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Buddha statue in a garden

Original by Robbie Ross Tisch, Adapted by Elissa Sloan Perry

No matter the state of the economy, it is easy to become afraid and panicky when it comes to money, whether it’s about personal finance or raising funds for your organization.

Raising money can be challenging, yet it’s precisely during challenge that we need access to our best thinking and the ability to create perspectives that empower rather than discourage us.

And it’s at times like these that we need to go to the core of what makes the most difference in fund-raising, to revisit our own limiting beliefs, to allow ourselves to connect most deeply with what motivates people to contribute their resources, and to create relationships with donors and prospective donors that encourage and nurture that tendency.

The benefits of generosity

One of the great joys that comes from generosity is the understanding that no matter how much or how little we have by the world’s standards, if we know we have enough, we can always give something. Then we can share, we can open, we can express our loving-kindness.

Sharon Salzburg

If the Buddha was a fundraiser, he would probably not be bothered by the economy, partly because he owned nothing and had nothing so to speak to lose, but also because he taught about the inevitable changing nature of life and that it is our attachment to wanting things to remain the same that is the source of much of our suffering.

Since, however, we’re not all Buddhas yet, there is another basic principle that the Buddha spoke of often that can be extremely useful at these times – that is, that individuals who are generous benefit enormously from being generous, and that they suffer for not being able to be generous.

In Generosity’s Perfection, Buddhist teacher Sharon Salzburg wrote “when the Buddha taught, he always began with generosity.”  Why is that?  It is because people experience happiness and pleasure in all aspects of giving – in thinking about it, in deciding to do it, in doing it, and in remembering the joy that it brought.  Being generous takes people out of narrow, fearful places and returns them to the spaciousness of connection and concern about others, into “we-ness” rather than “me-ness.” That place of community and caring and connection is a much more inspiring and life-giving place to live.  Being generous connects people to their deepest values, and to their qualities of love, commitment, compassion, and caring. To give is truly to receive.

And let’s face it, being generous also tends to bring good things to us – people are appreciative, they pay positive attention to us, acknowledge us, see us in a positive light, and feel more connected to us. Being generous “cultivates further an internal sense of abundance, the conviction that we have enough to share” and this is true for people with great or little wealth. In fact, we know that those who earn the least amount of money are the most generous.

As Salzburg wrote, “One of the great joys that comes from generosity is the understanding that no matter how much or how little we have by the world’s standards, if we know we have enough, we can always give something.  Then we can share, we can open, we can express our loving-kindness.” This philosophy, this attitude, serves to bring us closer to experiencing ourselves as members of the “beloved community” Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. so beautifully spoke about.

Approaching fundraising like the buddha

If we come from this place of assuming that people are longing to be generous, that being generous is life-affirming, values-affirming, and truly a gift to the giver that is equal to and most often far greater than the gift that is given, how would we approach fund-raising and connecting to the individuals who are or will be expressing that generosity? We would:

  • Engage in conversations with donors and prospective donors that are truly about learning more about what the donor is committed to, and how our work would help fulfill that commitment. We would spend more time listening than talking, and see our interaction with people not as “getting them to do something” but rather as a conversation between two committed people to explore the possibilities of coming together with our respective resources.  We bring our staff and Board, a strategic plan and goals, technical skills and experience, and a total focus on our work.  Our donors bring their encouragement, their shared values, ideas and connections that are helpful, and resources that can serve as fuel to make it happen.
  • Look to establish what connects us, what brings us to have the conversation at this point in time with this person about this topic, and look for and talk even more deeply about what it is we have in common – our vision, commitment, notion of fairness and justice, desire for a certain type of world.  We would look honestly for that connection, sincerely wanting to find that real place where our commitments meet in this way.  We would be present and attentive — to them, to who they are as people, to what they care about.  We would stop calling them “targets.”
  • Honor their wishes if they are not ready to give now but clarify with them — in the interest of openness and respect — whether their “no” is a final one or whether there is enough shared vision and interest to create a relationship where we continue to be in touch with them and agree to talk another time about donations. If they are not interested, and their “no” is a final “no,” we would be generous in appreciating their time, which is precious, and we would honor that what they are committed to may be different but equally important.  And then we would ask them to recommend others they know of who share our commitment.
  • Elevate thanking donors and acknowledging their importance to us to the same level of thought and attention as soliciting them.We would see them as members of our “beloved community” and not as ATM machines – our job being to figure out how to be best push their buttons.
  • Ask and ask and ask again. Ask at appropriate intervals so as to have some freedom to allow that this particular donor might not be our donor, and to know that our donors are out there if we are just persistent enough to find them.
  • Talk honestly and confidently about our program, not to aggrandize ourselves or prove how great we are, but to honor our and our staff and Board’s commitment to our mission and the hard work it takes every day to move toward achieving it.
  • Be generous in speaking about our donors – not as the “other” but as people like us who deeply want to make a difference and who care about the quality of life for others as much as we do.  We would speak about them respectfully not just when they were in the room, and in doing so we would honor our donors as they have honored us by their support.
  • Not mistake wealth itself for a statement of value – good or bad – and would see that there are many people with much money who share our values and believe deeply that it is their responsibility to contribute to the greater good.  We would try to overcome our discomfort and fear about interacting with people of wealth, and would look and listen more deeply for what we have in common.
  • Understand that building real community is the container that holds the success of each of our ventures, and that it takes understanding, communications, tolerance, compassion, and honesty to do so.
  • Not attach our self-image to any results of our fund-raising. We would get the “I” and “me” out of the way, and speak and act from and for our cause and the people we serve, with a deep respect and desire to help and to bring an end to suffering.
  • See that every interaction with a donor or prospect is an opportunity to touch the heart of someone who, like us, is seeking to make the world smile and to ease suffering, both their own and the world’s.  We would see that every encounter is a blessing, and that we are both made whole by the type of connection that philanthropy and generosity can allow.
  • Be as strategic and as focused as possible in the way we plan our fundraising work, and work our plan. We would have a clear mission, roles, and goals; we would have a well-developed budget and clear strategies to raise that budget; we would align our actions with our goals; and we would be open to constantly learning more about what works and be willing to let go of practices that are not working.  We would make the Buddha – who talked about Right Intention, Right Speech, Right Action, Right Effort, and Right Concentration – proud.

At its essence, fund-raising is not really about money. There is no taking or giving, there is only sharing. If you can see this, and make it the basis of your approach to fund-raising, you will not only be successful beyond your expectations, you will enjoy it far more than you could ever have imagined.

Banner photo credit: miheco | CC BY-SA 2.0

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