No–not dirty dancing. No–not flash dancing.
And, no–not “dancing with the devil in the pale moonlight” (Batman, 1989).
What I am referring to here is the dance between fundraising professional and donor. That’s right, the BIG DANCE. The one where you are present, open, and flexible. The one with JOY. The one with BEAUTY. The one where MAGIC happens.
I can milk this dancing metaphor all day:
- Preparation, practice, planning.
- Choreography, timing, tempo.
- Commitment, conditioning, discipline.
These elements are all part of putting together a successful artistic dance production. They also happen to reflect many of the elements of a successful major gifts process. This is one of the reasons why major gifts work is more of an “art” than a “science” (and this from a scientist/engineer turned artist).
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When I say dance, what do I mean? I mean the act of showing up and having powerful conversations with donors. I mean recognizing the fact that donors have multiple competing priorities (work, family, friends, health, recreation, romance, etc.), including multiple philanthropic priorities (sorry, you’re not the only dance partner). I mean being agile, graceful, and nimble in your discussions with donors.
I applaud the efforts of major gifts training programs that are bringing more rigor to the profession, just as I applaud the intense summer training programs in ballet offered by the Bolshoi and Joffrey Ballet companies for aspiring ballerinas. However, rigorous training will only take you so far. Sooner or later, prima ballerina’s must dance the pas de deux live onstage, and major gifts fundraisers must “dance” live (or meet face-to-face) with donors.
A common miss-step that I see less experienced major gift officers make is to lead the donor early on in this dance by advancing some “priority” of their organization. Yes, you have a job to do. Yes, your non-profit has fundraising priorities. And NO, thou shalt NOT lead thy donor dance with that institutional priority!
Get to know the person in front of you. Who is s/he? What are his or her interests and passions? How may you align those interests and passions with your organization? If there is alignment and you are both stepping to the music, how might you encourage your donor to STRETCH beyond his or her comfort zone?
You can prepare all you want for dancing with donors (and I strongly encourage preparation). That said, one of the most compelling and satisfying aspects of major gifts work (for those of us who love it), is that it is co-creative by its very nature. In other words, you cannot analyze your way to an impactful gift, because it takes two to dance!