Wisdom for the Pandemic: 8 Timeless Fundraising Lessons from "Asking" by Jerry Panas
The legendary fundraiser, Jerold “Jerry” Panas, passed away in July 2018. I feel so tremendously lucky that I got to hear him speak in 2014 at a statewide Association of Fundraising Professionals event here in Mississippi. He had a salt-of-the-earth, no-nonsense style that was very attractive and inspirational. His books are wonders of pith and restraint. My favorite is “Asking: a 59-Minute Guide to Everything Board Members, Volunteers, and Staff Must Know to Secure the Gift”. It’s a 108-page crash course in fundraising, easy to read, and highly quotable.
As the fundraising world adjusts to the new reality of the pandemic, I asked myself what Jerry would be advising us to do right now. Wondering how he might approach it, I flipped through my much highlighted and underlined copy of "Asking" to find out. I felt I should remind all of us of these timeless truths from a master of our profession.
Here are 8 amazing quotes about the practice of fundraising that I found highly relevant to our current situation:
“What I’ve discovered in all my years of fundraising is that it almost doesn’t matter how you ask . . . what is important is that you ask. Just do it” (p. 11)
I’ve already answered the question of “To Ask or Not to Ask?” in this post. I love that Jerry agrees with me. Fundraisers are not hired to raise money. We are hired to ask for money. So, we must find effective ways to do that and not let our discomfort or ego get in the way.
“Keep in mind that men and women don’t want to give money away. They want to invest in great causes, in bold and exciting dreams.” (p. 12)
Don’t Jerry’s quotes make you want to whoop and shout “Amen!”? Fundraisers can only go so far if there is not a bold and inspiring vision coming from the very top visionary leadership of the organization. Create something folks want to invest in. Right now, that may mean emphasizing how important your mission still is, despite coronavirus. Or you may need to switch to relief fundraising to help those you serve directly.
“Integrity is the mightiest weapon in the fundraiser’s arsenal – more important than the campaign literature or anything that is said. Its power is explosive. Integrity alone is no assurance of getting the gift. But without it, you can’t even begin the journey.” (p. 20)
I’ve written about integrity as an essential quality for a fundraiser last week and back in 2017. Find your deep connection to the mission of your organization or, by golly, go work somewhere else. That belief in mission will radiate realness from you and your donors will feel it and respond to it.
“Work hard at putting people completely at ease and making them feel important.” (p. 48)
This is the essence of quality cultivation conversation in one brief sentence. (Didn’t I tell you Jerry was pithy?) This advice can apply as easily to Zoom and telephone conversations as it applies to in-person visits.
“People don’t care how much you know until the know how much you care.” 55
Lead with care for people. Start with inquiring about the health and welfare of your donors and their family. Then move to expressing your care and concern for those your organization serves. If that caring is communicated effectively and with integrity, you are only millimeters away from a gift.
“Lucky you. You are a fundraiser. Some shy away. Some are afraid. Some say they don’t like it. You know better. You are, in your own special way, helping to change a corner of the world.” (p. 77)
We must remember the worthiness of fundraising as an endeavor if we are to survive and thrive in the non-profit world during this difficult time. Connect to that broader mission and be proud of it. I wrote a similar post here.
“Giving up is the ultimate tragedy. Failure is not the crime – low aspirations are.” (p. 79)
When I think about all the challenges that history has brought to those going before us (wars, disease, genocides, massive social change, etc.), I connect to the fact that we must endure. The first organized capital campaign (for the YMCA) happened during World War I and the Spanish Flu Pandemic. Harvard University embarked on their first endowment campaign in 1919, just after those two pivotal events. The American Red Cross had their first successful multi-million campaign during World War II. We can do this.
“In all you do, act as if it’s impossible to fail.” (p. 88)
Amen, Jerry! Our mindset largely determines how far we can go. What I see right now is a firmly 20th century mindset is dying, and organizations are being forced into a fully 21st century mindset. Organizations who have a scarcity mindset are already cutting revenue-generating staff at the mere anticipation of challenges. Institutions that have truly made the switch to a 21st century, abundance-oriented mindset will find a way to function in this new reality, as Jerry says, “as if it’s impossible to fail.”
What's your take? Do you agree with Jerry or feel his lessons aren't applicable to the current moment? What's your favorite book of his? Comments and questions are, as always, welcomed and encouraged!
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Jessica Cloud, CFRE
I've been called the Tasmanian Devil of fundraising and I'm here to talk shop with you.