The Weekend Briefing

"Winning: The Five Truths of Fundraising" is available now in print, eBook and audiobook on 

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You think you have problems?
Two of our grandchildren, Margaret and Charlie, have birthdates a week apart. We had a little celebration for them a few days ago. While Margaret enjoyed her presents, I brought up Charlie’s big gift. A new bike. With training wheels.
This three-year-old climbed aboard instantly and tried to figure out how to pedal. It was a challenge on the living room carpet. His bike wouldn’t move.
Charlie looked at me and said, “I think this needs batteries.”
Of course we can’t make visits to our donors now. Between the time I wrote last week’s Briefing and the time it posted on Sunday, things changed dramatically. I felt terrible and a few readers pointed out my gaffe.
Amy Hunt is Senior Director of Development at Clemson University:
“No worries about the ‘oops’ on visiting. People get it. We knew you know.
“Most all of us are confined to work at home and on calls all day. I clearly remember 9/11 fundraising, and the effects of the Great Recession. This is just on steroids. I keep remembering your messages from back then, even!
“Taking care of ourselves in this time and using it to think about our donors, our next approaches with them, and planning for next year could be a gift right now. A midday run instead of an early morning run so we can get the sleep we need…a good thing, now more than ever.”
I am lucky to have really smart friends.
I visited my donor, Dave, twice a year at his summer vacation home and his winter vacation home. But that’s not how our relationship sustained and grew.
Dave would call out of the blue. I’d drop whatever I was doing for as long as he wanted to talk. And I would give him a call every so often because I didn’t want Dave to think the calls were a one-way street.
I’d have my antenna up to be aware of something Dave would be glad to hear about. That paid dividends with other donors, too.
Dave and I traded emails back and forth. Not constantly, just every so often. I’d send a handwritten note once in a while, likely with a clipping I wanted him to see. And I never forgot his birthday, Marian’s birthday, or their wedding anniversary.
Dave and I were having breakfast one morning at a Perkins restaurant outside Minneapolis. Marian was there at another table with her girlfriends. I went over to say hello and she introduced me to the group, “This is Dave’s very good friend.”
That was one of the greatest compliments I’ve ever received. Being introduced by his spouse as “Dave’s very good friend.” How did that happen?
From Winning: The Five Truths of Fundraising: “There is a moment along the way (it is different every time) when the donor reaches their tipping point with you and decides you are worth their trust…The secret? Be yourself. Be the good, honorable, honest person you are.
“Think about how you’d like a fundraiser to relate to you if the tables were turned. Are you cocky? Pushy? Phony? If so, that tipping point is a long way away.
“But if you’re yourself, just yourself, representing your organization with pride, wearing that enthusiasm on your sleeve, listening to the donor and paying attention, you become the person the donor wants to enter into a relationship with.”
That’s who we need to be, right now.
You’ve read this here, so many times. Our major donors? Our Top 25, or 40, or 50? We have to treat them exactly as we treat our best friends.
Are you reaching out to your personal best friends these days? Checking in? Seeing if they need anything? Daydreaming about when you can be on the golf course together, have a glass of wine together, or just be together?
That’s what we need to do with our donors, right now.
Please, please remember: When our work is most uncertain, there are things we know for certain. Our work is important to our donors. They want to know how we’re doing and, how they can help. They are starving for any good news we can share.
The things you know for certain? Think about what they are. That is your road map for the months ahead.
How can I describe Connie Knapp to you? She’s the Dalai Lama of fundraisers. Brilliant. Genuine.
Connie called me the other day and we talked shop for a bit. I sent her a note after we hung up and asked, “If you could share one piece of advice, just one, with fundraisers around the world today, what would it be?”
“Rob, I would say, be grateful. Be kind. It might be helpful for each of us to consider that when all of this is over, what will really have mattered is how we have treated each other.”
Have a good week, my friends.
Rob Cummings has successfully led development shops through the Black Monday crash of 1987, through 9/11, and through the Great Recession. If you would like to learn how Rob can help your organization today, you can reach him at

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