On this, the last day of Research Pride month, I wanted to do something a little different and pay tribute to a fundraiser. After all, my whole career in prospect development has been tied to making fundraisers more successful. I have great admiration for the work they do and I love to champion them as much as possible.
I’ve worked with more than 200 fundraisers in the course of my career and I can easily count the number of them who were truly exceptional. It’s easy to do because quite honestly, only a handful were that great.
One of those is my colleague and friend - Rick. I’ve known Rick for nearly 17 years and we’ve worked together for 14 of those years across two non-profit organizations.
I appreciate Rick very much and probably never tell him as much. The thing I love most about Rick is that I know for certain that once he begins to cultivate a relationship on behalf of the organization, he will at some point get to “the ask.” I know this for a fact and I never have any doubts that at some point – Rick will do what fundraisers are supposed to do.
I don’t take that for granted. Some fundraisers never get to that point because they never see the opportunity or they shy away from it. Not Rick. No way. All that being said, this isn’t the reason I’m paying tribute to him today.
Another thing that I appreciate about Rick is that he doesn’t need a massive amount of information to get an appointment and start the development process. Most of the time he’ll simply ask me if it’s a “yes” or a “no.” He trusts me enough to know that if I say “yes” that he’ll take the steps necessary to engage a potential donor.
I also know that Rick will do a little bit of his own research. I trust him to come to me when he needs my expertise and although I may get a little nervous that he’s doing some of this without me – we make it work. The cool thing is that he gets as excited as I do when he finds that nugget that helps him make a connection.
Still, this isn’t the main reason why I’m paying tribute to him today either.
Great fundraisers are usually great “story-tellers” and let me tell you, Rick has stories. Boy, does he have stories. Stories about his family, about the people he grew up with, stories about his vacations, his on-going war with anyone involved in providing customer service and more. I’ve heard some of his stories multiple times – enough times that I can recite them myself. I can’t even count how many stories I’ve heard over the years.
So with that in mind – this is where the tribute begins.
Recently Rick came to me with a “story” to share. As he approached my desk, I knew there was something different about his demeanor. Rick wears his emotions on his sleeve (for better or worse) and this was a side of him, I hadn’t seen much of. He was reflective. He appeared to have been moved emotionally by an interaction he had just had on the phone.
Rick began to tell me about a donor to an organization we worked at previously together. Not only was this person a donor, but they also had a very personal connection to the institution we worked for. This person called Rick to let him know that he was not long for this world. It was sobering news for sure.
As Rick told me the story – he mentioned that as he was talking to this individual, he wondered “why are they calling me?” Although the two were friendly, they weren’t exactly friends in the true definition of the word.
The individual proceeded to tell Rick that he was reaching out to all the people who had been important to him in his life.
Think about that for a few minutes. How often, if ever - does anyone get a call like that?
Clearly, this person was thankful that Rick gave him the opportunity to make an impact at the institution we both worked for. This person realized that even though he made a nice gift to the organization, the true gift was given to him in the opportunity to have a philanthropic impact.
That’s the power of philanthropy. Not only can a gift transform and impact an organization, it can have an equal if not greater impact on the donor themselves.
When Rick told me that story, I couldn’t have been prouder of him. It confirmed what I already knew about him – that Rick does an amazing job of connecting an individual’s aspirations to the mission and goals of an organization. This is the way philanthropy is supposed to work.
So here’s the backstory about my relationship with Rick. There are times when he makes me crazy (which may be news to him). We couldn’t be more opposite in so many ways and I really mean in so, so, many ways. We’re just different and yet we work well together.
Here’s the thing – despite our differences, despite our different approaches to almost everything in life – I admire him and I’m proud to work with him. I know that when it comes to connecting people to a mission or a cause, he’s going to find the best way possible to make that happen. I just never have a doubt that he’s going to do what is in the best interest of the individual and the organization he is supporting.
This is why I’m paying tribute.
Thank you Rick. You’ve taught me a great deal about philanthropy and you’ve helped give meaning to the work I do. I am proud to partner with you and to collaborate with you and to watch you do the amazing work you do. Thank you for allowing me to have the confidence that you will always get to “the ask” and please know that I will never take that for granted.
This is Research Pride Month and I’m showing my pride by acknowledging my work is not about me. It's about us and us includes all involved in trying to make a difference.