Several years ago, at the beginning of a fundraising workshop, I took out a $20 bill and passed it around, asking, “Is this real currency?” Everyone examined the bill and agreed that yes, it was the real thing. Then, to the amazement of the group, I ripped it up.
The pieces floated to the floor like confetti.
Silence – a long, profound moment of silence. They all looked at me like I was insane.
“How did that make you feel?” I asked.
People have opinions about money!
It took a minute for them to respond, but once they started talking, they wouldn’t stop. “I heard my momma’s voice speaking from the grave,” one woman said, “and she was telling me, ‘You make him stop that!’” Several people joked, “Where’s the tape?”
This was the beginning of a five-day workshop, and to my amusement, every day that followed we had another discussion about ripping up money. It affected people in a deep, emotional way.
When they asked why I did it, I replied, “I spent about one dollar per organization to get your attention. If that helps you to become more effective fundraisers and you use those contributions to change the world, that’s a terrific return on my investment.”
What did you learn about money as a kid?
When you were growing up, what lessons did you learn about money?
If you were like most children, you probably picked up these messages:
- Money is hard to get. (“It doesn’t grow on trees.”)
- Money is dirty. (“Don’t put that in your mouth, you don’t know where it’s been.”)
- Money equals power and influence. (“When I grow up, I want to be rich.”)
- Money corrupts. (We’ve all heard the expression, “Money is the root of all evil,” which is a misquote from the Bible. The correct verse is, “The love of money…”)
- Money is private. In some cultures, discussing money is more offensive than talking about sex or death.
If you were lucky, you might have also learned you can’t buy happiness, or that it’s good to give away money. Indeed, in some families and faith traditions, it’s an obligation to give it away.
Here’s a training exercise you can use to help people reflect on their relationship with money. It’s borrowed from our colleague Kim Klein, one of the world’s best fundraising trainers.
Changing your attitude about money
To be an effective fundraiser – and an effective fundraising trainer – you may need to change your attitude about money. At the most basic level, money is neither good nor bad. There are undoubtedly corrupt ways to get it and stupid ways to spend it, but the money itself is “value-neutral.”
In the old days, we used barter. I traded you a goat for a bushel of wheat. Over the centuries, we gradually replaced barter with coins and currency, though barter is still a primary means of commerce in many parts of the world.
Nobody believes the goat is evil or the wheat is corrupt, so why do we ascribe these traits to pieces of paper and bits of metal?
Fundraising is like barter … minus the goats
Perhaps it will help you to think of fundraising as a kind of barter. Your donors give one thing of value – their money – in exchange for another thing of value – the good work of your organization and the benefits you provide to the community.
As a solicitor, your role is to educate your donors and learn how they want to be involved. You help them feel good about the gift. You facilitate a fair exchange.
I can’t think of a more honorable job.
The more fully you embrace this attitude – and encourage others to embrace it, too – the more effective you will be as both a fundraiser and a trainer.
PS. This post is adapted from my book, How to Raise $500 to $5000 From Almost Anyone. Check it out!