all this. You aren’t the end, you’re merely the means. Remember, as that conduit, you are replaceable.

Back to the first, that big gift…and other gifts, too…

Whatever is big and large to the prospect, most likely constitutes an alignment of values. A value is an enduring belief that a specific mode of conduct is personally or socially preferable to another.

Individuals have values. Organizations do, too.

I’ll give you a small gift. I’ll give you a medium gift. But for a really big gift, a gift that I consider big…Well, that requires an alignment, a deep overlay of my values and your organization’s values.

My deepest beliefs – that which I will fight for – I have to share those with your organization.

    • Maybe my biggest gift will be for the arts…believing that without Rembrandt and Picasso and Freda Kahlo…without theatre and dance…life is bereft of beauty and meaning.
    • Perhaps he marched with Martin Luther King, Jr. and Gandhi. He may fight still for equity.
  • Maybe her biggest gift will be to find a cure for cancer. She still grieves over her father’s death and the possibility that she, too, will die this way.

Who knows what lies in the hearts of any individual? Well, you’d best know. Otherwise, how can you ask for that big gift?

Here’s a trick question…

Is asking a presentation or a conversation?

Too many people think asking is a presentation. With a brochure, of course. And maybe a PowerPoint or a video and…

Stop it!

Asking personally, face-to-face is a conversation. A lovely, genuine conversation. Not an interview! You ask questions to create conversation. To share and learn.

You listen to the prospect’s stories and feelings. Share your own to build rapport.

And yes, of course, you invite the prospect’s participation. There’s the asking.

In conclusion for the moment

Big, medium, small. It’s a lot the same.

But you need to know more to ask for a big gift.

You need to care more and listen and learn.

You need to actually be donor-centered and genuinely interested in the prospect as a human being.

And one last big thing: You need to be prepared – because of care and respect – to recognize that the donor might just not be that into you. If so, let them go. With grace and respect and best wishes.


P.S. Our Mid Value Donor Super Course will teach you all that you need to know about asking for that big gift from that major donor in exactly the right way! It’s just one of the courses you will get access to when you join The Fundraisingology Lab.

CFRE Points: